Ed Davey has branded “deeply alarming” Claire Perry’s description of shale gas as “low carbon energy” after the government unveiled moves to “fast track” planning approval for onshore extraction of the fuel.

Following yesterday’s (17 May) announcement of a package of measures to support shale extraction, the energy and climate change minister wrote on Twitter: “The safe and sustainable development of onshore shale will play a key part in meeting our Climate Change Act goals, as it offers low carbon energy production solutions as we #powerpastcoal and continue working toward a zero carbon economy.”

Responding to Perry’s tweet, former energy and climate change secretary of state Davey told Utility Week: “It is deeply alarming that the minister for climate change thinks that gas is low carbon.”

The Liberal Democrat MP added: “Gas may be a transition fuel towards a low carbon and then zero carbon world but it’s no better than that.”

Emma Gibson, senior energy campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: “Whisky has less alcohol in it than meths, and shale gas produces less carbon pollution than coal. But just as whisky is not a low alcohol drink, shale gas is not a low carbon fuel.”

Perry’s tweet follows yesterday’s outline by Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) secretary Greg Clark of a series of measures to speed up the planning process for shale gas projects.

These include:

  • Consulting this summer, on treating non-hydraulic fracturing shale exploration development as permitted development, which enables projects to bypass the need for full-scale planning permission
  • Consulting this summer, on the criteria required to trigger the inclusion of shale production projects into the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects regime
  • Strengthening community engagement in shale projects by consulting on the potential to make pre-application consultation a statutory requirement for shale projects

In addition, the government is earmarking £1.6 million to support councils when handling planning applications for shale projects.

And the government has proposed establishing a new dedicated regulator for the shale gas extraction bringing together functions currently scattered across the Environment Agency, Health and Safety Executive and Oil and Gas Authority.

Clark justified the new measures on the grounds that recent decisions on shale exploration planning applications remain “disappointingly slow” against the statutory target of 16 weeks.

He said that with the ongoing decline of the UK’s North Sea production, the UK could rely on imports for nearly three quarters of its gas requirements by 2030.

Responding to Clark’s announcement, Rebecca Long Bailey shadow business secretary, said: “Fracking should be banned, not promoted.

“But the government is encouraging this dirty fossil fuel by making the planning application easier and creating a special fracking regulator.

“Labour will ban fracking and boost renewable energy projects. We will fix our broken energy system by creating publicly owned, locally accountable companies and co-operatives.”

Rose Dickinson, campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “Permitted development was meant to help people build a fence or a conservatory, not drill for gas.

“With all the inherent risks of fracking anyone would think that the government would at least want the process done properly and fairly, rather than wrestling what modest power local people have to object away from them.”

Lesley Griffiths AM, cabinet secretary for energy, planning and rural affairs, said: “The UK government’s statement on shale gas development applies only to England.

“The Welsh government position is different, we are opposed to fracking.  Our revised Planning Policy Wales, which is out for consultation, strengthens our policy on onshore oil and gas.

“I want to see the planning system help us achieve the challenging targets I have set for decarbonisation and increased renewable energy generation.”

She added: “From October 2018, licensing functions on onshore petroleum extraction will transfer to Welsh government, which will provide an opportunity to consider a new approach.

“To help us do this, we commissioned a review of the evidence on onshore petroleum extraction, looking at impact on the environment, climate change, health, transport, decommissioning and economy.  I will shortly be launching a consultation on the findings and its implications for Wales.”

What to read next