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Government’s licence-to-drill consultation ignored vast majority of responses

30th July 2014

Ministers ignored the views of the vast majority of people and organisations who responded to the government consultation on new oil and gas drilling licences.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) confirmed on Monday it would issue licences for oil and gas exploration and production covering about half the country. It rejected alternative proposals to either limit the area in which licences were issued or not to offer licences at all.

The energy minister, Baroness Verma, told the House of Lords: the “responses to the consultation in general did not support” the government’s approach. But a document released yesterday by DECC illustrated the scale of the response to the consultation and the tiny proportion that were apparently considered.

There were a total of 2,419 responses. But only 54 (just over 2 per cent) of these were listed in the Appendix to the Post-Adoption report, which itemised the comments received and the government’s response to them.

The 54 consultees comprised:

  • 26 non-governmental bodies and campaign organisations, including one (Frack Free Balcombe Residents’ Association) which was counted twice
  • 11 local authorities, including National Park Authorities and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty boards
  • 9 government organisations or devolved parliaments, which had to be consulted by law
  • 7 industry bodies
  • 1 MP (Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion).

DECC said it had received:

  • 1,342 direct email responses
  • 1,029 responses through its internet portal
  • 48 hard-copy responses

DECC said the direct email responses “reflected an organised campaign by an NGO to oppose any further onshore unconventional oil and gas activity”. It added: “These responses were essentially identical and did not address the questions posed in the consultation”. Neither the report nor appendix says how many of the email responses fell into this category.

DECC said responses through the internet portal included those from two separate campaign groups which comprised nearly 400 duplicates. It said these raised concerns about the robustness of the regulatory framework and the need for greater independence in monitoring the effects of drilling rigs. Neither the report nor the appendix listed these views specifically or those of the remaining 600+ responses sent through the internet portal. There is no evidence of how DECC considered these views.

We have submitted an FOI request for details of all the responses to the consultation.

Even among the 54 responses that DECC appears to have considered, there is considerable opposition to the government’s plans. DECC admitted that an analysis of the responses showed:

  • A majority of respondents were against the licensing plan as adopted
  • Most of the concerns were about the environmental effects of hydraulic fracturing
  • Most respondents who answered the question “Did the Environmental Report identify the significant environmental effects of the activities that could follow the licensing round?” disagreed
  • Concerns centred on the effects on landscape, biodiversity, water resources and traffic
  • A substantial majority did not agree with the proposed mitigation measures or proposed monitoring measures

Public Health England, for example, said: “In our opinion the Report does not address all of the potentially significant negative environmental and subsequent health impacts that shale gas extraction could have on groundwater if operations are not properly run and regulated”

Natural England objected on the grounds that no assessment had been made of how the fracking plans affected European laws that protect important habitats.

At least 23 respondents (more than 40% of those in the Appendix) urged the government to ban oil and gas licencing in National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and areas designated for wildlife. These included: three National Park Authorities, Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association, Keep Kirdford and Wisborough Green, National Trust, CPRE, RSPB, Friends of the Earth, the Welsh Government, three local authorities and the organisation representing Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

CPRE said: “We believe that sensitive designated areas such as National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty can and should be excluded from licensing to protect the wide range of special qualities and benefits that these areas provide to society and the nation as a whole while still allowing the Licensing Plan objectives to be met.”

Despite this, the government kept National Parks and AONBs in the licence areas and instead issued new planning guidance.

The Department for Communities and Local Government said: “Where applications represent major development, planning permission should be refused in National Parks, the Broads and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty except in exceptional circumstances and where it can be demonstrated they are in the public interest.” The guidance does, however, not define “major”, “exceptional circumstances” or “public interest”.

*Respondents listed in Appendix A

Non-Government Organisations and campaign groups
Campaign for National Parks
Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE)
Concerned Communities of Falkirk
Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association
Frack Free Lincolnshire
Frack Free Wales
Friends of the Earth (FoE)
FoE Scotland
The Geological Society
Gower Society
Keep Kirdford and Wisborough Green
National Association of AONBs
National Trust
Planning Officers Society
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
Safety in Fossil Fuel Exploitation Alliance
Scottish Environment LINK
Stretton Climate Care
Sussex Wildlife Trust
Swansea Environmental Forum
Transition Mayfield
Transition Town Louth
Woodland Trust

Statutory consultees
Environment Agency
Historic Scotland
Natural England
Natural Resources Wales
Northern Ireland Environment Agency
Scottish Natural Heritage
Scottish Environmental Protection Agency
Welsh Government

Other Government Bodies
Public Health England

Local Authorities
Bath and North East Somerset Council
Cranborne Chase AONB
Hampshire County Council
Isle of Wight Council
Lancashire County Council
Manchester City Council
North Yorkshire Moors National Park Authority
Peak District National Park Authority
Somerset County Council
South Downs National Park Authority
Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority

Industry groups
Anglian Water
Chemical Industry Association
Network Rail
Scottish Water
UK Onshore Operators Group
Water UK

Member of Parliament
Caroline Lucas

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