Hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, is a process used to remove gas and oil from shale rock deep in the ground. It is estimated that more than 2.5 million wells have been ‘fracked’ worldwide.

The government believes that shale gas has the potential to provide the UK with greater energy security, growth and jobs, subject to continued environmental assessment and control.

More information on the national approach set by government can be found on the gov.uk website 

Warrington's situation

The surrounding areas of Warrington have a long history of industry, in particular coal mining. The area includes potential reserves of oil and gas, like coal bed methane and shale gas.

The UK's national oil and gas regulator has issued licences, for onshore oil and gas exploration in 10km x 10km blocks, to various companies in the Warrington area.

The licenses (issued by the Department of Energy and Climate Change - DECC) grant exclusive rights to oil and gas operators in a given area. Operators must obtain the necessary consents and permission from regulators. Certain exploratory works may be carried out under permitted development rights without the need for planning permission.

Health, safety, environment

The process to secure permission for shale gas development is strictly controlled in the UK. The Government has set a framework for any company to follow which requires licences and planning permission for each of the three stages of development:

  • Exploration
  • Appraisal
  • Extraction

Planning permission is required from Warrington Borough Council at each of these stages. However, some site testing may be able to be carried out without the need for planning permission.

Checks are made by the regulatory bodies involved at each of the three stages involved in the shale gas development process.  There is also a requirement for the operator to introduce their own well examination scheme and appoint an independent competent person to further scrutinise activity on the well.

Public Health England assessed the risk to human health of extracting shale gas in an October 2013 report. They evaluated available evidence on issues including air quality, radon gas, naturally occurring radioactive materials, water contamination and waste water. They concluded that “the risks to public health from exposure to emissions from shale gas extraction are low if operations are properly run and regulated.”

The planning process

The normal planning process has to be followed for planning applications for unconventional gas extraction. There are usually three main stages which require planning permission.

Stage 1 - Exploration

This involves building a drilling rig and drilling vertically, deep into the ground, to find out how much gas is in the shale. This does not involve fracturing.

Stage 2 - Appraisal

This involves using the rig to carry out tests to see how the gas flows out of the shale.

Stage 3 - Production

This involves applying for planning permission to set up a full-time commercial operation. If the company gained planning permission, these works would take several years to complete.

The company will need to show how it has carefully considered the impacts and practical issues about how the site will operate and how it will affect the local area. This includes full and proper consideration of a range of issues including:

  • lighting, dust, smells and noise
  • operating hours of the site
  • lorry access and routes
  • flood risk
  • site restoration and aftercare once the works have been completed.

Firms wishing to carry out production also have to get the relevant licences and approvals from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) under the Petroleum Act; the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive.

Community engagement

Warrington Borough Council is required to make objective decisions on applications and is committed to being open and transparent about approaches made by companies.

The council will publicise any planning applications it receives, so local people have the opportunity to get involved and have their say. The council will publicise the fact that it has received a planning application by placing a press notice, erecting site notices and writing directly to people who live close by.

In addition, the shale oil and gas industry has set out its own Community Engagement Charter. This includes commitment to engage with communities early at each stage of the planning process.

However, there is no formal requirement for any works that take place under permitted development rights to be advertised. The council encourages any potential developer to engage with the local community.

The council always advertises applications and invites written comments. If the council does receive a planning application, people will be able to comment online, via email or in writing. Members of the public also have the opportunity to present their case in person at the committee meeting.

Visit our planning webpages for more information.

Further information

What is conventional oil and gas?

‘Conventional’ oil and gas refers to oil and gas resources (known as hydrocarbons) which are situated in sandstone or limestone rock formations. Conventional oil and gas does not include shale gas or coal bed methane extraction.

What is unconventional oil and gas?

Natural gas produced from shale and coal is often referred to as ‘unconventional’ and this refers to the type of rock type in which it is found.

What is shale gas?

Shale gas is methane found in rocks deep below the earth’s surface which had previously been considered too impermeable (‘tight’) to allow for economic recovery. Shale gas is considered to be ‘unconventional’. Technological advancements over the last decade have made shale gas development economically viable.

What is coal bed methane?

Many coal seams contain natural gas, either within the seam itself or the surrounding rock. This coalbed methane is trapped underground, and is generally not released into the atmosphere until coal mining activities take place.

Historically, coalbed methane has been considered a nuisance in the coal mining industry, however, coalbed methane has become a popular unconventional form of natural gas. This methane can be extracted and injected into natural gas pipelines for resale, used as an industrial feedstock, or used for heating and electricity generation. Coal Bed Methane is considered to be ‘unconventional’.