When is a frack not a frack? According to the Infrastructure Act, when it uses 999.99 cubic metres of fluid. Add one more cubic centimetre and under the new law it is a frack.
This definition was introduced by the government in the final days of the passage of the Infrastructure Bill.
Associated hydraulic fracturing means hydraulic fracturing of shale or strata encased in shale which involves, or is to involve, the injection of:
(i) more than 1,000 cubic metres of fluid at each stage, or expected stage, of the hydraulic fracturing, or
(ii) more than 10,000 cubic metres of fluid in total.
(10,000 cubic metres is 10m litres or about 2.2m gallons).
MPs did not have a chance to vote on the definition during the final session on the evening of Wednesday 12th February. The Bill became an Act the following morning.
Hydraulic fracturing, as defined under the act, will be allowed only if a set conditions has been met. These include requirements for baseline monitoring of methane in groundwater before fracking takes place and consideration of the environmental impact of the operation. The conditions do not apply to operations not defined under the act as hydraulic fracturing.
The conditions for fracking had been agreed by MPs in January but the wording was later changed in the House of Lords. Many MPs regarded the conditions that now appear in the Act as weaker than the ones they approved. For example, the conditions no longer specifically ban fracking in groundwater source protection zones or ban fracking underneath, as well as in, National Parks and protected areas. Environmental Impact Assessments are no longer required for fracking.
The new conditions, along with the definition of fracking, has alarmed campaigners. In the final debate, the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas, voiced her concerns:
That risks allowing significant fracking with less than the defined volume limit to go ahead, without even the safeguards that are before us today. What a mockery this is making of legitimate public concerns on fracking, and indeed of the democratic process.
Frack Free Balcombe Residents’ Association in West Sussex described the passage of the legislation as an “abuse of parliamentary process”. It described the Infrastructure Act as “very bad for Balcombe, Sussex and the rest of England”.
In a newsletter at the weekend, the association said:
The definition of fracking has been now defined in such a way as to allow for high volume high pressure fracturing of shale anywhere so long as less than 2.2 million gallons of fluid is used.
It said the parliamentary definition of fracking meant that the conditions on fracking were “almost irrelevant”.
FFBRA estimated just under 10,000 cubic metres of fluid would take the equivalent of 333 of the largest tankers allowed on British roads. Another 167 tanker trips would be needed to remove the flow back waste.
So total lorry movements will be at least 500 massive tanker loads per fracked well, which at 200 wells per thirty six square miles (Ineos figures), equals to a total number of 100,000 tanker movements to NOT frack thirty six square miles of Sussex countryside
Frack Free Wales has drawn attention to government plans, also announced in the final debate, to allow monitoring bore holes to drilled without the need for planning permission.
Put these two together and you have the possibility that decisions about test drilling and pilot extraction could be taken away from Local Planning Authorities – giving local people and communities no say in these developments.
Frack Free Wales added:
These changes are subtle and so detailed that one is bound to ask who is guiding Ministers on this issue. Or to put it another way, just how fracked is our democracy?