LONDON, Aug 13 (Reuters) - The British government will give its communities minister the power to directly approve shale gas permits, taking away decision-making from local politicians who have in the past months blocked the progress of Britain's first shale gas wells.
In late June, local government officials in northwest England rejected two applications to carry out hydraulic fracturing -- or fracking, saying the projects would be too noisy and blight the landscape.
New rules, applicable immediately, will allow government intervention to approve or reject permits and will also mean appeals involving shale gas projects will be given priority.
Shale gas developer Cuadrilla Resources, whose applications were rejected in June, has already decided to appeal against its permit refusals.
"Today's measures will prevent the long delays that mean uncertainty both for business and for local residents," the energy and communities departments said in a joint press release.
The government also said it would present proposals later this year to create a sovereign wealth fund from returns generated from shale gas production.
Britain is estimated to have substantial amounts of shale gas trapped in underground rocks and the government has been supportive of developing these reserves to counter declining North Sea oil and gas output.
However, progress has been slow because of opposition by local residents and environmental campaigners. Some are concerned about groundwater contamination from chemicals used in the process, while others fear the potential impact on property prices or tourism.
"The UK government seems intent on overriding the democratic safeguards of the English planning system and shutting out local voices from crucial decisions," said Flick Monk, unconventional gas campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland.
Pro-business groups welcomed the decision, saying the change would help get shale gas projects up and running. (Reporting by Karolin Schaps; Additional reporting by Andrew Callus and Kylie MacLellan, editing by David Evans)