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Vast areas of southern England will on Friday be identified by the Government as targets for fracking, with ministers also announcing that energy companies will be allowed to frack under homes without owners' permission.
A British Geological Survey study of the South, spanning from Wiltshire to Kent and including the South Downs National Park, will be published, mapping out the likely location of billions of barrels of shale oil.
Ministers are also preparing to publish controversial plans to change the laws of trespass to give energy companies an automatic right to frack beneath homes and private land – even if owners object.
They hope that the introduction of fracking to Britain will spark an energy revolution which will drive down household bills as has happened in America.
However, the technique has met opposition from communities in Britain who have yet to embrace the potential benefits.
Both announcements come on the day results of the local elections are revealed, leading to claims that the Government is attempting to bury controversial news.
Communities under which fracking takes place will be offered compensation, which ministers will suggest could reach £800,000. But industry sources told The Telegraph they only expected to pay in the region of £200,000 for a major drilling site at peak production.
In a blow for Michael Fallon, the energy minister who will unveil the plans, the chairman of his own constituency party said he did not think he could support fracking under homes without owners’ consent.
Gary Williamson, chairman of Sevenoaks Conservative Association – which lies within the BGS study area – said he would be “uneasy” about the plan because “an Englishman’s home has always been his castle”.
Fracking involves drilling a vertical well typically more than a mile deep, and then drilling out horizontally for more than a mile. Large volumes of water, sand and chemicals are then pumped down the well to fracture the rocks and extract oil or gas trapped within them.
Ministers have enthusiastically backed the introduction of the process in Britain, arguing that vast quantities of shale gas deposits in northern England – mapped out by the BGS last year – could help reduce dependency on imports and even cut energy bills.
The Prime Minister has said Britain is going “all out for shale”.
The latest BGS report includes Tory heartlands of Hampshire, Sussex and Surrey, areas believed to be richer in oil than gas. It is likely to make clear that it will only be technically and economically feasible to extract a small fraction of the oil in the ground.
The report will be controversial because it includes most of the South Downs National Park and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The National Trust has called for fracking to be banned in National..., while Tory peer Lord Howell – the Chancellor’s father-in-law – has claimed fracking should not take place in the South and would lose thousands of Tory votes.
Senior Conservatives whose seats are covered by the BGS study have voiced concerns at fracking in their areas, despite supporting the search for shale gas and oil elsewhere.
Andrew Tyrie, MP for Chichester, has indicated he would oppose plans to frack in Fernhurst in the South Downs National Park as it was “an environmentally sensitive area” and “very close to a village of 3,000 inhabitants”.
Nick Herbert, MP for the neighbouring Arundel and South Downs seat, has said the benefits of shale are “potentially substantial” but warned that “for West Sussex, with our precious countryside, fragile chalk downs and tranquil villages, the impacts on water and traffic are of particular concern”.
The BGS report’s publication was delayed until after the local elections and ministers were accused of burying controversial news by releasing the report and the trespass law change as political attention focuses on the results.
Tom Greatrex, Labour’s shadow energy minister, said: “The timing of these announcements will strike many people as cynically and deliberately driven for a day when focus will be on election performance, and ahead of the count of the European elections.”
Friday’s publications will be followed within weeks by the launching of a new 'licensing round’ offering companies the rights to drill across the much of the UK, including the newly-mapped areas.
They will make clear that companies would still have to gain planning permission for fracking, as well as numerous environmental permits and land access rights for their rig at the actual drilling site.
However, the issue of below-ground access rights is seen as one of the biggest obstacles to a shale boom because drilling would have to take place beneath thousands of homes in order for gas and oil to be produced at scale.
Under current trespass law, landowners above the horizontal drilling path could prevent it taking place and could only be overruled by a court. Fracking opponents Greenpeace have already signed up thousands of landowners in a “legal blockade” against the process.
Ministers argue that only “minimal” compensation should be paid to those above drilling routes, because residents will not be affected by, or even aware of, fracking beneath them.
The government is thought to have rejected the idea of compensation for individual homeowners who object and instead be considering industry plans to compensate entire communities under which drilling may take place, to reduce bureaucracy and disputes.
Industry will pledge to pay £20,000 for each horizontal drilling route, the Telegraph has learnt. There could be 40 horizontal wells per site, leading ministers to suggest that communities could share in total payouts of £800,000.
But industry sources told The Telegraph that some of the horizontal wells would be above each other at different heights on the same trajectory, and that they would only pay for land access once in such cases, resulting in a total nearer £200,000.
However, sites where fewer wells are drilled, for example while companies are beginning exploring, could expect significantly less – in the region of tens of thousands of pounds.
By contrast, the fracking industry has pledged much more generous benefits – including a 1pc share of revenues worth up to £10m – to those communities in the immediate vicinity of the drilling rig, or whose homes will be affected by lorry traffic to and from the site.
Proponents of a trespass law change argue it simply brings the access rights for fracking in line with those that have been used for other industries, such as coal mining or transport tunnels. They argue that fracking, entailing a six-inch pipe more than a mile below ground, is significantly less disruptive.
The only test case on the issue saw £1,000 awarded to Mohammed Fayed’s estate for oil drilling beneath it, but an appeal court judge later said £82.50 would have been more appropriate.
Additional reporting by Ben Lazarus