Anti-fracking campaigners say new government proposals could allow drilling companies to dump waste under private land without the owners’ permission.
Baroness Kramer is due to introduce a set of amendments to the Infrastructure Bill in the House of Lords tomorrow. Labelled 95ZBF, they give oil and gas companies rights for “passing any substance through, or putting any substance into, deep-level land or infrastructure installed in deep-level land”. They also allow companies to leave “deep-level land in a different condition from the condition it was in before an exercise of the right of use”. This could include retaining any infrastructure or substance underground, the campaigners said.
The government said the right is for exploiting petroleum and deep geothermal energy only and denied it applies to the storage of nuclear waste. It also said the amendment would not affect the regulatory regime covering fracking.
The amendments were tabled on September 26th and are part of the bill that gives oil and gas companies the right to drill under private land below 300m without permission. The amendments were not, however, included in the public consultation. More than 99% of the 40,000+ people who submitted comments on the Bill opposed the plans for underground access. Despite this, the government decided to go ahead without any changes.
Greenpeace UK energy campaigner, Simon Clydesdale, said: “With this amendment ministers are effectively trying to absolve fracking firms from responsibility for whatever mess they’ll end up leaving underground. This looks very much like an attempt by the industry to cover its back against potential legal challenges over any future contamination caused by fracking chemicals.
“This makes a mockery of the government’s repeated claims about Britain’s world-class fracking regulations. Far from toughening up rules, ministers are bending over backwards to put the interests of shale drillers before the safety of our environment and our climate.”
Tony Bosworth, energy campaigner of Friends of the Earth, said: “Having ignored the wishes of over 99% of the people who responded to the recent consultation to remove centuries old trespass rights from their property, the government now appears to be trying to sneak through an amendment which would allow fracking firms to reinject their waste under peoples’ homes and businesses.”
“Reinjection has caused countless problems in the US”, he said. “You have to question how far this government will go to make fracking a reality, in spite of its risks and its ever-growing unpopularity with the general public.”
The Frack Free Balcombe Residents’ Association (FFBRA) in West Sussex said today: “These changes are a serious threat to landowners’ rights as well as to the rights of all home owners. Allowing this to happen hugely devalues land which can become contaminated from below and made unsaleable. The right for an oil/gas company to dump toxic waste dump under your land – without your permission, with no compensation would be legalised by this Act of Parliament. Plus the oil and gas companies will have no liability for the damage they do. 300 metres is not even below the aquifer in some parts of the country.”
Sussex farm owner, Beki Adam, said the proposal goes “way beyond the claim of ‘simple access’ – and it is quietly added after the public consultation closed. It would allow the oil and gas industry to use our land as a dump for the radioactive waste fracking produces. Clearly few landowners would agree to that – so the government intend to take away our current rights to stop it. This is the step too far.”
Another campaigner wrote in protest to Baroness Kramer: “This means, in effect, that they can re-inject any material into the land of their choosing – be it fracking chemicals, fracking waste water, radioactive materials, nuclear waste, or anything else they want – and just leave it there. This appears to be a blank slate for companies to re-inject the millions of gallons of waste water that each fracking well creates without any environmental safeguards, compulsory regulatory oversight or restrictions.”
A separate amendment said: “No shale gas extraction may take place before the operator has measured the baseline levels of methane in the groundwater over a 12 month period.” Beki Adam said there is a major problem with this amendment. It should read “no exploratory oil or gas drill of any kind”, she said, “otherwise the baseline data would be gathered after the well has been drilled. Watching the stable door after some methane has bolted?”
FFBRA also criticised this amendment. “This baseline measurement will not help us here in Balcombe (or anywhere else in the Weald) because Cuadrilla plan to drill for oil first”, the organisation’s latest newsletter said today.
A spokesperson at the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: “The right to put substances into or through deep-level land only applies in relation to the use of the land for the purposes of exploiting petroleum or deep geothermal energy. So this does not, for example, allow for nuclear waste.
“Our proposed legislation will not change any of the existing regulatory regime that manages the potential risks of hydraulic fracturing. A company looking to develop shale or geothermal will still need to obtain all the necessary permissions, like planning and environmental permits.
“Operators must demonstrate that where any chemicals are left in the waste frack fluid this will not lead to pollution of groundwater. The Environment Agency will not permit the use of chemicals where these are hazardous to groundwater.”
When asked whether the amendment would allow an operator to reinject drilling fluid, DECC said “No. To do that they would need an EA permit”.
The amendments will be considered by a committee of the House of Lords at 3.30pm tomorrow and the discussion is scheduled to be broadcast by ParliamentLive.tv