3rd June 2014
A countryside group has called on the government to uphold environmental standards at onshore oil exploration sites, not reduce them.
The government wants to allow these sites to store up to 200 tonnes of crude oil for six months without an environmental permit. A consultation, which ended yesterday, proposed to remove these sites from the Environmental Permitting Regulations (EPR).
The consultation document said the Environment Agency had taken the position that the EPR did not apply to exploration sites because they were of “limited duration” and the volume of oil was low. The “regulatory burden” of applying for a permit would, the document argued, be “disproportionate to the environmental risk”.
But the national office of Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), and its regional groups in Hampshire, Kent and Sussex, called for effective regulation of shale oil exploration.
The groups urged the government to “ditch the proposals and uphold proper environmental safeguards, rather than reduce them”.
Nick Clack, CPRE’s senior energy campaigner, said environmental hazards existed for even small-scale activities. He warned that the escape of 200 tonnes of oil at a sensitive site, such as in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), could be disastrous. “It is extraordinary that the Government should be proposing to do this when public confidence in the safety of fracking is so low and when exploratory drilling for oil is about to take off”, he said.
“Ministers need to wake up to the lack of public confidence about the ability to prevent damage to the environment from shale exploration – particularly when shale oil has the potential to undermine our climate change targets. It should be seeking to bolster public confidence in the quality of its regulatory and monitoring regimes, rather than removing existing regulation.”
The British Geological Survey estimated (May 23rd 2014) there could be 4.4 billion barrels of shale oil in the Weald Basin, a region stretching from Kent to Hampshire. The most productive areas are likely to include the South Downs National Park and two AONBs.
Dee Haas, chairman of CPRE Hampshire, said: “The public has a right to expect proper regulation by the Government of any works being carried out, on whatever scale, in the countryside.
“In Hampshire, we are concerned about areas both within and just outside of the South Downs National Park, for example, around Alton, the eastern edge of Winchester and the A3 corridor down to Clanfield and Horndean.The frequency and spread of testing and the impacts this will have on rural areas must be monitored properly to ensure water quality, wildlife and rural tranquillity are well protected.”
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs plans to summarise the consultation responses on its website.