LONDON, Aug 9 (Reuters) - Britain's Environment Agency (EA) proposed new guidance on Friday that could further delay the already lengthy application process for launching shale and other unconventional oil and gas exploration.
Beset by protests that have made the question of whether to allow shale drilling a national issue, shale firms complain that the UK's complex application process takes months longer than in the United States, discouraging investment.
In a technical guidance document on its website, the EA proposed taking longer than normal to decide whether to give an environmental permit for onshore oil and gas exploration if a site is of "high public interest".
If approved, the agency said that the new guidance could increase the time scale for granting environmental permits from the current 13 weeks to six months or more to give it time to consult properly with local communities.
That would be just the latest blow to an industry that the government, keen on the jobs and revenue that Britain's theoretically substantial shale gas reserves could generate, has said it is keen to support.
"This has the potential to delay the exploration of shale gas resources in the UK," said Simon Colvin, an expert on energy and environmental regulations at law firm Pinsent Masons.
"The high public interest status could mean an extremely lengthy process, taking into account a number of rounds of community consultation."
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