Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon is to change planning rules to tighten up regulations on fracking.
Currently, exploration for oil and gas – including via fracking – can proceed under what were known as permitted development rights.
It meant planning permission was only needed if firms wanted to move to commercial extraction.
But the minister says she plans to extend the planning permission requirement to cover exploration.
It would deliver on a promise of a former infrastructure minister, Mark H Durkan, who had vowed to end the practice of exploratory drilling taking place under permitted development rights.
Ms Mallon said the move was “an important step and I believe the right one for the environment”.
Other changes to planning rules announced by Ms Mallon will allow the following without planning permission:
- Upgrades on mobile phone masts and antennas.
- Shopkeepers extending property and loading bays.
- Recharging infrastructure for electric vehicles.
Mrs Mallon said that she hoped the proposals would encourage growth in the electric vehicle market and allow better coverage for mobile phones and broadband.
The proposals will be brought to the infrastructure committee in the coming weeks for scrutiny.