The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has announced the appointment of former North East Derbyshire MP Natascha Engel as commissioner for shale gas.
The new role will create a direct communication link between local communities, the shale gas industry and regulators.
According to BEIS, the role has been created because government understands the development of shale gas exploration and production sites is an issue which directly affects local communities and recognises the need to provide those communities with impartial, fact-based information.
According to BEIS, the commissioner will be a contact point for residents, to listen to their concerns, refer them to relevant and factual research and help improve communication with regulators and industry.
Engel said: “If extracted safely, shale gas has the potential to be a new, domestic source of energy for the UK. But there is a need for clear, impartial information to be provided to all parties and in particular those local communities most affected by shale gas development.
“As the commissioner for shale gas, I look forward to working closely with communities, regulators and industry to ensure facts are easily accessible as the process of shale exploration continues to develop.”
Energy and clean growth minister Claire Perry said: “It’s important we get the facts straight on shale gas and that communities can access the best scientific information when engaging with the developers and regulators.
“This new role will provide a single point of contact for local residents to get the information they need and have their questions answered.
“As the UK makes progress towards shale gas production, proving a streamlined way for developers to engage with our robust regulators will increase efficiency and help to continually improve our already world-leading regulations in this area.”
In a statement, BEIS said that the UK regulatory regime for shale gas is considered among the most robust and stringent in the world. “Regulators ensure the shale gas industry meets the relevant environmental criteria to operate responsibly in the UK and that these regulations keep pace with the development of shale gas exploration,” said a BEIS spokesperson.
“The commissioner will work closely with the shale gas regulators, although will be distinct from them, as it is not a regulatory role and has no powers of enforcement or investigation. To preserve the independence of the regulators, the commissioner will not comment on any specific regulatory decisions.”
The appointment comes as the government announced the set up of a Shale Environmental Regulator Group, which will bring the regulators (Oil and Gas Authority, Health and Safety Executive and Environment Agency) together as a virtual body. The Shale Environmental Regulator Group will act as one, coherent, single face for local authorities and industry, helping to resolve regulatory issues on sites and sharing best practice with local authorities considering shale gas applications.