Weekly update on parliamentary statements and questions on fracking and onshore oil and gas developments. This week:
- Government announces opening of bidding for extra money for local authorities dealing with shale oil and gas planning applications – statement
- Consultation opens on changes to planning laws for groundwater monitoring boreholes
- Prevention of groundwater contamination – statement
- Statement on shale oil and gas funding and planning consultation – question
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Consultation on borehole planning changes and funding for shale oil and gas applications
The Government is taking steps to ensure that we lead the way with robust and efficient regulation of shale oil and gas. Shale gas has the potential to increase our energy security, create thousands of jobs and reduce carbon emissions. This nascent industry presents new challenges for mineral planning authorities in how they consider and determine planning applications for shale exploration.
This is why, as part of the £5 million pound support package announced in the Autumn Statement in December, we have decided to make £1.2 million available in 2015-16 to support local authorities to assist with the administration of shale planning applications, ensuring they can be handled, with due process and a fair hearing in an efficient and timely manner. A prospectus inviting bids for funding to boost local authorities’ capacity and capability to deal with these applications has been published today.
We are also today publishing for technical consultation a proposal to improve the process for potential petroleum exploration, including shale gas, through making a minor amendment to existing permitted development rights in relation to mineral exploration.
This change would grant permission for the drilling of boreholes for groundwater monitoring for petroleum exploration, enabling limited works to be carried out to establish baseline information on the groundwater environment in advance of, or in parallel to, any planning application or applications coming forward for such development.
For this activity, it would improve environmental monitoring and put petroleum exploration on the same footing as that capable of being carried out under existing permitted development rights for mineral exploration more generally. We consider that the amended right should, with the exception of an intended raising of the current height restriction of structures needed to carry out the development from 12 to 15 metres, be subject to the same restrictions and conditions that apply to the existing permitted development rights. (Statement by Brandon Lewes, Local government minister, 5th March 2015)
Prevention of groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing
Question To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, what steps his Department is taking to prevent groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing (Asked by Mark Menzies, Conservative, Fylde)
Answer Before any oil or gas operation can begin in the UK, operators must gain a permit from the relevant environmental regulator (such as the Environment Agency in England). Exactly which permits they need depends on the activities proposed and site specific circumstances such as location, and is determined by the Environmental Agency (EA). The EA will require operators to have a groundwater permit unless they can demonstrate that there will be no, or a trivial, impact on groundwater (this is known as the “de minimis” exclusion). In all other cases, they will require a permit to regulate any actual impact on groundwater or the risk of an impact.
The EA also requires operators to disclose the chemicals they propose to use and the maximum concentration of each one before granting environmental permits. The EA assesses the hazards presented by fracking fluid additives on a case-by-case basis and will not allow substances hazardous to groundwater to be used where they may enter groundwater and cause pollution. Information on chemical substances and their maximum concentrations is included within the environmental permit, along with any other monitoring requirements. The permit is placed on the public register.
In addition, the Infrastructure Act 2015 makes it clear that hydraulic fracturing activity associated with onshore oil and gas exploitation cannot take place within protected groundwater source areas. Protected groundwater source areas will be defined in regulations by the end of July. (Reply by Matthew Hancock, Energy Minister, on 5th March)
10th March 2015
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee on DEFRA’s responsibility for fracking. Witnesses: Francis Egan, Chief Executive, Cuadrilla; John Dewar, Director of Operations, Third Energy. 3:00 pm; The Boothroyd Room, Portcullis House. Details
11th March 2015
Impact of exploratory fracking schemes before granting consent for shale gas extraction Oral Questions, 3pm onwards, main chamber, House of Lords Details