Towards a Minerals Local Plan for Derbyshire and Derby

Towards a Strategy for Hydrocarbons

National Policy Considerations

2.1    Government policy and guidance on the exploration and extraction of hydrocarbons is developing rapidly in response to the discovery of new resources and the emergence of new techniques for working those resources. The following section reviews the main publications which currently apply.

2.2    National Planning Policy Framework, 2012 (NPPF)

National guidance for the extraction of minerals, including hydrocarbons, is set out in the National Planning Policy Framework[1]. In general terms, the NPPF states that, "Minerals are essential to support sustainable economic growth and our quality of life. It is important therefore that there is a sufficient supply of material to provide the infrastructure, buildings, energy and goods that the country needs. However, since minerals are a finite natural resource and can only be worked where they are found, it is important to make best use of them to secure their long-term conservation."

Specific but limited guidance on hydrocarbons is set out in Paragraph 147 of the NPPF which states that, “Minerals Planning Authorities should also…when planning for on-shore oil and gas development, including unconventional hydrocarbons, clearly distinguish between the three phases of development (exploration, appraisal and production) and address constraints on production and processing within areas that are licensed for oil and gas exploration or production…”. In addition it states that mineral planning authorities should: “encourage underground gas and carbon storage and associated infrastructure if local geological circumstances indicate its feasibility; and encourage capture and use of methane from coal mines in active and abandoned coalfield areas”.

When determining planning applications the NPPF states that “…mineral planning authorities should ensure that the integrity and safety of underground storage facilities are appropriate, taking into account the maintenance of gas pressure, prevention of leakage of gas and the avoidance of pollution.”

2.2    National energy policy

There have been several important stages in the evolution of current national energy policy. The Department of Trade and Industry paper, Meeting the Energy Challenge, 2007[2] states that England, Wales and Scotland’s substantial remaining coal resources, including gas contained within the coal, have the potential not only to help meet our national demand for coal and to reduce our dependence on imported primary fuels, but also to contribute to the economic vitality and skills base of the regions where they are found.

The draft National Policy Statement for Energy, published in 2009, built on the 2007 Energy White Paper. Together they formed an evolving international and domestic energy strategy in response to the changing circumstances in global energy markets. They set out to address the long-term energy challenges of security of supply, whilst acknowledging the implications of climate change. Whilst recent emphasis has been on the development of renewable energy supplies the Government recognised the important and continuing role that indigenous sources of coal, oil and gas will play in meeting national energy requirements.

This policy is set against the background of recent changes in the sources of our energy requirements. By 2004 the United Kingdom became a net importer of natural gas and a net importer of oil in 2010. By 2020, it was then estimated that the UK is likely to be importing about three-quarters of its energy supplies.

On 27 June 2013 the Government announced its long-term infrastructure investment plans which included a package of reforms to facilitate shale gas exploitation. The Government recognised that the simultaneous announcement of the British Geological Survey study highlighting the extent of potential reserves required further appraisal but it considers that shale gas has the potential to contribute significantly to the UKs’ energy security, inward investment and growth.

The announcement did not make any specific statements concerning the planning system but it did expand on the provision of community benefits from shale gas extraction. It stated that the companies involved in this industry would fully engage with the local communities as early as possible and that they would provide direct benefits to the areas where shale gas extraction took place. The benefits would include £100,000 for each community situated near each exploratory well and 1% of the revenue from every production site[3]. More recently the Government has introduced changes to the system of notifying landowners and tenants[4] about the submission of hydrocarbon related planning applications which now only applies to the owners and tenants of land where surface operations are to take place.  Notification is not now required for purely underground operations.

The infrastructure investment plan statement indicated that a key role for gas is consistent with the need to decarbonise our economy. It is regarded by the Government as the cleanest fossil fuel, and much of the new gas capacity needed would be replacing the ageing coal capacity. Gas is also seen as important for balancing the increasing levels of intermittent and inflexible low-carbon energy on the system

2.3    Energy Act 2013

The Energy Act received final assent on 18 December 2013[5]. The Act has several objectives and in relation to hydrocarbons it seeks to make provision for the setting of a decarbonisation target range and duties in relation to it; or in connection with reforms to the electricity market for purposes of encouraging low carbon electricity generation, or ensuring security of supply. It is also about the designation of a strategy and policy statement concerning domestic supplies of gas and electricity. It does not actually prescribe a new strategy or policy at this stage but instead sets the procedural requirements for doing so. It is likely however that future policy and strategy will reflect the overall objective of the Act to reduce our carbon footprint and in turn this will affect the future demand for minerals including fossil fuels.  

2.4    National Planning Practice Guidance, March 2014 (NPPG)

In July 2013 the Department for Communities and Local Government published new guidance relating to onshore oil and gas developments (planning practice guidance for onshore oil and gas)[6]. This has now been superseded although most of the advice and guidance it contained has been incorporated into the new National Planning Practice Guidance[7] which contains guidance for oil and gas developments from both conventional and unconventional sources.

The NPPG states that as an emerging form of energy supply, there is a pressing need to establish through exploratory drilling, whether or not there are sufficient recoverable quantities of unconventional resources such as shale gas and coal bed methane present to facilitate economically viable full scale production. In terms of new guidance the NPPG encourages mineral planning authorities to make appropriate provision for hydrocarbons in local mineral plans, based on emerging information, to allow them to highlight areas where proposals for extraction may come forward, as well as managing potentially conflicting objectives for the use of land.

Where mineral planning authorities consider it is necessary to update their local plan and they are in a Petroleum Licence area the NPPG states that they are expected to include Petroleum Licence Areas on their policies maps and include criteria based policies for each phase; that is exploration, appraisal and production, setting clear guidance for the location and assessment of hydrocarbon extraction within those areas. Existing hydrocarbon extraction sites should be identified in local plans, through the local plan site allocation process, where appropriate, and mineral planning authorities may include specific locations should the oil and gas industry wish to promote specific sites. In contrast to the practice established for other minerals resources, the guidance does not advocate the creation of formal safeguarding areas for hydrocarbons due to the depth of those reserves, the ability to use drilling equipment and the small surface area required for the installations. It also does not repeat or expand on the requirement of the National Planning Policy Framework that minerals local plans should address constraints on production and processing within areas that are licensed for oil and gas exploration or production.

The NPPG provides a description of the different operations involved in the three phases, the technical issues associated with hydrocarbon working and the planning issues which arise from hydrocarbon developments. It includes an explanation of the role of the planning system in obtaining permission together with a summary of the role of the other official regulators also involved in the process.

With regard to the determination of development proposals, mineral planning authorities are advised to assess applications for each phase on their respective merits and applications for the exploratory stage of development should not involve the consideration of the potential impacts of extraction. Mineral planning authorities should take account of Government energy policy, which indicates a preference for energy supplies to be obtained from a variety of sources, including onshore oil and gas. Mineral planning authorities should use appropriate conditions, having regard to the issues for which they are responsible, to mitigate against any adverse environmental impact.  The NPPG provides some examples of model conditions. It states that above ground separation distances would be acceptable in specific circumstances where it is clear that, based on site specific assessments and other forms of mitigation measures (such as working scheme design and landscaping) a certain distance is required between the boundary of the minerals site and the adjacent development. Operators and mineral planning authorities are also encouraged to seek appropriate restoration schemes for sites once mineral extraction is completed.

 

[1] National Planning Policy Framework, Department for Communities and Local Government, March 2012.

[2] Department of Trade and Industry paper, Meeting the Energy Challenge 2007.

[3] Package of community benefits announced by the Department of Energy and Climate Change on 27 June 2013.

[4] Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure and Section 62A   Applications) (England) (Amendment No.2) which came into force from 13 January 2014.

[5] Energy Act 2013.

[6] Planning practice for onshore oil and gas, July 2013, Department for Communities and Local Government (now deleted)

[7] National Planning Practice Guidance, March 2014.