Trespass Law Change Could Encourage UK Shale Gas Development

  • Date: 21/04/14
  • James Burton, Hull Daily Mail

Fracking could come to East Yorkshire if legal changes go ahead, a Hull solicitor has said. The Law Commission is looking into Government proposals making it harder for home-owners to challenge fracking in the courts.

The controversial technique to extract shale gas has attracted protests elsewhere in the country.

Activists claim it can contaminate water and cause earthquakes, although their evidence is disputed.

Now, independent body the Law Commission is looking into Government proposals making it harder for home- owners to challenge fracking in the courts.

Martin Collingwood, an associate at Hull law firm Andrew Jackson, which acts for energy companies, said: “The Government is now looking at trespass laws to make it easier for the companies that want to exploit shale gas. They’re trying to make changes to prevent landowners getting together and seeking an injunction against drilling companies.

“The Government has gone into consultation with the Law Commission – these things can be slow but with the Government’s wish to drive it through, I expect they may push it through more quickly.”

The law says anyone who buys a plot of land also owns everything directly above it to the edge of the atmosphere and below to the centre of the earth. This means, at present, they are allowed to use trespass legislation to prevent drilling underneath.

There are already some rules limiting landowners’ powers – planes overhead are not trespassing, for example, and any oil or gas in the ground belongs to the Government.

However, the system does create problems for fracking companies because of the way they drill.

Conventional techniques, such as those being used by Canadian energy company Rathlin to look for fossil fuel near Walkington, go straight down, meaning drillers only have to get access to the plot of land where the well will be.

However, fracking – which injects water at high pressure into rocks to crack them, freeing trapped gas – drills down and then out sideways.

Activity can therefore take place beneath land owned by others and they are able use today’s trespass laws to prevent it from going ahead.

Mr Collingwood said: “The law change will make it easier. The Government is trying to cut red tape and make it easier to go ahead with large infrastructure projects.

“The whole idea is to get these things consented.”

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