Onshore oil and gas in Britain : planning problems and policies
The search for onshore oil and gas in Britain has had an erratic pattern of historical development but since the discovery of the Wytch Farm field in Dorset, during 1973, the industry has undergone a marked revival. Over the past ten years one of the highest levels of exploration ever experienced has been achieved and this has raised a number of interesting new questions in relation to planning for these developments. One of the main problems is that although the drilling of an exploratory borehole requires planning permission the work itself is only a temporary operation and on the basis of this argument permission has been sought to drill wells on land of high amenity or ecological value. However, a successful exploratory borehole can lead to a planning application for the installation of more permanent production facilities and this can lead to something of a dilemma for planners as to where exploratory drilling should be permitted. This research aimed to investigate the onshore hydrocarbons industry and determine what were the impacts of and the issues raised by this new phase of activity. The work was given an exciting new dimension when a public inquiry was called to investigate Shell UK's planning application to sink an exploratory borehole in the New Forest. The proceedings of the Inquiry were followed and the evidence presented was used to help determine the important issues. A series of detailed interviews were then undertaken to illuminate the problems from the viewpoint of both the industry and the planners. Mineral Planning Officers and Oil Company Officials answered similar questions and related these to their own individual experiences of onshore hydrocarbons operations. The research concluded that although the industry raised a number of problems the use of effective planning control at both central and local levels could overcome most of these. A series of recommendations were made.