‘Fracking’ was probably the last thing in the minds of the authors of the Land Registration Act 2002 when they set a 2013 deadline for registering overriding interests.

Little did they know that the distant date would coincide with a furious debate over the rights and wrongs of shale gas drilling and extraction.

Their aim had been to bring clarity to a tangle of obscure and largely unregistered interests in the broad categories of manorial rights and chancel repair liability.

People were given a decade to put manorial rights or chancel repair liability in the register or risk losing them. Many waited until the last minute, which is what is causing confusion today.

Their rush of applications has meant home owners across England and Wales are receiving statutory letters from Land Registry about those claims to interests that affect their homes at just the same time as the first applications to ‘frack’ are being considered.

It is however a simple coincidence. If shale gas had not been increasingly promoted as a fuel of the future in the past couple of years, those same home owners would be receiving the same notices but without the added ‘heat’ of the fracking controversy.

They may still have been concerned about the registration of the claimed interests but their concerns would not have been increased by any prospect of possible future ‘fracking’ operations.

‘Fracking’ and our statutory and neutral role

At Land Registry we’ve tried to take some of the heat out of the issue by emphasising the statutory and neutral nature of our role.

We know no more about the likelihood of ‘fracking‘ than anyone else reading the news. We do not have any information about what, if any, minerals may be under any particular area. Nor do we know what minerals any particular claimed rights owner may own or be able to extract.

However, we do know that the people currently registering their claimed rights to minerals do not own any shale gas that may be found, in the same way as they don’t own any gold, silver or coal that may exist.

The message from the Government is that companies wishing to drill for shale gas will require a licence from the Department of Energy & Climate Change on behalf of the Crown, which owns onshore oil and gas.

It’s a complex subject. We realise we could have been clearer in the past about our role and the nature of the letters we must send. We’ve listened to people’s concerns about the letters and changed some of the language we use.

But there’s one thing we’ve always tried to be absolutely clear about – the letters we send are nothing to do with ‘fracking’.

For more information about overriding interests, please see our guidance: Historical rights that could affect your property.

Gavin Curry
By Gavin Curry,
Digital Communications and Editorial Officer at HM Land Registry