Belatedly, and after considerable pressure, the Prime Minister has become involved in the campaign to reassure people that fracking shale could being jobs and prosperity to England, and that strict regulation would ensure it was done as safely as possible.
Ministers have been working to streamline the permitting process and reduce duplication, a responsibility of Owen Paterson.
But out of the blue comes the Environment Agency (headed by former Labour minister Lord Smith). It is suggesting an even longer application process which could delay shale gas activities for six months.
Reuters reports that
In a technical guidance document on its website, the EA proposed taking longer than normal to decide whether to give an environmental permit for onshore oil and gas exploration if a site is of "high public interest". If approved, the agency said that the new guidance could increase the time scale for granting environmental permits from the current 13 weeks to six months or more to give it time to consult properly with local communities."The high public interest status could mean an extremely lengthy process", says a lawyer, "taking into account a number of rounds of community consultation".
"Given the current level of public interest in unconventional gas and oil exploration, it's likely that we will treat such sites as being of high public interest," the Agency said in the document on its website.
Why would such judgements fall within the ambit of the Environment Agency anyway? They should surely be made by elected bodies accountable to voters. The role of the Environment Agency should be a technical one.
The Environment Agency are not elected. They are not the government.
But on a major government policy they feel able to put up a proposal which would further slow down an already cumbersome process.
Developers already need to make nine separate applications to the EA for a single exploratory well. They also have to get planning permission from the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Health and Safety Executive.The unaccountable Environment Agency seem to be a law unto themselves. Why does government consider this acceptable? Who governs, ministers or quangos? Against the Environment Agency David Cameron and George Osborne appear powerless.
Heath went to the country asking Who governs Britain, the government or the unions?