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Friday, 16 October 2015

European Shale Gas and Oil Summit 2015 - Public Engagement and Planning

So here we are at the European Shale Gas and Oil Summit in Manchester. The mood seems fairly upbeat despite, for example, the recommendation for a five year moratorium that was voted through by Ryedale District Council at their October 8th council meeting. The Ryedale District Council, however, have only an advisory role and it will be interesting to see what weight Yorkshire County Council will give it.

One of the big themes that is being taken extremely seriously is what they call 'Engagement'. In other words, how to keep everyone fully informed about everything. The extent to which the Industry takes this seriously is quite frightening, especially as they are often accused of exactly the opposite. Certainly communications mistakes have been made in the past by them, but they seem to want to learn and do much better.

The local planning officers and civil servants report a massive need for information from the general public, but complain of two things. The first is that they are constrained by their jobs to only comment on the planning process even though many are experts in onshore hydrocarbon resources. The second is that the planning process has to occur within 13 weeks and that does not give enough time for the issues to be properly considered. One officer told me that there is a concern that the short planning permission judging cycle and the costs of a review of their decisions if they reject a planning proposal may lead to some proposals being passed when they should have greater scrutiny. Another that George Osborne's recent gift of business rates to local councils may act as a temptation for the more unprofessional local politicians to support shale gas development when the law requires that the planning process is independent of political influence.

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