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 468.

    454. happy_is_a_choice
    Is that why there have been 333 deaths in police custody since 1998 and 0 convictions of officers involved?


    You can't just rattle off that statistic without background.

    How many of the 333 were in suspicious circumstances?
    How many officers charged (by the CPS aka Govt)?
    How many cases went to trial?

    The Court can only look at what's put before them...

  • rate this

    Comment number 467.

    Very good idea,do what is necessary to start fracking which is so vital to this countries energy needs,particularly now the Russians are becoming aggressive again,we don't want to be dependent on them for anything.

  • rate this

    Comment number 466.

    . There is too great a risk of failure at the fracking sites with the potential to poison the land and aquifers with the toxic solution
    If anyone thinks that energy costs will fall with fracking they are misguided!!
    What to do for the best for a realistic reliable energy source ?
    All have some risk
    If anyone thinks pray wheels & solar are an answer they are even more deluded

  • rate this

    Comment number 465.

    Why are we not talking about wave power,after all we are an island and why are new houses and even others being fitted with sola panels as standard?
    These questions need answeres before we commit to serious fracking.
    Perheps it is because the above two options will not make Cameron's mates rich??

  • rate this

    Comment number 464.

    Listen you all know that MPs are only in it for the money they can make. You don't count until it is time to vote then they patronise you. Yet most keep falling for it. They also lie to you to get your vote wonder if this fails within the obtain a service by fraud under the Theft Act as they succeed in getting a wage. Thus a Pecuniary Advantage has been obtained. As I have said vote them out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 463.

    "Is that why there have been 333 deaths in police custody since 1998 and 0 convictions of officers involved?"

    The fact that you are confusing the police force of this country with our judiciary shows you have very little grasp of how this country works constitutionally speaking.

    The common law actually works against the police (ie the state) in many circumstances.

  • rate this

    Comment number 462.

    It is clear from the commentaries of others that fracking and its impact are totally misunderstood and people need to be educated. Fracking if carried out correctly will provide a way to power and heat our homes whilst the government sorts out nuclear strategy and understands it's a global issue. Stopping burning coal whilst US, China and India keep on burning it is ridiculous and destroying jobs

  • rate this

    Comment number 461.

    I hope this does not happen easily. The houses above such pipelines should be able to to charge what they want to give temporary access to these companies. Fracking should be just a temporary way of getting energy, because it will be immediately polluting, Successive governments through their inaction have made this necessary. We need to build more nuclear power stations immediately!

  • rate this

    Comment number 460.

    So its ok to import energy from everywhere else but not right to develop and utilise our own energy resources. The laws are only being changed due to a relatively small number of people having the ability to block or delay such developments.

  • rate this

    Comment number 459.

    It just goes to show how the govt will only accept one answer

    Because even if people say no to fracking, they will do it anyway

    And then if you make a law against it, they will just pass another law with similar words but a different name

    The intense thing is if it starts causing earthquakes and ends up destroying your country, then the ones promoting fracking will really feel stupid then

  • rate this

    Comment number 458.

    Whenever anything new and beneficial is attempted the same crowd of protesters turn up. They object to everything from telephone masts to rail links but all themselves use the technology provided.

    Remember - "Empty vessels make the loudest noise"

  • rate this

    Comment number 457.

    "389.Truth logic sustainability the final frontiers
    supposidly highly profitable industry, selling to foreign investors (mugs) who buy into the despicable & corrupt inflationary fracking asset bubble."

    The US currently has no means to export their gas, so they are selling into a fixed closed market = low prices. If they start exporting, their gas prices will rise to market levels.

  • rate this

    Comment number 456.

    And when the water catches fire and becomes undrinkable - than you will find out that you cant drink money....

  • rate this

    Comment number 455.

    Seems a case of 'We shall do what we like whether you like it or not!' Then queue David Cameron picking up his ball and taking it in.

  • Comment number 454.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 453.

    Why change a law that is just going to create further environmental problems and enrage a society that is supposedly free, as opposed to changing outdated laws that will create value and have positive long term social and environmental impacts?

  • rate this

    Comment number 452.

    Just look at effects on people's homes in USA..we love to follow them, so lets get our land totally toxic. So many have homes far away from this 'fish in a barrel' privatised isle, they can make that decision.
    Any compensation replaces what we take for granted (safe water/land) with something most crave (cash). A poor deal indeed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 451.

    @447.Bernie Guthers
    'Depressing that people think this story is about bankers and city boys, rather than protecting this countries long term energy security. '
    Fracking is about short term profiteering and nothing to do with long term enrgy security

  • 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 449.

    Beyond belief our 'christian' Prime Minister steam rollers over broad public opinion against fracking. Recent studies urge us away from this type of energy. What happened to policies on the environment? This topic more current than ever. Our children will not know what it was like to drink fresh tap water. It will all be bought from the corporation. Air will be next. It's the grand plan. Wake Up!


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