Industry

Doubts over ability of local councils to assess shale gas risk – new survey

Local authorities lack competence to deal with important issues in shale gas planning applications, according to a majority of respondents to a new survey.

59% of those questioned said they were not confident that local authorities had adequate expertise or resources to address environmental risks in the applications. Less than five per cent of all respondents strongly agreed that local authorities could address the risks adequately. Even among people who worked for local authorities, 51% of those interviewed said they lacked confidence.

Local Authority Expertise

The findings are based on interviews with senior executives from oil and gas operators, energy intensive industries, professional service companies, local authorities, central government, regulators and not-for-profit organisations.

Role of regulators

When asked about the role of regulatory authorities, more than half of all respondents thought this was to generate evidence on the environmental impacts of shale gas so that robust decisions could be taken.

Role of regulators

One of the authors, Mark Broomfield, “It looks like there’s a mismatch between people’s expectations of regulators and planners and what they can deliver in practice. The next few years are the time for us to be preparing the ground through monitoring and research, so that we have the evidence we need and the authorities are ready to deal with the difficult decisions that they will face.”

Safety of shale gas

Just under half the respondents said they thought shale gas could be developed safely. About a quarter were unsure and about a quarter disagreed. The highest proportion of respondents who disagreed that shale gas could be developed safely were from local authorities and not-for-profit organisations.

Safe development

Industry risk assessments and monitoring

Responses were divided to the question “Are you confident that the shale gas industry will carry out sufficiently robust environmental risk assessments and monitoring in developing its shale gas operations?” About 40% agreed, about 40% disagreed and about 20% were unsure.

Respondents from local authorities and not-for-profit organisations were more likely to disagree that the shale industry would do a good job. Respondents from oil and gas industries were more likely to agree.

Robust risk assessments

Other findings

  • About half respondents believed shale gas developments would interfere with natural ecosystems
  • About half respondents believed shale gas infrastructure would be visually intrusive in rural areas
  • Respondents were divided on the role of shale gas as a low-carbon fuel
  • About a third of respondents agreed that shale gas developments would use up scarce water resources and about a third disagreed
  • About a third of respondents agreed that shale gas developments would cause water pollution and about a third disagreed
  • Under a quarter agreed that shale gas developments would cause air pollution, compared with about a third who disagreed.
  • 41% of respondents neither agreed nor disagreed that shale gas would cause pollution – the largest area of uncertainty in the questions asked

Survey details

The survey was carried out among 352 participants between June and August 2014 by the environmental consultancy Ricardo AEA.

Press release

Link to report

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