Labour pushes for overhaul of fracking regulations

Amendments to the Infrastructure Bill seek to tighten regulation of the emerging shale gas industry.

Tom Greatrex MP: seeking to tighten fracking regulations

Shadow Energy Minister Tom Greatrex MP is seeking to overhaul the regulation of the emergent shale gas industry by insisting on new measures to protect the environment. His proposals have been tabled in the Infrastructure Bill, which this week entered committee stage in the House of Commons, following its second reading on 8 December.

The Bill also contains legislation for creation of Highways England.

The 11 amendments could see the Health and Safety Executive’s role as a licensee expanded as Labour seek to make it responsible for independent well inspection, transferring this away from operators. They will also see water companies become statutory consultees in the planning process.

"This will bring some coherence and clarity to a confusing situation – the public must have a clear sense of where responsibilityfor these decisions in Scotland lie." Tom Greatrex

Water industry body Water UK said it was absolutely essential that water companies were given this responsibility so that they can work with operators early in the planning process to develop solutions that will work for all stakeholders.

“Statutory inclusion in the process would enhance public confidence by demonstrating that impacts on drinking water and drinking water sources will be fully taken into account,” it said.

Although Water UK has signed an MoU with the UK Onshore Operators Group (UKOOG) designed to identify and resolve risks around water and wastewater, this has no legal status and only applies to current members of the group. As the industry grows so does the risk of non compliance.

Not only do the amendments formalise the consultee role for relevant water companies but they also clarify the requirements for baseline monitoring insisting on a 12 month assessment against which the environmental impacts can be determined. Methane in groundwater must also be included in this. Furthermore Greatrex has called for all sites to be subject to environmental impact assessment (EIA) closing a loophole that means sites below 1 hectare do not currently need one.

In Scotland, which has one of the most promising shale gas resources in the UK contained in the carboniferous shales of the Midland Belt, the amendments seek to transfer licensing and mineral access rights. This would clarify the current situation where planning responsibility lies with Holyrood but access rights with the Crown. "It makes sense for mineral access rights, in effect a secondary aspect of the planning regime, to be devolved as well.

This will bring some coherence and clarity to a confusing situation – the public must have a clear sense of where responsibility for these decisions in Scotland lie. Rather than maintaining the false pretence that they are powerless to prevent fracking in Scotland, this amendment will give help clarify that the Scottish government the responsibility for all aspects of planning,” said Greatrex.

The proposals also give local authorities in the UK the ability to take into account other local fracking sites when assessing planning applications for new wells. The current regime means that every application has to be judged on its own merits. It also seeks to prevent development in protected areas.

The HSE declined to comment on the proposals that would see its role on well inspection enhanced. Ensuring well integrity is a critical aspect of ensuring the safety of the fracking process and was highlighted as being a high priority by the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering in their technical review published in June 2012.

 The 11 amendments:

  • Introduce a presumption against development in Protected Areas

  • Prohibit the use of “Any Substance” in the frack fluid

  • Place an obligation on operators to monitor and report fugitive emissions

  • Empower local planning authorities to consider the cumulative impact of multipledevelopments in their area

  • Implement the recommendation of the Smith Commission and devolve licensing and mineral access right for shale gas to Scotland

  • Ensure that there is properly independent inspection of well integrity

  • Require well-by-well disclosure of the contents of the frack fluid

  • Require baseline assessments for methane in the groundwater

  • Require all shale gas sites to conduct Environmental Impact Assessments, including those of less than 1 hectare

  • Make water companies statutory consultees in the planning process

  • Ensure that all baseline assessments take place over a 12 month period, to provide an accurate standard against which any potential environmental impacts can be determined.

Read more about the Infrastructure Bill here:

The amendments:

The BGS report on Scottish shale reserves:

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