Are local authorities prepared for the legal battles over fracking?

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It’s the hottest environmental issue for years. The government has given a clear thumbs up to shale gas exploration and has fought against tighter regulation from Europe. Applications are expected from fracking companies all across the country. Thousands of property owners and environmental campaigners are concerned about health risks, greenhouse gas emissions, groundwater pollution, nuisance and property damage.

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Councils are being encouraged to support the fracking revolution. They can keep all the business rates from shale gas operations instead of the normal half. They will also be entitled to £100,000 for every fracking well drilled, and 1 per cent of production revenues.

What will happen if and when things go wrong? The first attempts at shale gas exploration resulted in earthquakes in Blackpool. Experience from the United States has confirmed concerns about groundwater pollution. With over 300,000 contaminated sites in England, could fracking operations mobilise existing contamination and impact drinking supplies?

There will be the possibility of legal challenges to a local authority’s decision to grant planning permission for fracking to take place. There is also the possibility of legal action against the authority if things go wrong during the fracking operation, for instance if neighbouring land is damaged or the local water supply is contaminated. Councils could also get caught up in civil claims.

Once the fracking company has been given planning permission and once it has all of the licences and permissions which it needs to begin fracking, there will be no requirement that fracking companies consult with the local authority about operational decisions.

What do you think? Will planning conditions be enough to ensure the safety of the fracking operations?

This article was first published in LexisPSL Property on 12 June 2014 and was re purposed for the Purpose Built blog by Keith Davidson.

The views expressed by our Legal Analysis interviewees are not necessarily those of the proprietor.

Filed Under: Environment

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