‘Fast-track fracking’: Tories to rule on shale gas drilling without councils’ consent

© Luke MacGregor
Controversial new regulations to further develop Britain’s fracking industry could see local communities stripped of the right to rule on shale gas drilling. The policy shift will give ministers the power to bypass councils altogether.

Communities Secretary Greg Clark will consider processing energy firms’ planning applications to frack once they are submitted to councils.

Clark could then use the new “fast-track” powers, due to come into effect on Thursday, to make a decision on shale gas drilling applications.

The policy shift will see the consent of local authorities bypassed in the process. It will likely anger MPs and campaigners, who argue shale gas drilling is economically unsustainable and ecologically destructive.

The new regulations come as ministers are set to unveil dozens of locations where energy firms have been given the green light to explore for shale gas and oil.

While the majority Conservative government is pushing for a shale gas revolution, no wells have been fracked over the past four years. In 2011, Cuadrilla attracted a firestorm of criticism after its attempts to drill near Blackpool caused earth tremors.

Speaking at a campaign event in a nature reserve in North London on Friday, Labour leadership frontrunner Jeremy Corbyn said shale gas drilling poisons ground water and should be opposed.

He warned the global climate crisis has come to Britain’s doorstep, and is affecting some of the nation’s most vulnerable people.

Corbyn said social justice must form the bedrock of any strategy for tackling climate change if humanity is to salvage its environment, and build an inclusive society.

The Labour MP said this path of sustainable development would respect the earth’s finite resources, while cultivating a more productive economy.

Corbyn said he would nationalize Britain’s energy supply, paving the way for an end to the state’s fossil fuel era. He also vowed to cultivate a “modern, resource-efficient economy,” which he said would create one million new energy jobs.

The Green Party also strongly opposes fracking. Speaking on Thursday, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas warned the government's plans are a "shockingly anti-democratic and environmentally reckless move."

"Yet again, ministers are doing the dirty work of the shale gas industry and taking away the rights of local people to say no to fracking, whilst making contemptible claims that fracking is somehow compatible with tackling climate change,” she said.

In June, Fracking lobbyists were forced to deny they created a pro-shale campaign group by roping in students. The allegations surfaced as protests against planned shale gas extraction unfolded in Lancashire.

Five hundred local activists had been protesting plans to drill for shale gas in the Lancashire town of Preston.

Demonstrators said that extracting shale gas in the area would pose risks to the community, including earthquakes and pollution of the water table.