The National Trust opposes fracking on our land, but new laws may mean we are powerless to stop companies wanting to frack under our special places.
What’s the problem?
The Government has just added new clauses to the Infrastructure Bill to allow oil and gas developers the right to underground drilling access, without needing the permission of the landowner.
This follows the close of a controversial consultation where 99% of 40,647 respondents disagreed with the need to change trespass laws to allow underground access.
The National Trust agrees with the 99%. Additional legislation is not needed to allow access for underground drilling. These new legislative changes are a disproportionate response from government given the lack of evidence from government that blocked access has significantly impaired the development of fracking so far.
Why do we care so much?
The National Trust has a vision for its land. We believe land should be used to produce what we need with a low environmental impact; and managed to protect and safeguard natural resources – nurturing and harvesting them sustainably, not exploiting them in a damaging way for short term gain.
We currently have 120 sites in areas licensed for fracking. In the next (14th) licensing round, 634 sites – an increase of more than five times – will be considered for fracking. In the new licensing round, potentially 1 per cent of all land under license for fracking will be owned by the National Trust.
We want to retain the ability to negotiate directly with a developer proposing to explore or extract oil or gas from fracking under our land. Our recent response to the consultation explains our particular concerns and why that ability to negotiate and, potentially, to go to court is important in delivering our statutory purpose.
The National Trust shall be established for the purposes of promoting the permanent preservation for the benefit of the nation of lands and tenements of beauty or historic interest and as regards lands for the preservation of their natural aspect features and animal and plant life [1907 National Trust act].
What have we proposed?
The consultation proposals are based on the assumption that change in access will happen “under a safe and responsible regulatory system”. However, our view is that the present regulatory system is still unproven. Our concerns are spelt out in our recommendations report with other leading environmental organisations called ‘Are we fit to frack?’ with is accompanied by our peer reviewed evidence report Hydraulic Fracturing for Shale Gas in the UK: Examining the Evidence for Potential Environmental Impacts.
We are very concerned about the Government awarding an unlimited amount of licences across such a large area of the UK, including many of our most precious places. We want to see a greater level of precaution applied and further trialling and monitoring of development in areas of less significance.
We continue to call on government to add additional safeguards for sensitive sites such as national parks, SSSIs, AONBs and world heritage sites.
We consider the existing legal access framework well-crafted and balanced in that it enables the various competing interests involved in any access situation to be explored and then put before an independent judge. Protection of people’s land by the law is a fundamental cornerstone of our legal system. Interference with that principle therefore has to be carefully thought through and an appropriate balance struck.
For example, we have approximately 600 individual private water supplies, plus an unknown number of sources that provide water for those supplies. Moreover, there are about 50,000 private water supplies across the rest of England and Wales alone, supplying 300,000 people. The Environment Agency has requested that there is an exclusion zone around public water supplies. The grounds for this exclusion should be extended to National Trust properties due to this high level of unknown private water supplies.
Until we are satisfied that a robust system of regulation is in place and the technology has been proven, we believe that it is essential that a landowner can negotiate access through the courts to ensure they can avoid or mitigate localised impacts of underground drilling upon their properties.