Politics

Fracking Week in Westminster – w/e 3rd July 2015

WP_20131008_001Three Lancashire MPs – Mark Menzies, Mark Hendrick and Cat Smith – questioned ministers on key fracking issues this week. Read the transcripts of their questions, the government’s answers and other parliamentary business on:

  • Steps to reduce seismic activity
  • Monitoring of abandoned shale gas wells
  • Flaring at shale gas sites
  • Independent monitoring
  • Community benefit funds
  • Ground water contamination
  • Noise pollution from traffic
  • Respect for local decision-making
  • Geological advice on fracking in Lancashire and Sussex

With thanks to TheyWorkForYou.com

Mark MenziesQuestion by Mark Menzies, Conservative, Fylde
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, what steps are being taken to reduce the risk of seismic activity as a result of shale gas drilling.

Reply by Andrea Leadsom, Energy Minister (2nd July 2015)
In order to avoid hydraulically fracturing near faults, operators are required to review information on faults in the area of the proposed well, and to monitor background seismicity before operations commence. In addition, real time seismic monitoring will also continue during operations, informing a “traffic-light” regime, so that operations can be quickly halted and data reviewed if unusual levels of seismic activity are observed. The level of seismicity at which operations are halted has been set at a precautionary low level on the basis of a report by independent experts and will only be detected at the ground’s surface by sensitive equipment.

Question by Mark Menzies, Conservative, Fylde
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, if she will introduce a more stringent monitoring regime for abandoned shale gas wells.

Reply by Andrea Leadsom, Energy Minister (2nd July 2015)
There is a robust and long established regulatory regime in place covering all wells and boreholes throughout their lifecycle, including abandonment. When operations finish, the operator is responsible for safe decommissioning of the well. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) scrutinises the design of all wells prior to any construction taking place. It also monitors well construction based on weekly reports to its well specialists and scrutinises the decommissioning process in the same way.

The environmental permit requires the operator to have in place a closure and rehabilitation plan, which should follow the Environment Agency’s (EA) good practice for decommissioning boreholes and wells. The EA will not allow the operator to surrender their permit until it is satisfied that pollution has not occurred at a site. The HSE and EA have a working together agreement, committing to jointly inspect and sharing information on sites where hydraulic fracturing is taking place.

Question by Mark Menzies, Conservative
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, what assessment she has made of the level of potential flaring on shale gas sites.

Reply by Andrea Leadsom, Energy Minister (2nd July 2015)
Flaring of gas at onshore sites in England requires a permit from the Environment Agency and the consent of my rt. hon. Friend the Secretary of State under the Energy Act 1976. Our policy is that any flaring should be reduced to the economic minimum.

In the Strategic Environmental Assessment carried out for the 14th onshore licensing round, the level of flaring for unconventional oil and gas was assessed to be 500,000 cubic meters of methane per fractured exploration well.

Question by Mark Menzies, Conservative, Fylde
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, who will carry out the independent monitoring of proposed shale gas sites.

Reply by Andrea Leadsom, Energy Minister (2nd July 2015)
A research consortium led by British Geological Survey (BGS) is conducting a programme of environmental monitoring in Lancashire. Its work builds on existing national monitoring programmes for groundwater and seismicity by including air quality, surface-water quality, soil gases and ground motion. It represents the first independent integrated monitoring programme to characterise the environmental baseline before any shale gas operations begin.

If planning permission is granted and exploration goes ahead, the monitoring programme will continue during the different stages of operation.

More information is available on the BGS website:

http://www.bgs.ac.uk/research/groundwater/shaleGas/monitoring/lancashire.html.

Question by Mark Menzies Conservative, Fylde
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, what steps she is taking to ensure that shale gas community benefit funds are distributed to those households closest to potential drilling sites.

Reply by Andrea Leadsom, Energy Minster (1st July 2015)
The government believes that every community hosting shale projects should share in the benefits.

The shale gas industry has made a voluntary commitment to its Community Engagement Charter, co-ordinated by its representative body UK Onshore Oil and Gas, which includes a commitment to provide benefits to local communities of £100,000 per well at the exploration/appraisal stage where hydraulic fracturing takes place and a further 1% of revenues if shale gas is discovered.

At a local level, the particular package of community benefits will be designed in conjunction with local residents. Industry have committed to keep their Charter and interaction with local communities under review, including consulting communities about it over time, in the light of operating experience.

We have also committed to setting up a Sovereign Wealth Fund for the North of England, so that the shale gas resources of the North are used to invest in the future of the North.

Question by Mark Menzies Conservative, Fylde
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, what steps she is taking to prevent ground water contamination as a result of shale gas drilling.

Reply by Andrea Leadsom, Energy Minster (1st July 2015)
I refer the hon. Member to the answer to Question 225861 given to him by my predecessor on 5th March 2015:

http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2015-03-02/225861/.

Question by Mark Menzies Conservative, Fylde
To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, what steps are being taken to mitigate the noise and sound pollution arising from heavy goods vehicles used in shale gas drilling.

James Wharton, Local Government Minister (30th June 2015)
Potential noise impacts created by new shale gas development would be taken into account on a case by case basis by local planning authorities when they determine relevant planning applications, or by the Secretary of State in the determination of planning appeals or called-in applications.

The National Planning Policy Framework is clear that planning decisions should aim to avoid noise from giving rise to significant adverse impacts on health and quality of life as a result of new development, and mitigate and reduce other adverse impacts to a minimum including through the use of conditions.

Mark HendrickQuestion by Mark Hendrick Labour/Co-operative, Preston
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, how many seismologists and geologists are employed by her Department; what advice her Department sought from seismologists and geologists on fracking in Lancashire and East Sussex; what the cost of this advice was; and if she will publish the advice she received from external services.

Reply by Andrea Leadsom, Energy Minster (2nd July 2015)
The Oil and Gas Authority, which became an Executive Agency of DECC on 1 April 2015, currently employs 11 geoscientists. One of the 11 geological posts is dedicated to UK onshore oil and gas activity.

Following seismic tremors experienced in 2011 after shale gas hydraulic fracturing near Blackpool, the well operator carried out geomechanical studies to determine the cause. To assist DECC in evaluating these, DECC asked three experts in the fields of seismology, induced seismicity and hydraulic fracturing to make an independent assessment of the studies. The cost of employing these three experts to undertake this work was £28,000. Results of the analysis, published in 2012, can be found on the Government website via the following link:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/48330/5055-preese-hall-shale-gas-fracturing-review-and-recomm.pdf

Cat SmithQuestion by Cat Smith Labour, Lancaster and Fleetwood (1st July 2015)
Given the Prime Minister’s commitment to localism, will he stand by and respect the decision made by Lancashire County Council this week to reject fracking, yes or no?

Reply by David Cameron, the Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party
Those decisions must be made by local authorities in the proper way, under the planning regime we have. Personally, I hope that, over time, unconventional gas sites will go ahead, whether in Lancashire or elsewhere, because I want our country to exploit all the natural resources we have. I want us to keep energy bills down and I want us to be part of that revolution, which can create thousands of jobs. I also want to ensure that we can exploit our own gas reserves rather than ship gas from the other side of the world, which has a higher carbon footprint. We should do that, but if the Labour party wants to paint itself into a background of not wanting any unconventional gas at all, it should say so.

Other fracking business

Westminster Hall debate on shale gas, introduced by Kevin Hollinrake, Conservative, Thirsk and Malton, on 30th June, during which MPs from four different parties demanded more conditions on fracking operations. Our report and Transcript of the debate

Question by Lord Kennedy of Southwark Labour
To ask Her Majesty’s Government how responsibility for the regulation of fracking is divided between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

Reply by Lord Gardiner of Kimble Conservative (29th June 2015)
The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) leads on energy policy including hydraulic fracturing for shale gas and oil. Defra is responsible for the environmental aspects of shale gas and oil policy, with the exception of climate change and seismicity issues which are a DECC lead.

Defra’s responsibility extends to England only as environmental policy is a devolved matter. The Environment Agency is the environmental regulator in England which is responsible for issuing environmental permits to ensure that operations are undertaken in a way which protects people and the environment.

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