UK to legislate law to ease shale oil exploration

The UK government is mulling a law to make exploring for shale oil and gas easier.

Outlining the government's legislative plans for the next year, in a speech, Queen Elizabeth II said a bill would be proposed to ''enhance the UK's energy independence and security by opening up access to shale and geothermal sites.''

Companies today need to obtain consent from every landowner under whose property a well might pass. Under the new law, the need for this permission would be removed, according to the government. Drilling for shale often involves horizontal wells running for hundreds of metres, which could pass under several different properties.

David Cameron's government wants to replace ageing North Sea fields by development of shale reserves to cut energy costs. According to the projections areas in northern England might hold 1,300 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, enough to meet demand for 50 years at an extraction rate similar to US fields.

The proposed legislation would bring the sector in line with the mining industry and have ''no noticeable effect on the lives of home and property owners,'' according to the statement of the UK Onshore Operators Group, an industry body.

The Competitiveness and Infrastructure bill had been widely expected and would include a provision to end a requirement that gas and oil drilling companies needed to obtain to drill deep under their land.

"The Bill will enhance the United Kingdom's energy independence and security by opening up access to shale and geothermal sites and maximising North Sea resources," the Queen said.

Welcoming the proposal, the exploration lobbying body, United Kingdom Onshore Operators Group (UKOOG), said the proposed legislation will bring the industry into line with other activities, such as mining and utilities, which can already operate under peoples' homes at depth without permission.

"Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing are techniques that have been used by the oil and gas industry around the world for a number of decades," UKOOG said in a statement. "These techniques are typically used at depths of one mile or greater below the surface of the land using well diameters of 6 to 9 inches."

The shale industry in the UK is set to expand operations manifold with companies such as IGas Energy PLC, Total SA, Cuadrilla Resources Ltd and Egdon Resources PLC developing fracking operations around the country.