Industry

Barry’s 20+ questions: Fracking Week in Westminster w/e 6/2/15

This was a bumper week for parliamentary questions about fracking. Barry Gardiner, the shadow environment minister, asked the government 24 questions.They covered:

  • Fracking in National Parks
  • Environmental Impact Assessments
  • Government powers to overturn planning applications
  • Staffing at the Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive
  • Controlling methane emissions
  • The estimated effect of fracking on water scarcity
  • Chemicals in fracking fluids
  • And much more

Here are his questions (in bold) and the answers he received.

With thanks to TheyWorkForYou.com

  1. Does planning guidance provide for a specific approach to planning for hydraulic fracturing in a) national parks, (b) the Broads, (c) areas of outstanding natural beauty and (d) world heritage sites?

The Department for Communities and Local Government has indicated that it will not be possible to answer this question within the usual time period. An answer is being prepared and will be provided as soon as it is available. Answered by Brandon Lewis, Local Government Minister, 2/2/2015

  1. Is it a requirement that an environmental impact assessment be prepared for all hydraulic fracturing developments?

Currently, where a development involving hydraulic fracturing is likely to have a significant effect on the environment, an environmental impact assessment is required by the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2011. The Government is currently considering the detail of the amendment on hydraulic fracturing (NC19) introduced during the Infrastructure Bill last week, and we will make further statements in due course. Answered by Brandon Lewis, 2/2/2015

  1. Does the Local Government Secretary have the power to overturn a decision on an application for hydraulic fracturing in (a) national parks, (b) the Broads, (c) areas of outstanding natural beauty and (d) world heritage sites.

The Department for Communities and Local Government has indicated that it will not be possible to answer this question within the usual time period. An answer is being prepared and will be provided as soon as it is available. Answered by Brandon Lewis, 2/2/2015

  1. What grounds does current planning guidance provide for not refusing an application for hydraulic fracturing in (a) national parks, (b) the Broads, (c) areas of outstanding natural beauty and (d) world heritage sites?

The Department for Communities and Local Government has indicated that it will not be possible to answer this question within the usual time period. An answer is being prepared and will be provided as soon as it is available. Answered by Brandon Lewis, 2/2/2015

  1. What assessment has the Environment Secretary made of the number of full-time equivalent staff required by the Environment Agency in order for it to perform its role as a regulator of hydraulic fracturing in (a) 2014-15, (b) 2015-16, (c) 2016-17, (d) 2017-18, (e) 2018-19 and (f) 2019-2020.

Currently the Environment Agency has 17 dedicated members of staff working full-time to develop the regulatory regime for oil and gas activities. This work covers conventional oil and gas, shale gas and coal bed methane. The core team is supported by technical resource from elsewhere in the organisation. The work load fluctuates and the specialists are not solely dedicated to regulating and permitting shale gas activities. Approximately a further 40 staff are currently involved in this work across England.

The Environment Agency recovers its costs through the charges it makes for environmental permits and licences. As a result, the number of staff will be adapted accordingly to meet the regulatory demand. Answered by Dan Rogerson, Environment Minister, 3/2/2015

  1. What techniques to minimise methane emissions
    (a) are
    (b) planned
    to be a requirement of environmental permits for hydraulic fracturing?

Any unintentional release of gas is considered an extractive waste and is regulated by the Environment Agency through the extractive (mining) waste permit. Operators must develop a Waste Management Plan, which is submitted to the Environment Agency as part of a permit application. The Waste Management Plan sets out the measures to be used to control extractive wastes on site and to ensure they are managed safely.

The Environment Agency regulates the flaring of gases from oil and gas exploration through either an extractive (mining) waste permit where the quantity of gas flared is less than 10 tonnes per day or through a permit under the Industrial Emissions Directive where more than 10 tonnes a day is flared. The Environment Agency requires the use of an enclosed flare and will not allow open flaring or venting other than for safety reasons. Answered by Dan Rogerson 3/2/2015

  1. For what length of time must baseline monitoring of methane in groundwater for hydraulic fracturing developments take before consent for such developments may be issued?
  2. What national standards apply for the baseline monitoring of methane in groundwater for hydraulic fracturing developments?

The Environment Agency would typically require a minimum of three months baseline monitoring of methane in groundwater for each site proposing to undertake hydraulic fracturing. The Environment Agency may require a longer period of monitoring should they deem it necessary.

The environmental permit will specify requirements for groundwater monitoring, including monitoring for methane. Establishing a baseline will enable any subsequent changes to methane levels in groundwater to be detected and managed. All monitoring must be conducted by companies accredited by the Environment Agency’s Monitoring Certification Scheme. Answered by Dan Rogerson 3/2/2015

  1. What national standards apply for the baseline monitoring of air quality for hydraulic fracturing developments.
  2. What length of time must baseline monitoring of air quality for hydraulic fracturing developments take place before consent for such developments may be issued.

Baseline monitoring of air quality must be undertaken in line with the Environment Agency’s guidance on air quality: the M8 Monitoring of Ambient Air Guidance and the H1 Environmental Risk Assessment Guidance, which includes considering the local air quality situation at the relevant location.

The Environment Agency will assess the adequacy of baseline air monitoring at hydraulic fracturing sites, including the proposed length of monitoring time, against this guidance when it considers the Environmental Management and Monitoring Plans (which include a baseline air quality study) that operators must submit as a Pre-Operational condition.

The Environment Agency adopts a risk-based approach to its assessment, taking into account the specific characteristics of each site and will require baseline monitoring of air quality for the length of time that it deems suitable for each given site. There is no ‘one’ length of time that is applied universally. Answered by Dan Rogerson 3/2/2015

  1. Has the Environment Secretary consulted the Committee on Climate Change on the effect of hydraulic fracturing on water scarcity in the next (a) five, (b) 10 and (c) 20 years?
  2. What assessment she has made of the impact of hydraulic fracturing on water scarcity in the next (a) five, (b) 10 and (c) 20 years?

The industry is at an early stage in its development and it is expected that most companies will obtain water from their local water company. A water company has a legal duty to ensure they can meet the demand for water in their supply area over the next 25 years. A water company may decide not to supply water for hydraulic fracturing if it risks its ability to supply existing customers.

Based on industry growth projections to 2032, the Environment Agency estimates that the shale gas industry could require approximately 0.1% of total water abstracted, compared, for example, to 0.3% used in the spray irrigation sector. Answered by Dan Rogerson 3/2/2015

  1. What mechanisms exist to require that information on chemical substances and their maximum concentrations is included in the environmental permit for each hydraulic fracturing development?
  2. What mechanisms exist to require that information on the (a) total daily discharge of hydraulic fracturing fluid into ground and (b) fluid taken off site for disposal is included in the environmental permit for each hydraulic fracturing development?

All oil and gas exploratory sites need permits under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010.

Operators are required to disclose the chemicals they propose to use in hydraulic fracturing, and the maximum concentration of each, along with information on total daily discharge of hydraulic fracturing fluid into the ground and the fluid taken off-site for disposal, when they apply to the Environment Agency for the relevant permits. This information is included within the environmental permit with which the operator has a legal obligation to comply. The Environment Agency can take enforcement action to ensure all the information required by the permit is supplied by the operator. Answered by Dan Rogerson 3/2/2015

  1. What criteria are used to judge whether hydraulic fracturing development may be a significant risk to groundwater?
  2. What criteria are used to determine the different categories of groundwater risk; and how the risks posed to groundwater by hydraulic fracturing sites are determined?

The Environment Agency has a duty to protect all groundwater, regardless of its quality. Its priority is to protect water supplies intended for human consumption as well as ensure protection of groundwater that supplies dependent ecosystems. The Environment Agency will undertake a site based hydrogeological risk assessment for any proposed shale gas site and will object (through planning or our permitting controls) to any activities that they consider pose a risk to groundwater.

Hydraulic fracturing is not permitted in Source Protection Zone 1, and the Environment Agency will not permit the use of hazardous substances as described in Schedule 22 of the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2010 for any activity, including hydraulic fracturing where they would or might enter groundwater and cause pollution. Answered by Dan Rogerson 3/2/2015

  1. What criteria are used to determine whether a developer is required to undertake a habitats regulation assessment for a proposed hydraulic fracturing project adjacent to:
    (a) special conservation area,
    (b) special protection site,
    (c) site of special scientific interest,
    (d) area of outstanding natural beauty and
    (e) Ramsar site.
  2. What criteria are used to determine whether a developer of a proposed hydraulic fracturing project is required to undertake a habitats regulation assessment?

Habitats regulations assessments (HRA) are used to determine what impact a proposed plan or project might have on the following types of protected site:

  • Special Areas of Conservation,
  • Special Protected Areas,
  • Ramsar sites, or
  • Sites in the process of being given one of the above designations.

HRA do not relate to any other type of site designation or protection, unless the site happens to also carry one of the above designations.

HRA requirements are generally implemented through other licensing and permitting processes. As such, any public body taking a decision on whether to permit a proposed plan or project has to decide whether an HRA is needed as part of the application. Operators wishing to undertake hydraulic fracturing for shale gas will require planning permission from a Mineral Planning Authority. The Mineral Planning Authority will have to decide whether an HRA is needed as part of any given proposal. Key factors for the Mineral Planning Authority to consider will include the proximity of proposed fracking operations to the types of protected site listed above, and the potential for fracking to impact upon the species or habitats for which the particular site or sites were designated. Answered by Dan Rogerson 4/2/2015

  1. What assessment criteria does the Health and Safety Executive plan to apply in deciding whether its inspections of hydraulic fracturing sites will be unannounced?

Decisions on whether an inspection is announced or unannounced are made on a case by case basis by the HSE inspector. For example, it may be beneficial to inform the duty holder of the inspection prior to arrival to ensure that the relevant people, documents and materials are present on site to inform the inspection. Conversely there may be occasions where it may be more appropriate for the visit to be unannounced to observe the “normal” conditions of the site.

Information gathered by HSE during site inspections, meetings with the well operators and through the assessment of data contained in well notifications enables HSE to assure itself that the operator is managing risks appropriately in relation to the well operations. Answered by Mark Harper, Minister for Work and Pensions, 4/2/2015

  1. What assessment has the Work and Pensions Secretary made of the number of full-time equivalent staff required by the Health and Safety Executive in order for it to perform its role as a regulator of hydraulic fracturing in (a) 2014-15, (b) 2015-16, (c) 2016-17, (d) 2017-18, (e) 2018-19 and (f) 2019-2020?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has sufficient resource to regulate the development of shale gas in the current exploratory stage. HSE continues to review its level of staffing to ensure the level of resourcing is appropriate relevant to the volume of hydraulic fracturing activity being undertaken. Answered by Mark Harper, 4/2/2015

  1. Is it a requirement that the Health and Safety Executive assess all hydraulic fracturing sites during (a) the exploration phase and (b) all further phases, including decommissioning?

The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) regulatory regime for oil and gas operations onshore including hydraulic fracturing is long-established.

The approach has two main elements:

  1. Specialist well engineers (working with the industry association) help develop best practice standards for the oil and gas industry as a whole.
  2. This is supplemented by risk-based interventions to assess if well integrity risks are managed appropriately.

An oil or gas well is a complex engineered construction, most of which is below ground and not accessible to visual inspection. Consequently HSE seeks to ensure that the well design (which is approved by an independent well examiner) conforms to the relevant standards. A pre-construction well notification report is submitted to HSE for assessment and approval before any work commences.

During construction or decommissioning of the well HSE receives weekly well operations reports from the operator. These reports and the supporting detailed technical data obtained from readouts during the well operations are assessed by HSE specialist inspectors to ensure the well is being constructed, operated or decommissioned in accordance with the approved design parameters or decommissioning process. Answered by Mark Harper, 4/2/2015

  1. What information does the Department of Energy and Climate Change hold about the arrangements by which hydraulic fracturing companies publish evidence of how their commitments under the industry’s community engagement charter scheme have been meet each year?

Details of the package can be found on the website of the industry trade body UK Onshore Oil and Gas at: http://www.ukoog.org.uk/community/benefits Answered by Matthew Hancock, Energy Minster, 5/2/2015

  1. What assessment has the Energy and Climate Change Secretary made of the effect of depth limits for hydraulic fracturing on (a) fugitive emissions and (b) safety?

The risks of each project involving hydraulic fracturing can only be assessed in the light of the specific circumstances, including the geological and hydrogeological context. The risk of fugitive emissions and the safety aspects are assessed by expert regulators on a case-by-case basis as part of the environmental permitting and Health and Safety procedures.

The UK has decades of experience in safely conducting surface activities and constructing onshore gas wells, regulated by the Health & Safety Executive, and techniques to reduce emissions (“green completions”) have been made a requirement of environmental permits for shale gas production. Answered by Matthew Hancock, 5/2/2015

  1. What criteria must be met for a person to be eligible to perform the role of independent well examiner for a hydraulic fracturing development?

There is a legal requirement for the well operator to appoint an independent well examiner for the complete lifecycle of the well. UK regulations establish the level of independence required in that the examiner can be from the same company as the well operator but must be separate from any management and financial systems that could compromise objectivity. To date onshore operators have used separate companies to supply this service, they have not been delivered in-house.

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors are made aware of the identity of the independent well examiner and will consider their level of competence and independence as part of the inspection of the well examination scheme for each onshore oil or gas well. If there is any concern about the level of competence or independence of the well examiner HSE inspectors will investigate and take appropriate action. Answered by Matthew Hancock, 5/2/2015

Other Questions

Duncan Hames (Chippenham, Liberal Democrat)
Q To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, if she will publish without redaction the Shale Gas: Rural Economy Impacts report, published by her Department with redactions in March 2014.

Elizabeth Truss (The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; South West Norfolk, Conservative)
A
The economic impact of fracking is a matter for the Department for Energy and Climate Change. The paper that my Hon Friend refers to was an internal draft document. It was not analytically robust and was not signed off by Ministers. It has not been published and we have no plans to do so.

My department is responsible for the environmental aspects of this policy. The Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering review on shale gas concluded if fracking is properly regulated it is safe and has minimal environmental impacts. (Answered 4/2/2015)

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North, Labour)
Q
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, what recent discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on (a) deep offshore Underground Coal Gasification and (b) developing access rights for that gasification technique following the recommendation in the Smith Commission report on devolving powers on shale gas mineral access rights to the Scottish Parliament.

Matthew Hancock
A
Ministers have had no recent discussions with Scottish Ministers on these issues. (Answered 2/2/2015)

Tom Greatrex
Q
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what estimate she has made of the total area of (a) England and (b) Wales covered by groundwater protection zones (i) 1, (ii) 2 and (iii) 3.

Dan Rogerson
A
Approximately 15% of the area of England is covered by defined Source Protection Zones (SPZs) 1, 2 and 3.

  • SPZ1s cover approximately 2,000 km2 (1.5%) of the area of England.
  • SPZ2s, which include the area covered by SPZ1s, cover approximately 7,700 km2 (6.5%) of the area of England.
  • SPZ3s, which include the area covered by SPZ1s and SPZ2s, cover approximately 20,000 km2 (15%) of the area of England.

In addition, a large number of small private water supplies will be considered to be within an SPZ1 and SPZ2, and may amount to an additional 5%. The Welsh Government is responsible for SPZs in Wales. (Answered 3/2/2015)

David Nuttall (Bury North, Conservative)
Q Shale gas has the potential to reduce energy bills and increase the security of supply. Will my right hon. Friend set out what steps his Department is taking to allay public concerns about fracking?

Matthew Hancock
A I am delighted that this question has come up although I am a bit surprised that it took until 10.29 to do so. It is also a bit of a surprise that the shadow Secretary of State is not attending DECC questions; I understand that she is campaigning in a Labour marginal seat. It is absolutely imperative and a duty on the Government to allow exploration for shale gas, which has the potential to be a significant resource, but to do so carefully and cautiously, and that is exactly what we are doing. (Answered 5/2/2015)

3 replies »

  1. This country needs urgent investment in renewable energy if we are to meet carbon targets: not generous tax breaks for a dying industry that harms civilisation.

  2. The Environment Agency opposition to fracking operations for oil and gas within areas designated as Aquifer Protection Zone 1 is presumeably based upon an unacceptable risk of groundwater pollution resulting from well leakage or surface spillage of toxic fluids from wells sited within such areas .The risk of toxic fluids reaching Zone 1 from wells sited outside of this zone via fault fracture zones, karst features, surface drainage and lorry spillage should also be assessed.

  3. There are many holes in the ‘replies’ to the questions. The ‘well examiner’ response is a particular favourite (the words, ‘conflict’ ‘interest’ and ‘of’ spring to mind) . To a less enlightened mind than mine, it might appear that the oil industry (Niger delta, Deepwater Horizon, Piper Alpha, 243 cases of contamination from oil and gas drilling operations in Pennsylvania) has bought and paid for the right to frack in the uk. It might help public confidence if HMG released any report, regardless of whether ministers think it ‘analytically robust,’ that did not say that fracking was the answer to our energy problems. Other issues to be addressed here e.g. Where will the ‘sand’ be processed before use; will waste water be kept in ponds, put into tankers, tipped down the drains. Will it be treated as industrial waste, if so, where will it be processed? I could go on. One more thing while I think about it, I wonder how many Ministers, MPs, their advisers and civil servants (or their spouses) have any paid or unpaid connection with the Oil Industry other than being a consumer. I’ll have a stab at the answer to that one myself.
    I asked my MP (South Coast, Tory) a few questions recently about fracking. Part of his response reads; ‘I am glad the previous government provided clear information on the safety and environmental sustainability of this process.’ He referred me to the ‘Roadmap for oil and unconventional gas.’ By it’s own admission only a ‘Framework.’ In another paragraph he is quite, well, I’ll let the paragraph speak for itself; ‘The previous government’s amendments banned hydraulic fracturing in National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Sites of Special Scientific Interest. In addition, they ensured that consent cannot be granted for drilling before an environmental impact assessment has been made and are required to monitor the level of methane in groundwater.’ The roadmap says that the MPA will decide if an EI Assessment is necessary. The word ‘if’ makes me feel a little queasy. Right, I’m off to formulate more questions to my democratic representative.

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