Find out how ministers replied to parliamentary questions on:
- How much notice and publicity is needed for hydraulic fracturing operations
- Who regulates any induced seismicity caused by fracking
- What drilling companies have told ministers about self-regulation
- Whether DECC applies the precautionary principle to fracking licences
- Whether monitoring for fugitive methane will continue for 30 years after exploration ends
- What are the standards for independent monitoring of fracking
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Notice and publicity for fracking permissions
Question To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, what notice and publicity requirements relate to the planning and environmental permitting process for hydraulic fracturing. (Asked by Barry Gardiner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)
Answer Companies seeking planning permission for the winning and working of oil or natural gas by underground operations (including exploratory drilling) are required to serve notice of an application on individual owners and tenants of land where surface works are required. They must also publish a notice in a local newspaper and put up site notices. Mineral Planning Authorities advertise and consult upon the planning applications they receive.
Once an application for an environmental permit is made, the environmental regulator will publish details and publicise them on their website for public consultation.
As part of the amendments we have made to the Infrastructure Bill, my rt. hon. Friend the Secretary of State will need to be satisfied before granting a hydraulic fracturing consent that the public was given notice of the application for the relevant planning permission. (Answered by Matthew Hancock, Energy Minister, 23rd February)
Regulation of seismic activities
Question To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, which body will maintain and regulate the seismic activities of companies fracking at depth for shale gas and intervene in the event of 0.5 on the Richter scale being reached. (Asked by Anne McIntosh Conservative, Thirsk and Malton)
Answer The Department of Energy and Climate Change will maintain and regulate controls to mitigate risks of seismic activity, including requiring developers to submit a Hydraulic Fracturing Plan providing for a traffic light system. (Answered by Matthew Hancock, 23rd February)
Question To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, what representations he has received on self-monitoring by fracking companies for shale gas; and if he will make a statement. (Asked by Anne McIntosh)
Answer The Department has received representations about self-monitoring from various parties, including members of the public, NGOs and a Minerals Planning Authority. (Answered by Matthew Hancock, 23rd February)
Precautionary principle for fracking licences
Question To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, if his Department will exercise the precautionary principle for each application for a licence to frack hydraulically for shale gas. (Asked by Anne McIntosh)
Answer The licences do not give permission for any operation, including hydraulic fracturing. I can confirm that we will require a hydraulic fracturing plan to be submitted for any fracturing of shale, which must be approved by DECC before the fracturing operations commence. We have one of the most robust regulatory systems in the world for shale gas, including a traffic light system to measure seismic activity to allow operations to be suspended if activity is detected above a defined level. . (Answered by Matthew Hancock, 23rd February)
Fugitive methane monitoring
Question To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, whether monitoring of potential fugitive methane emissions will continue for 30 years after the exploration for fracking has finished. (Asked by Anne McIntosh)
Answer The Environment Agency will make a case by case assessment of monitoring requirements. There is provision in the environmental permit for an operation involving hydraulic fracturing to require monitoring indefinitely post closure of a well. The Environment Agency will not allow surrender of the permit unless it is satisfied that the well has been decommissioned in line with standards set by the Health and Safety Executive, the site has been returned to a satisfactory condition and there is no significant on-going risk to the environment.
The recent Infrastructure Act 2015 makes clear that any hydraulic fracturing activity cannot take place unless appropriate arrangements have been made for monitoring emissions of methane into the air. During operations the operator will be required to undertake environmental monitoring, including emissions monitoring, to demonstrate compliance with their permits. In some cases, depending on the risks presented by a site or community concerns, the Environment Agency may undertake extra monitoring themselves.
My rt. hon. Friend the Secretary of State will not grant well consent unless he is satisfied that an environmental permit is in place which contains a condition requiring compliance with a waste management plan providing for the monitoring of emissions of methane into the air for the period of the permit. (Answered by Matthew Hancock, 24th February)
Independent monitoring of shale gas fracking
Question To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, how strict the standard of independent monitoring of shale gas fracking will be; and who will undertake that monitoring. (Asked by Anne McIntosh)
Answer The Environment Agency (EA) is the regulator for onshore gas operations in England. It requires operators to obtain environmental permits which contain conditions that ensure risks are properly managed and will not allow companies to start work unless they can demonstrate how they will provide a high level of protection for people and the environment. The EA will monitor compliance with permits and take enforcement action if it believes permit conditions have been breached.
The EA undertakes inspections based on its assessment of the risks presented by a particular site. Often the site operator is responsible for environmental monitoring, which the EA then examines to ensure that they are abiding by their permit conditions. In some cases, depending on the risks presented by a site, the EA may undertake extra monitoring itself.
The environmental permits require operators to monitor the emissions from their activities and assess their environmental impact. They do this in order to demonstrate to the EA that pollution is minimised and to comply with the limits specified in their permit. The monitoring must be carried out to recognised standards by competent personnel. The EA recommends that operators do this through its Monitoring Certification Scheme (MCERTS). Operators can choose to use an alternative certified monitoring standard, as long as it is equivalent to the MCERTS standard.
MCERTS is the Environment Agency’s Monitoring Certification Scheme. It provides the framework for businesses to meet EA’s quality requirements. If operators comply with MCERTS, the EA can have confidence in the monitoring of emissions to the environment.
The EA will adopt a compliance assessment plan for each site that sets out how it will measure the operator’s compliance and ensure that environmental risks are properly managed. This may include a variety of methods such as audit, site inspections, check monitoring, sampling, and reviewing operator records and procedures.
In addition, DECC officials are currently developing further measures to provide independent evidence directly to the public about the robustness of the existing regulatory regime, as announced in the Autumn Statement. (Answered by Matthew Hancock, 25th February)