Queen outlines US-style fracking plans for UK

Pomp and pageantry returned to the streets of London on Wednesday as the Queen laid out a package of reforms at the State Opening of Parliament, highlighting a continued path towards energy independence for the country.

The historic ceremony at the Houses of Parliament marked the formal start of the political year. In a speech written by the government, the Queen outlined the legislative program for the coming months which included plans to bolster investment in infrastructure, reform planning laws and opening up sites for potential hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking.

These investment plans, seen as controversial by some campaign groups, will enhance the United Kingdom's energy independency and security, she said, by opening up access to shale and geothermal sites and maximizing North Sea resources.

The process of fracking has helped lead a revival in the manufacturing industry in the U.S. with cheaper oil prices, also helping the country to rely less on foreign nations for oil and gas. The U.K. coalition government has seized upon the idea in recent years, using the crisis in Ukraine on Wednesday to show why the country must "urgently diversify" its energy.

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The plans have come up against fierce resistance in some areas with campaigners concerned at the demolition of the natural landscape as well as highlighting allegations that it can contaminate water supplies. Greenpeace used the Queen's speech on Wednesday to launch a protest against the fracking laws. It set up security fences outside Prime Minister's David Cameron's country home in a mock "fracking site" and reinforced its claims that firms will now be allowed to drill under people's land and property without their permission.

Pension reform

The speech was the last one of its kind before next year's General Election and Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg called it "unashamedly pro-work, pro-business and pro-aspiration." The Queen, speaking in front of the House of Lords, said that new laws would make the U.K. the "most attractive place for business" and would promote fairness for low paid workers.

"My government's legislative program will continue to deliver on its long-term plan to build a stronger economy and a fairer society. To strengthen the economy and provide stability and security, my ministers will continue to reduce the country's deficit, helping to ensure that mortgage and interest rates remain low," she said.

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"A key priority for my ministers will be to continue to build an economy that rewards those who work hard."

Pensions reform was also high on the list with the coalition government set to allow more freedom and flexibility for people reaching retirement age. Plans are expected to allow pensioners total control over their money and will no longer force them to buy an annuity - an annual retirement income - despite concerns that this will be less secure and promote uncontrolled spending. Analysts at Schroders believe that the reforms for pensions could be a "bridge too far" indicating that the industry may struggle to effectively implement the wide raging changes that are due to be passed through Parliament.

Also mentioned in the speech was a law imposing a 5 pence (8 cents) charge on the plastic bags given out by supermarkets.

Low on ideas?

Wednesday's event is one of the highlights of the Westminster calendar and the Queen arrived at Parliament in a new coach marking hundreds of years of U.K. history. The new carriage contains in its bodywork fragments of Henry VIII's warship the Mary Rose, Isaac Newton's apple tree and the Stone of Destiny - used for centuries in the coronation of the monarchs of Scotland.

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The first coach of the procession left Buckingham Palace at around 10:40 a.m. London time, which contained the the Imperial State Crown, the Sword of State and the Cap of Maintenance. The third coach transported the Queen and arrived at the Houses of Parliament just after 11 a.m. London time.

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One of the most memorable images of the state opening happened shortly afterwards when Black Rod - responsible for organizing ceremonial events - summoned the members of parliament to hear the Queen's speech after having the door slammed in his face and having to knock three times.

This year's speech has been seen by many political analysts as a chance for the government to prove that it has not become low on ideas. Ed Miliband, the leader of the opposition Labour Party called for reforms of the country's banks, a freeze in energy bills, wage rises and an increase in homebuilding. Business lobby group The Institute of Directors has meanwhile called for a simplification of the U.K.'s "excessively complex tax system" but applauded the overall message of the Queen's words. It said the announcements appeared to promote growth, innovation and provide help for people who want to start and grow a business.