Fracking Week in Westminster (w/e 7th Nov)

Transcripts of parliamentary questions, answers and debates on fracking and onshore oil and gas for the week ending 7th November 2014

  • Storage of flowback water and contamination by fracking
  • Health hazards from fracking chemicals
  • Health impact of radon in shale gas
  • Whether fracking regulations are fit for purpose
  • Role of Whitehall in planning decisions and changes to the planning system
  • Baseline methane monitoring
  • Hearing the voices of communities opposed to fracking
  • Impact of shale gas extraction on industry
  • Impact of fracking on water supply and cost
  • Impact of fracking on seismic activity in Wales

With thanks to

4th November 2014

House of Lords debate on the report of the Economic Affairs Committee The Economic Impact on UK Energy Policy of Shale Gas and Oil

Full transcript

Extracts from the debate

5th November 2014
Written answers on fracking

Q Chris Bryant (Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions); Rhondda, Labour)
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what assessment he has made of the mode of storage and containment of water that has been used for the hydraulic fracking permitted by the Government to date; and whether any sites have been designated for this purpose.

A Dan Rogerson (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; North Cornwall, Liberal Democrat)
Flowback fluids from hydraulic fracturing operations are deemed to be a mining waste and therefore require an environmental permit from the Environment Agency for temporary storage on site. Subsequent treatment and disposal of the fluid at a waste treatment facility is also regulated by the Environment Agency. Waste waters must be stored in sealed tanks on bunded storage areas. The storage of wastewaters in open lagoons, as has sometimes been practised in the US, would not be permitted in this country.

Q Chris Bryant
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what courses of action are available for people to raise concerns about suspected contamination of water as a result of fracking.

A Dan Rogerson
Concerns about any suspected contamination incidents, irrespective of source, should be raised with the Environment Agency via its incident hotline, details of which are available on the GOV.UK website.

As far as fracking is concerned we have robust regulatory controls in place. Shale gas wells must be designed, built and operated to standards set in the regulations governed by the Health and Safety Executive, and the Environment Agency will not permit the use of substances hazardous to groundwater to be used in hydraulic fracturing where they may enter groundwater and cause pollution. Industry practice, underpinned by regulations, ensures monitoring will be required prior to, during and post-operation of the site.

As with any activity, the Environment Agency can take enforcement action to prevent or remedy pollution of groundwater caused by the actions of operators.

Q Paul Flynn (Newport West, Labour)
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what chemical additives with a prospective use in hydraulic fracturing have been assessed for toxicological risk and other prospective health hazards by the Joint Agencies Groundwater Directive Advisory Group (JAGDAG); and if he will publish the URL where the minutes of JAGDAG meeting may be found.

A Dan Rogerson
In England, for the purposes of the Water Framework Directive and Groundwater Directive, the Environment Agency has the responsibility for making determinations of substances that may be hazardous in groundwater. It will not permit the use of ‘hazardous substances’ for any activity, including hydraulic fracturing, where they would or might enter groundwater and cause pollution.

Hazardous substances are defined as those that are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic, or, for the Directives, where there are ‘equivalent levels of concern’. The Joint Agencies Groundwater Directive Advisory Group (JAGDAG) carries out peer reviews of these determinations, before recommendations are then put to public consultation. Substances that were proposed for use for hydraulic fracturing of shales in Lancashire have been assessed and were determined as non-hazardous. These were consulted on in 2012 following peer review by JAGDAG.

Information about JAGDAG, including minutes of meetings, can be found at:

6th November 2014
Debate on fracking

Q Ian Lucas (Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs); Wrexham, Labour)
If [the Energy Minister] will take steps to tighten the regulation of fracking in the UK.

A Matthew Hancock (Minister of State for Portsmouth; West Suffolk, Conservative)
It is incumbent on us to explore the potential of domestic supplies of shale gas safely and carefully. The UK has a strong regulatory system and we will be working closely with the public, regulators and industry to ensure that regulation remains robust.

Q Ian Lucas
There is legitimate concern about the safety implications of fracking. The Labour party has said that all proposed sites should have an environmental impact assessment. Do the Government agree with that approach?

A Matthew Hancock
I agree that it is important to ensure that as we explore for this domestic energy resource, we do so cautiously and carefully. Environmental impact assessments are an important part of the planning process. The House is considering the Infrastructure Bill and we will listen to the debates on that.

Q David Nuttall (Bury North, Conservative)
Does the Minister agree that any decision about the exploitation of shale gas should be taken by local councils, and that, once taken, those decisions should not be overridden by officials in Whitehall?

A Matthew Hancock
Local engagement is incredibly important, as, likewise, is ensuring that local communities benefit from the successful extraction of shale gas. After all, being able to get shale gas successfully out of the ground will bring a benefit for the nation in terms of energy security, but also a financial benefit. The Treasury, inevitably, is keen to make sure that it has a part of that, but local communities also should.

Q Michael Weir (Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business); Angus, Scottish National Party)
Notwithstanding the changes that have been made in clauses 32 and 33 of the Infrastructure Bill, which is in the other place, will the Minister confirm that anyone wishing to explore or take part in fracking will still have to obtain planning permission from the relevant local authority and that the Government have no plans to change that?

A Matthew Hancock

Q Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton, Conservative)
The fracking regulations relate mostly to exploration offshore. How can the Minister assure those living in Ryedale and Hambleton, who have seen seismic surveys being conducted this summer, that the regulations are fit for purpose and that there will be no pollution or contamination of water supplies?

A Matthew Hancock
Not only does the regulatory structure surrounding the exploration for shale gas apply offshore, there is also a distinct regulatory structure onshore, precisely to take into consideration the sorts of concerns that my hon. Friend understandably raises. One of my first acts in this job was to increase the protections for national parks, in order precisely to deal with the concerns of those who are worried about the impact of shale gas.

Q Huw Irranca-Davies (Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs); Ogmore, Labour)
The historical birthplace of fracking onshore is Denton in northern Texas, where the people are familiar with its economic and job impacts. What does the Minister make of the decision this weekend by the people of Denton and the town council to ban fracking based on a public referendum? What discussions has he had with his officials on that?

A Matthew Hancock
The lesson to be drawn is that it is very important to have a strong and robust regulatory regime in place from the start. We have one of the strongest regulatory regimes in the world for onshore shale gas exploration, but nevertheless it is in our national interest to support the extraction of this gas in a careful and cautious way, and that is why there is cross-party support for it.

Q Caroline Flint (Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change; Don Valley, Labour)
It is good to hear the Minister talk about a safe regulatory regime, so let me help him with that. In order for the public to have confidence that fracking is safe and environmentally sustainable, it is vital that we have baseline assessments before drilling begins. Otherwise, no one can know for sure what the effects of fracking actually are. The Royal Society is unequivocal about that: baseline assessments of the level of methane in the groundwater should take place at every fracking site for a full 12 months in advance. Will he therefore urge his colleagues in the other place to support Labour’s amendment on baseline assessments when the Infrastructure Bill is on Report next week?

A Matthew Hancock
It is important to have baseline assessments and to follow the evidence on what is required, and the debates on that will continue, both in the other place and here. We are listening carefully to all stakeholders, including Opposition Front Benchers.

6th November 2014
Topical questions on energy and climate change

Q Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith, Labour)
As part of the discussions on further devolution, it has been suggested that the powers of the Department to grant licences for fracking in Scotland should be devolved to the Scottish Government. That seems an eminently sensible suggestion and I support it. Will the Government support it?

A Edward Davey (The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change; Kingston and Surbiton, Liberal Democrat)
Of course we are looking at all issues around future devolution of energy policy following the referendum and the commitments made by the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. On fracking, it is often not understood that the Scottish Government, the equivalent of the Environment Agency in Scotland and local planning authorities in Scotland already have a huge role to play in the development of fracking in Scotland.

Q Tessa Munt (Wells, Liberal Democrat)
On the recent bans on fracking in towns in Texas, Ohio and California, the residents voted overwhelmingly to stop what they describe as noise, disruption and the constant traffic and fumes from wells and trucks in residential areas. Fifty million Americans live within a mile of an oil and gas well, so they know what it is like, but they were dismissed by regulators and energy companies as misinformed. How will the voices of local people who do not want fracking—they do not want to be paid off—be heard in their communities?

A Matthew Hancock
We have a stronger regulatory system than in the United States, and I think that is a good thing.

Written answers on fracking
Q Karl McCartney (Lincoln, Conservative)
To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, what assessment he has made of the potential effect of shale gas extraction on the industrial supply chain.

A Matthew Hancock
The ‘Getting Ready for UK Shale Gas’ report – commissioned by the onshore oil & gas industry and part-funded by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills – was published on 24th April and details the supply chain and skills needed to develop shale gas in the UK.

The report outlines the huge potential economic benefits to the UK economy. It estimates a potential £33 billion benefit to the UK economy, with over 64,000 jobs and the creation of a new onshore supply chain market for equipment, services and skills – across a number of industry sectors.

Full details of the report are at:

Q Chris Bryant (Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions); Rhondda, Labour)
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, what assessment he has made of the potential effect of the use of water for hydraulic fracking on the general supply and cost of water.

A Matthew Hancock
Shale gas development is still at a very early stage in the UK. The Government is committed to making the most of the opportunity it presents and is supporting the industry’s exploration activity to establish the potential of shale.

Water for hydraulic fracturing may be obtained from the local water supply company or taken from surface or groundwater if permitted by the relevant environment regulator. The environmental regulator checks the potential impact on groundwater of any fracking operations, ahead of any fracking taking place, and will only grant a licence to an operator to abstract water where a sustainable water supply is available. The application will be assessed in the same way as any other application from industry or business.

Water companies must also produce, and then update every 5 years, a long-term plan with contingency reserves in case of a drought. Water companies will assess the amount of water available before providing it to operators.

The water industry and operators have agreed a Memorandum of Understanding to engage early and share plans for water demand and waste management.

Q Chris Bryant
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, what assessment he has made of the potential effect the investor protection clause of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership will have on the number of legal challenges to the fracking industry.

A Matthew Hancock
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is under development, and it is too early to assess the likelihood of legal challenges to shale development based on the investor protection clause.

Q Chris Bryant
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, what contingency plans his Department has in place for clean-up after fracking activity in the event that small fracking companies go bankrupt or refuse to take responsibility for any necessary cleaning.

A Matthew Hancock
Prior to awarding a licence, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) assesses whether a company has adequate financial capacity for its planned operations, including decommissioning. DECC further checks at the drilling and, where relevant, production stages that sufficient funding and appropriate insurance is in place.

If a company causes damage, harm, or pollution to the environment, companies can be required to remediate the effects and prevent further damage or pollution.

Environmental regulators and planning authorities have powers to require upfront financial bonds to address risks surrounding environmental damages, wherever they deem this necessary. In addition, DECC has been discussing with the industry’s trade body, UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG), industry arrangements to ensure that site restoration and aftercare will be ensured, even in the event that the operator goes out of business.

Q Chris Bryant
To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, whether he plans to put in place a planning process for fracking which diverges from existing planning rules.

A Brandon Lewis (Minister of State (Communities and Local Government); Great Yarmouth, Conservative)
We have already made a number of changes to the local planning system in England to ensure that it is suitable in respect to unconventional hydrocarbons.

The National Planning Policy Framework, published in March 2012, sets out the policy framework for minerals, including unconventional hydrocarbons. We have also updated the supporting planning guidance to provide clarity on the role of the planning system in respect to unconventional hydrocarbons, and published this in a web-based format in March 2014.

Further, we introduced in early 2014 a streamlined common application form and amended regulations on notification requirements and fees for the winning and working of oil and natural gas (including exploratory drilling).

6th November 2014
Annual energy statement

Edward Davey
Extract on shale gas
It is vital that we co-operate internationally to help our allies, especially in eastern and central Europe and the Baltic, many of which are highly dependent on energy imports from Russia, but it is also vital that we remember how fortunate the UK is to have such diversity in its oil and gas supplies. We should therefore not turn our backs on the shale gas opportunity, for as we decarbonise our economy, we will still need large amounts of oil and gas in the next three decades for heating and transport.

6th November 2014
Health questions

Q Paul Flynn (Newport West, Labour)
To ask the Secretary of State for Health, what studies have been commissioned by (a) his Department and (b) non-departmental public bodies which report to his Department on the potential health effects of radon concentrations found in shale gas obtained from hydraulic fracturing in the UK.

A Jane Ellison (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health; Battersea, Conservative)
PHE has reviewed the potential public health impact of direct emissions of chemicals and radioactive material from the extraction of shale gas. The report can be found on the following website:

Risks associated with occupational and residential exposure to radon have been investigated in detail. A review ‘Radon and Public Health’ was produced by the Advisory Group on Ionising Radiation in 2009 and can be found on the following website:

7th November 2014
Fracking in Wales

Q Chris Bryant
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, what assessment he has made of the potential effects of hydraulic fracturing being adopted in the Welsh valleys on seismic activity in that area.

A Matthew Hancock
Expert advice is that hydraulic fracturing activities are not expected to lead to any increase in normally-occurring seismic activity in any area of the UK.

[Updated 11/11/14 to include additional questions and answers between Chris Bryant and Matthew Hancock]

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