Energy lawyers are expecting a hike in UK shale gas projects after the Queen’s speech yesterday (4 June) outlined plans to widen trespass laws in a draft Infrastructure Bill.
The Bill, which will bolster investment in infrastructure and reform planning law, is expected, according to the Queen’s speech, to allow fracking companies to drill under homes without needing to obtain express, individual permission.
While the Crown owns all sub-surface minerals in the UK, including oil and gas, companies are currently required go through the courts to obtain landowners’ consent and the necessary access rights. Attempting to drill without obtaining these rights constitutes trespass and fracking has so far been met with extreme resistance in the UK.
The Government plans to amend trespass laws, pending the results of a 12-week consultation on its plans to include the measure in the Bill.
Norton Rose Fulbright’s head of energy disputes, Neil Miller, who advised Star Energy in its 2010 Supreme Court dispute with Mohammed Al Fayed over whether drilling in his Surrey estate constituted trespass, told Legal Business: ‘Fracking is a terribly confrontational and contentious issue. People are understandably nervous about going on one side or the other, notably the Government.
‘But there has to be an essential method or means to find a way to allow it to proceed in a licensed and controlled way. The original way to go through the courts to attain land owner consent doesn’t help anyone – not land owners or companies trying to develop it.’
The British Geological Survey last year doubled estimates for shale reserves in northern England to 1,300 trillion cubic feet of gas.
Energy firms positioning themselves to take on UK shale gas work include Dentons, Herbert Smith Freehills, Mayer Brown and leading US energy firm Bracewell & Guiliani, while firms that are already active in the US shale gas market and can be expected to make a play include Baker Botts, Vinson & Elkins and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.