Opposition

Fracking week in Westminster w/e 13/2/15

This week the Infrastructure Bill, with its clauses on fracking, became an act. Click here for our report on the House of Lords debate on fracking amendments, the final House of Commons vote and details on what’s in the bill and reaction

During the week, there were also reples to parliamentary questions on:

  • Contact between DECC and Lancashire County Council over Cuadrilla planning applications
  • Implementation of Royal Society recommendations on fracking
  • Monitoring
  • Role of Defra
  • Amending environmental permit regulations
  • Environmental Impact Assessments
  • Fracking applications in London
  • Devolution of fracking licences to Wales
  • Over-ruling fracking objections
  • Risks of abandoned wells
  • Liability when companies go bankrupt
  • Shale community engagement charter

With thanks to theyworkforyou.com

Government contact with Lancashire County Council over Cuadrilla application See separate post on this question and answer

Implementation of Royal Society recommendation on fracking

Question: With reference to the Government response to the report from the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society on shale gas extraction in the UK: a review of hydraulic fracturing, published in December 2012, how many of the recommendations in that report which were accepted by the Government have been implemented? (Asked by Tessa Munt Liberal Democrat, Wells)

Answer: The Department for Energy and Climate Change 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 Energy Minister, Matthew Hancock 9/2/2015)

Monitoring

Question: Does the Environment Agency have the power to require baseline monitoring of (a) groundwater and (b) air quality (i) before a consent for a hydraulic fracturing development is given and (ii) after such consent has been given but before the commencement of any such fracturing. (Asked by Barry Gardiner Shadow Minister, Environment Minister)

Answer: The Environment Agency has the powers under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010 (EPRs) to require baseline monitoring of groundwater and air quality for each site proposing to undertake hydraulic fracturing. All oil and gas exploratory sites need permits under the EPRs. Any requirements for baseline monitoring would be made pre-operational conditions of the environmental permit with which the operator has to comply before hydraulic fracturing can commence. (Answered by Dan Rogerson, Environment Parliamentary Under-Secretary on 9/2/2015)

Question: What (a) continuous and (b) baseline monitoring arrangements are in place for fugitive emissions for hydraulic fracturing? And which body conducts that monitoring? (Asked by Barry Gardiner)

Answer: All oil and gas exploratory sites need permits under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010 (EPRs). As part of the application process for an environmental permit operators must provide a site condition report detailing the condition of the site prior to the commencement of any operations. This will include the condition of air, surface and groundwater quality, and the prevailing soil quality. It will provide the baseline data that will be used to determine if there has been any deterioration in the land when an operator applies to the Environment Agency to surrender the permit. The Environment Agency will assess this data against its environmental databases and those of others, such as the survey recently conducted by the British Geological Survey to establish baseline levels of methane in groundwater.

It is the operator’s responsibility to comply with the conditions of the permit, including any specified monitoring conditions. The permit will specify the type, frequency and determinants to be monitored throughout the operational life of the site. The Environment Agency may undertake spot checks and carry out additional monitoring. (Answered by Dan Rogerson on 9/2/2015)

Question: What criteria must be met for eligibility to perform baseline monitoring of air quality and methane in groundwater for hydraulic fracturing developments? (Asked by Barry Gardiner)

Answer: The Environment Agency requires monitoring to be conducted in line with its monitoring certification scheme (MCERTS), which specifies the equipment, techniques, personnel training and organisations employed to undertake analysis. (Answered by Dan Rogerson on 9/2/2015)

Role of Environment Department and agencies in fracking

Question: What is the specific remit of (a) the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and (b) its agencies in relation to hydraulic fracturing? (Asked by Barry Gardiner)

Answer: Defra is responsible for the environmental aspects of shale gas policy, with the exception of climate change and seismicity issues, on which the Department of Energy and Climate Change leads. Defra responsibility extends to England only, as environmental policy is a devolved matter. The Environment Agency is the environmental regulator in England. The Environment Agency ensures that operations are conducted in a way that protects both people and the environment. Natural England plays a role within the planning process. This includes consideration of landscape and biodiversity impacts where appropriate, as both a statutory consultee and as an advisor to developers pre-application. (Answered by Dan Rogerson on 9/2/2015)

Amendments to environmental permit regulations

Question: When does the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs plan to bring forward proposals to amend the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010 (S.I., 2010 No. 675) in relation to hydraulic fracturing. (Asked by Barry Gardiner)

Answer: There are no immediate plans to amend the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010. There is already a robust regulatory regime in place for shale gas exploration activities. However, we keep the regulatory framework, including the EPRs, under review to ensure that the shale gas industry will continue to be regulated robustly as it develops. (Answered by Dan Rogerson  on 9/2/2015)

Question: On what date does the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs expect the Environment Agency to publish information about the chemicals it requires hydraulic fracturing developers to disclose. (Asked by Barry Gardiner)

Answer: Operators are required to disclose the chemicals, and the maximum concentration of each, that they propose to use in hydraulic fracturing when they apply to the Environment Agency for environmental permits. (Answered by Dan Rogerson on 9/2/2015)

Environmental impact assessments

Question: Which organisation is responsible for carrying out environmental impact assessments for hydraulic fracturing developments? (Asked by Barry Gardiner)

Answer: 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. This information is included within the environmental permit, which the Environment Agency will place on the public register. (Answered by Brandon Lewis, Local Government Minister on 9/2/2015)

Question: What estimate has the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government made of the cost of the environmental impact assessments required for hydraulic fracturing developments in (a) 2014-15, (b) 2015-16, (c) 2016-17, (d) 2017-18, (e) 2018-19 and (f) 2019-20; and what assessment he has made of how these costs will be met? (Asked by Barry Gardiner)

Which organisation is responsible for carrying out environmental impact assessments for hydraulic fracturing developments? (Asked by Barry Gardiner)

Answer: Where an environmental impact assessment is required, the applicant must produce an environmental statement to accompany the planning application. The local planning authority will consider the environmental statement and other relevant information when determining the planning application.

We do not hold information on the likely future annual costs of environmental impact assessments in respect of hydraulic fracturing development. Estimating annual costs would be difficult given uncertainties over the number of proposals coming forward each year. Additionally the costs of individual environmental impact assessments will depend on factors such as the scope and level of detail of the information required to assess the likely significant environmental effects of the proposal and will vary on a case by case basis

The majority of the cost in respect of an environmental impact assessment will be borne by the applicant. The industry has already committed to undertake environmental impact assessment for any exploration well that involves hydraulic fracturing.

A Government amendment to the Infrastructure Bill requires that, before issuing consent for associated hydraulic fracturing, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change must be satisfied that the environmental impact of the development has been taken into account by the local planning authority. (Answered by Brandon Lewis on 12/2/2015)

Fracking applications in London

Question: Has the Department of Energy and Climate Change received any applications to carry out fracking in (a) Ealing, Southall constituency, (b) Ealing local authority area and (c) Greater London? (Asked by Virendra Sharma Labour, Ealing, Southall)

Answer: Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence (PEDL) is a pre-requisite before any oil and gas operations, including fracking, can take place. No PEDLs are in effect in these areas of London and there are no applications for such operations. (Answered by Matthew Hancock, Energy Minister on 9/2/2015)

Devolving fracking licences to Wales

Question: When does Her Majesty’s Government expect a response from (1) the Government of Wales, and (2) each of the political parties in the National Assembly for Wales, in relation to the issue of responsibility for the licensing of onshore fracking for gas to be transferred to the National Assembly? (Asked by Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru)

Answer: The Government is working with the four main political parties in Wales to agree a consensus on the future of Welsh devolution by St David’s Day. This includes consideration of whether Smith Commission proposals such as the devolution of the licensing of onshore oil and gas extraction warrant further consideration in the context of Wales. (Answered by Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat 9/2/2015)

Over-ruling fracking objections

Question: Does the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change have the power to overrule objections to hydraulic fracturing consents from (a) the Health and Safety Executive, (b) the Environment Agency, (c) Natural England and (d) the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. (Asked by Barry Gardiner)

Answer: DECC checks before giving drilling consent that – amongst other things – the HSE and the EA have no objections and requires evidence that the operator has secured the necessary development consent order from the relevant mineral planning authority. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) checks the well design and construction and the safety of drilling operations. The Environment Agency (EA) issues environmental permits and water abstraction licences if relevant. My rt. hon. Friend the Secretary of State cannot overrule objections from any of these bodies. Natural England is a statutory consultee for mineral planning applications. Defra does not have a direct regulatory role in shale gas operations. (Answered by Matthew Hancock on 10/2/2015)

Risks of abandoned wells

Question: What assessment has the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change made of the risks posed by wells abandoned after use for high volume hydraulic fracturing. (Asked by Tessa Munt Liberal Democrat, Wells)

Answer: The current regulatory framework requires that wells are made safe so that they can be decommissioned securely. Few instances are known of problems with decommissioned wells, and none of significant pollution caused by decommissioned wells. When operations finish, the licensee (and there may be more than one for each licence) is responsible for safe decommissioning of the well(s) and for restoring the well-site to its previous state or a suitable condition for re-use.

The key aim of the procedure for decommissioning a well is to ensure that the well will require no further work and ensure that it is permanently sealed. The Health and Safety Executive scrutinises the design of all wells prior to any construction taking place. It also monitors well construction and will undertake joint visits to all new shale gas and oil wells with the Environment Agency. HSE also scrutinises the decommissioning/ abandonment process in the same way. (Answered by Matthew Hancock on 10/2/2015)

Shale community engagement charter

Question: Is the Government a party to the Shale Community Engagement Charter? (Asked by Barry Gardiner)

Answer: No. The Shale Community Engagement Charter is an industry led commitment. The Government tabled an amendment to the Infrastructure Bill on 5 February which would require a community benefits scheme to be in place before my rt. hon. Friend the Secretary of State gives consent for hydraulic fracturing. (Answered by Matthew Hancock on 11/2/2015)

Liabilities when fracking companies go bankrupt

Question: What liabilities regime is in place to cover the costs of (a) drill site remediation and (b) post-closure contamination of local aquifers by companies drilling for shale gas using hydraulic fracturing in cases where the company goes bankrupt or otherwise ceases trading after closure of the fracking site? (Asked by Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West)

Answer: When operations finish, the licensees are responsible for safe decommissioning of the well(s) and for restoring the well-site to its previous state or a suitable condition for re-use. The Environment Agency also requires a site condition report to be submitted by the operator, demonstrating that the site is in a satisfactory state before allowing the operator to surrender its environmental permit.

If environmental damage occurs then, in accordance with statutory requirements and government policy, remediation of the damage will be dealt with under the main regimes for dealing with contamination. These are Environmental Damage (Prevention and Remediation) Regulations 2009 and Part IIA of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. These regimes provide for the remediation of environmental damage and contaminated land (including water), and they apply to the extraction of both petroleum and deep geothermal energy.

The petroleum licence issued by DECC enables the Government to ensure that funds are available to discharge any liability for damage from activities under the licence. DECC accordingly assesses, before any petroleum licence is issued, whether a company has adequate financial capacity for its planned operations. DECC also checks at the drilling and, where relevant, production stage that the company has sufficient funding and appropriate insurance. (Answered by Matthew Hancock on 11/2/2015)

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