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The Government has launched a consultation to simplify the process for shale gas underground drilling access. The proposals comprise access to underground land but only below 300m (nearly 1000ft), a voluntary payment from industry, and a voluntary public notification for access. However, any hydraulic fracturing would only occur at far greater depths of 1.5 kilometres (around 5000ft) or more.

The current procedures for shale gas exploration are costly, time-consuming and disproportionate. The new proposals would allow companies to explore the potential of shale gas sites while offering a community payment in return for underground access at depths so deep that the Energy Department states they will have no negative impact on landowners. I believe we need to strike the right balance between the legitimate concerns of landowners, and the benefits to the community and nation at large of permitting development.

Many other industries already access underground land in order to lay cables and build infrastructure such as water pipes and tunnels. These are much closer to the surface than the access concerned here. For example the deepest Tube station is around 32m below ground.

However, I must stress that the solution outlined in the consultation does not change any other aspect of the existing regulatory system, such as procedures for surface access, planning, environmental permits or safety controls. In particular, the proposals do not weaken existing requirements for public consultation prior to the granting of planning permission or environmental permits for developments. Safety is the top priority. The UK has over 50 years of experience in regulating the onshore oil and gas industry and we have a strong regulatory regime for shale gas extraction.

I recognise the strong feelings on both sides of the argument and I support the undertaking of a public consultation so everyone can make their views known. It runs until 15 August and more details can be found online here:

We need to ensure that we have energy supply for the future and shale gas is a promising new potential energy resource. Shale gas is by no means the only option but I believe has it has an important part to pay in a mixed energy portfolio alongside renewable energy sources and nuclear power - variety is good for both the economy and the environment.

Shale gas has the potential to create thousands of jobs and bring in billions in tax revenues and so I strongly support the Government’s new proposals. However, I only support fracking operations if they are safe and not at the expense of local communities or the environment.

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