Ministers want to change trespass law to boost fracking

Cuadrilla shale fracking facility, Preston

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Ministers want to give energy companies the right to run shale gas pipelines under private land, Whitehall sources have confirmed.

The planned move - aimed at kick-starting the fracking industry - will be included in the Queen's Speech as part of an Infrastructure Bill.

The companies will still need planning permission to drill for shale gas.

But they will be able to install pipes to transport the gas under private land without fear of breaking trespass laws.

Prime Minister David Cameron has also indicated that the government could cut subsidies for land-based wind farms when it has "built enough to meet all our targets".


Ministers fear landowners and anti-fracking protesters would use existing law to block shale gas extraction in the UK, as it suggests prior permission is needed to run pipelines thousands of feet below private land.

BBC political correspondent Iain Watson said the Infrastructure Bill would make clear that putting pipes under private land would not constitute trespass - but it would also give the affected landowners the right to compensation.

fracking graphic

Ministers are worried that other countries - especially in eastern Europe - have been making fracking there appear more attractive to investors than Britain.

Start Quote

We need action not words on infrastructure if we're to get a recovery built to last”

End Quote Chris Leslie Shadow Treasury Secretary

They believe a clarification in the law will send a positive signal to companies.

The prime minister's official spokesman confirmed the government was looking at ways of making test drilling easier and to ensure there was not "an overburden of red tape and regulation".

He added: "Fracking is something that is very new, certainly in this country, which is why we are looking to see whether there are particular obstacles to the test drilling."

A conference on the potential economic benefits of fracking is to be held in Blackpool on Thursday.

The Infrastructure Bill would also give new freedoms to the Highways Agency in a bid to get more roads built, and planning changes to fast-track developments, according to The Financial Times.

Mr Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne joined forces on Tuesday to promote the UK's construction programme.

The pair, who visited road building schemes, claimed more than 200 rail, road, local transport, broadband, airport and waste management projects were due to start construction over the next year, creating more than 150,000 jobs.

Downing Street said the jobs figure had been calculated using Office for National Statistics data.

The government says £36bn is being spent on the projects, which include flood damage repairs. That figure is made up of £5bn in public investment, £21bn private and £10bn in joint funding.

Mr Cameron said: "This government is backing business with better infrastructure so that more jobs and opportunities are created for hardworking people, meaning more financial security and peace of mind for families."

He also indicated that the government could look at cutting subsidies on land-based wind farms in the future.

Visiting the UK headquarters of the construction group Skanska, in Hertfordshire, the prime minister said: "We have now got the largest offshore wind farm anywhere in the world built off the coast of the UK and another one coming on stream almost as big very, very shortly.

"In terms of onshore wind, obviously there will come a time when we will have built enough to meet all our targets and so I've always said with subsidies, we shouldn't keep subsidies for longer than they are necessary and so that's something we'll be looking at."

Map showing areas of the UK licensed for oil and gas exploration and areas under consideration for licensing

Labour said the government's "reheated announcements" about infrastructure masked a failure to deliver and the lowest level of peacetime housebuilding since the 1920s.

Shadow Treasury minister Chris Leslie said: "We need action not words on infrastructure if we're to get a recovery built to last."

According to the Office for National Statistics infrastructure spending fell 11.4% in 2012 but went up by 2% last year.

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How land ownership rights have evolved
Illustration of how land ownership has evolved over time

Before the twentieth century it was assumed a land owner's rights extended from the centre of the earth to the top of the sky. But a series of key court cases have challenged that notion.

1931: US court rules that a sewer 150ft deep was not on land belonging to the home owner above.

1946: US Supreme court rules that transcontinental flights do not trespass on land below.

1978: High Court of England and Wales says aerial photography plane was not trespassing.

2010: UK Supreme Court rules that diagonal drilling down to 2,800ft from an adjacent plot of land is still trespassing under the surface.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 617.

    Fracking is NOT new in the UK, it has been going on for more than 60 years in mant parts of the midlands to extract oil as well as gas.
    There is potential for improviong our energy supplies with little impact on the environment.
    Those fearing 'earthquakes' need to realise that there is a magnitude 3 quake every week in the UK and fracking is likely to cause less than a 2 (log scale).

  • rate this

    Comment number 605.

    Oil rigs in the North Sea have been sending high pressure gas into reservoirs for years without earthquakes etc. They are VERY closely monitored by the HSE who don't hesitate to put improvement notices or even shut wells/platforms down if they feel regulations aren't being adhered to. As long as onshore fracking wells have the same legislation then don't worry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 450.

    So who will be liable if when installing pipes to transport gas they cause damage to my property?
    Will there be an obligation to tell me exactly where the pipes are so that I am going to know where these things are?
    If this becomes law for shale gas, does that confer the same rights on anyone wanting to lay a pipe under my land for any purpose?
    Much more info needed!

  • rate this

    Comment number 397.

    Digging a well on your own land does not require planning permission in the UK. What happens if someone decides they want there own private supply of water only to find that some oil and gas company has managed to lay there pipes directly under where you want to bore. Its not right that the laws should change just to suit big business.

  • rate this

    Comment number 392.

    Fracking Wellheads are no different from Pit Heads and Britons were used to seeing those over many Generations.
    Unlike wind turbines they will also provide well paid Jobs as did Coal mining with the added bonus of Men not having to crawl underground to get at that which is of value.


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