12th June 2014
In the past year, the Environment Agency has issued environmental permits for seven oil and gas drilling sites. It has also given pre-application advice for 24 more.
The figures emerged this afternoon at a meeting of Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport Forum in London, where the keynote speaker was the Environment Agency’s chair, Lord Chris Smith.
He told the meeting that since June 2013, the EA had issued environmental permits for three exploratory shale gas sites, two coal bed methane sites and two conventional oil and gas sites.
He said staff had also given pre-application advice on permits for three shale gas sites, four coal bed methane sites and 17 conventional oil and gas sites.
Lord Smith said the EA had undertaken to determine permit applications for all onshore oil and gas operations, including those involving fracking, in 13 weeks. He said the average timescale for permit applications for onshore oil and gas was currently between eight and nine weeks.
“We are trying to make sure it is not regulation from the environmental point of view that is holding all this up”, he said.
Lord Smith told the meeting “fracking is a safe procedure”, provided, he said, there was no danger of contamination of ground water, the chemicals were safely contained, water use was regulated and fugitive methane properly captured.
“If it provides us, as it has the potential to do, with substantial quantities of domestically-produced gas then it will be a very helpful part of our energy mix”, he said.
Lord Smith said the “brutal reality” was that we had to prepare for climate change. This included decarbonising the electricity and energy systems over the next forty years.
He said Britain needed a mix of energy sources. “If we put all our eggs in one basket we are going to fail. He dismissed the idea that we could rely on renewables alone. “Investment in renewables is not going to provide the answer of the next 40 years. It might in the longer term but not in the medium term.”
He said shale gas was also not the answer to all the UK’s energy needs. But neither was it the “devil’s work incarnate”, the view, he said, of some in the green movement. “Provided that it is properly regulated and provided that it is properly and safely done it is not necessarily detrimental to the environment”, he said.