Most designated Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence (PEDL) areas are agricultural in character and contain small hamlets and village settlements. Great sensitivity is needed to ensure that the character of the local landscape, and of the communities it contains, are not significantly damaged by proposals for shale gas exploration and extraction.
The shale gas industry recognises that it must engage in a public dialogue ‘about what potential for shale gas in the UK means for communities’ and the UK Onshore Operators Group (UKOOG) has published a ‘Shale Community Engagement Charter’ which outlines the steps that the industry will take to mitigate residents concerns about various amenity and environmental issues. For example, the charter commits operators to protecting the environment: ‘ensure effective risk based, systematic, management of environmental impact’.
Good intentions, however, are not always carried forward into concrete proposals on the ground and it is the LI’s view that the landscape profession is well placed to interrogate operator intentions and to secure proposals that fully address both primary and secondary landscape impacts of any shale gas exploration scheme. Landscape architects, planners and managers, working with the operator or with the local authority, can ensure that each community affected by a fracking proposal has sufficient information to respond effectively to decision-makers at public meetings, committee meetings and planning appeals.
The potential landscape impacts of a shale gas exploration site may include traffic generation, waste and water storage, pollution to water, air quality, noise, light spill and other public health concerns. Cumulative impacts may over time lead to an irreversible change of landscape character, ‘industrialisation’ of the rural landscape or loss of valued landscape assets such as woodlands, hedgerows and nature conservation sites. Following exploration and decommissioning, the mineral planning authority is responsible for ensuring the wells are abandoned and the site is restored. Proper restoration and aftercare of a site will be secured through the imposition of suitable planning conditions and, where necessary, through Section 106 legal agreements.
At each stage of the process, landscape professionals have the skills to mitigate many of the potential negative effects of shale gas exploration, through good quality landscape planning, design and management. Based on past experiences with conventional extraction operations, it is important for operators to make provision for financial obligations for site restoration and third party liability.
Notwithstanding the LI’s declaration of a climate change emergency, to assist landscape practitioners who may be or come to work in this field or who want to be better informed, the LI has retained a technical note on the subject.