Plan to remove consent for monitoring boreholes to go before parliament in 2016

ConsultationGovernment proposals to allow oil and gas companies to drill monitoring boreholes without planning permission will be put before parliament next year.

Ministers want to change what are known as “permitted development rights” for groundwater monitoring boreholes and boreholes for seismic investigation and monitoring.

A statement, released on the same day as the new oil and gas exploration licences last week, confirmed the government would remove the need for consent next year.

The Department of Communities and Local Government said it would set out the detailed wording of the changes in a statutory instrument, also known as an SI or secondary legislation. It said this would be laid before parliament in 2016.

The full House of Commons rarely gets to debate an SI, as seen in the one used last week to allow fracking under national parks and other protected areas. It will, however, be scrutinised by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. This meets most weeks and its reports are available here.


The SI will amend the existing rules in the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015.

If approved, the new rules would allow oil and gas operators to drill boreholes for monitoring and investigation related to petroleum exploration without the need for planning permission. This would specifically include:

  • Groundwater monitoring boreholes for 24 months
  • Seismic investigation and monitoring for up to six months
  • Location and appraisal of mine workings for up to six months

The government statement said:

“The permitted development right amendments for monitoring and investigative activities for petroleum development will enable data to be collected to better inform any future planning applications for the exploration of petroleum development.”

“These proposals would assist in establishing a more informed baseline for future monitoring; provide information to inform any environmental statement for an environmental impact assessment; and inform the location of drilling sites for any future planning application for petroleum exploration.”

“The amended permitted development rights will be subject to conditions and restrictions and do not remove the need for operators to comply with other regulatory or consenting regimes. They would also be proportionate to the type of development that is allowed to be carried out under permitted development rights, including those currently allowed for mineral exploration more generally.”

The 24-month duration on groundwater monitoring boreholes was, the government, said, considered necessary to enable monitoring of groundwater for methane, required under Section 50 of the Infrastructure Act.

New powers and continuing requirements

The statement said it had included new powers:

  • Mineral Planning Authorities would have the power, in certain circumstances, to require a planning application if it considered the cumulative effects of development already being carried out or notified to it would be seriously detrimental to local amenity of well-being.
  • Operators would be required to notify the Environment Agency and local drinking water supplier of all proposals to drill boreholes under the new permitted development rights.
  • Operators must notify the Coal Authority of proposals for drilling boreholes to explore for old mine workings

The government said:

“Permitted development rights do not remove the need to comply with the general law, and the requirements and guidance of other regulators, in particular those relating to health and safety”.

It decided not to amend the Environment Agency’s required 50m minimum stand-off distances of boreholes from water supplies.

Developers would continue to be subject to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010.

Existing limits on the use of explosive charges would be applied to boreholes for seismic monitoring and investigation.


The plans originally date back to an announcement in the spring..

March 2015: Consultation on applying permitted development rights to ground water monitoring boreholes for six months.

13th August 2015: Government response to consultation published. It also invited comments on additional proposals to lengthen the duration for ground water monitoring boreholes from six to 24 months and extend permitted development to boreholes for seismic investigation and monitoring and appraisal of former mine workings.

17th December 2015: Government response to second consultation published

Consultation responses

The government statement said the summer’s consultation attracted 23 responses: 4% from local government, 4% from businesses and trade associations, 57% from landowners and private individuals, 22% from non-profit organisations and non-departmental public bodies.

11 respondents opposed proposal to extend permitted development rights for groundwater monitoring from six to 24 months, while seven supported it. On the seismic monitoring proposal, nine opposed and six supported. Nine respondents opposed the proposal on mine workings while eight supported.

17 replies »

  1. Seems a sensible approach to me. The monitoring data will provide information to determine if the antis are right or not. Of course the antis don’t want these monitoring stations to go ahead because they are concerned the monitoring will demonstrate that all their doom and gloom scenarios are nothing but desperation and won’t happen. No point in wasting good public money on the planning process. All parties should agree to these and the data made public after assessment by HSE and EA.

      • I live in the Bowland Shale basin. In an area that has been licensed for shale exploration. I am reasonably well qualified to comment as I have spent 30 odd years as an engineer (Petroleum & Drilling) and Ops Manager working in upstream oil and gas. Whilst I have not worked specifically on shale gas, I supervised a well in Lancashire in the 1980’s which drilled through a lot of Bowland Shale – and several wells in Hampshire. The shale was not of interest then, we were looking for oil. Drilling “conventional” and “unconventional” wells is much the same. Fracking or hydraulic fracturing is also much the same except in UK the controls on what goes into the frack fluid are much better regulated. Additionally acquifers are also better protected and cementing regulations are much tighter. I have also managed huge (probably a record for offshore at that time) hydraulic stimulations albeit not in UK. It makes no difference to me personally if shale gas is successful or not however we should at least find out if the resource is present and if it is commercial or not. I know where the potential pit falls are in well design and operations and as long as these are managed properly there will not be a problem. I have always said that the main issues in the UK are road infrastructure and surface transport, and water disposal – NOT downhole. Many of the issues / fears raised here simply will not happen (e.g. hazardous chemicals in frack fluid…..). One on the videos doing the rounds I watched in the early 1980’s – clearly nothing to do with shale gas / oil and fracking. But then most people do not want to hear anything remotely positive about O & G upstream operations. Do you drive a car, have central heating, use electricity? I am retired and have no connection with any O & G Company other than owning shares in some blue chip majors – for the dividends. I do still have contacts in the regulatory regime in the UK (EA, HSE, Independent Well Examination) and follow this particular part of the industry with interest. I see regularly some ex-indistry fellow workers attacking shale gas etc. however when you dig a bit deeper you find that they do not have relevant experience to comment on sub surface issues or they live close to a potential site and do not want it.

      • Well done Paul Tresto. I have a similar profile, tho further in the past and am also retired.

        Its odd that so many claim experience, such as that con man Ian R Crane, and I hear he worked in HR for Schlumberger. That will not help him understand how to deal with an underbalanced well, or the techniques of fishing…

        Those that have relevant experience (as we do) rarely have any issues. Drilling is fine done properly, and the rest is a load of baloney

    • It seems Paul Tresto has no experience of shale/fracking. This is evidenced by his apparent ignorance of the number of wells required for a productive shale/fracking gasfield. The fact of which he appears unconcerned and/or ignorant is that each shale/fracking well produces at a low rate over a short period at a high cost of production. This fact about which the fracking industry and its hangers on are ever coy lies at the centre of many of the valid concerns about shale/fracking that are held by the many thoughtful and accomplished people who campaign to stop shale/fracking in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

      • Flow rates and frequency of fracking are dependent on the productivity of the wells. This has yet to be established – this is why the exploration test wells are required. The Bowland Shale for example is very sandy and will probably have high productivity (for shale) and therefore infrequent “fracking”. The road / traffic / water disposal issues that I believe are the major issues are directly related to the fracking operations and frequency of them. Pad drilling directional wells will be the methodology used for development to reduce surface impacts aka offshore and Perenco (BP before) in Dorset. Once tests wells are completed and if successful, plans for development will have to be submitted for planning and subsurface approvals and these plans will include well numbers, well site locations, frequency of fracking etc. Do you have any experience in the upstream O & G industry WellsWaterWaste?

  2. I think their should be a total ban on all fracking activities, until the “Brains” in GB has had time to have a independent look at it all, who would also be affected by it, ie- live near the sites or areas! The whole issue of the way this has been passed “stinks” of corporate power industries!! That have no thoughts of the public welfare!!

    • So you are unaware of the Royal Academy Engineering report of 2012? or the Public Health England report 2014, or the BGS researchs (no geologists have any issues), or the reports by CIWEM, and Water UK? Or the EU approval? or the 30 US states that have approved? or EASAC, or the European Geological Surveys group that also have approved? or the Scottish Govet Independent report?

      All find fracking is safe as long as its done with good regulation.

    • It had been looked and examined independently by the ‘THE Brains’ in Britain. These brains are the Royal Society and DECC HSE EA reports. And a million wells drilled and fracked in the USA and some in UK over the past decades.

      • Ken Wilkinson–You mean like that oilwell foundations being damaged by tremors in Lancashire not to long ago, but’ did not get reported only a month afterwards!! We was very lucky there. That’s one of the biggest problems you see with such a dangerous game of gambling with public safety, you would need 24hr safety checks and would need to be reported straight away of any damages or signs of dangers as soon as they occur for such peace of mind and well being of the public being in the hands of so few of so many dangers there could be. I would personally ban it myself!! But’ who am i to say.

  3. Why didn’t the good regulation stop the gas leak in La or the deep water horizon or even our very own Piper Alpha from happening. regulations are seldom followed to the letter, if these companies had faultless safety records that would be something but there are incidents of human error on an almost daily basis,

  4. So many ‘pro-fracking’ comments here and hardly any ‘anti-‘comments in a short space of time. Holidays I guess.

    TW is comment from people living above fracking sites in the US worth your investigation? For that matter, why not look at the experience of people in Australia? Or do you only rely upon UK gov reports for your evidence?

    Ken Wilkinson, why do you think that France’s government and judiciary (1) has banned it, that Germany has a de-facto moratorium (2), as does the Netherlands until 2020 (3).

    Surely there are good reasons that these developed countries whose governance is not much different to ours have taken a preventative stance regarding fracking?

    In the US, where many thousands of fracked borehoies have already been drilled, the people living near them have experienced for themselves what can happen. No doubt anyone minded to be pro-fracking has looked in to that for themselves.

    Just in case you are that way inclined though, and that you do think that taking a chance on fracking is a good idea, why not look again at the experiences of people living in the state of New York. Fracking has been going on there for years. In 2015 the state government banned fracking. (4)

    Please look again at the processes that you are currently supporting.


    (1) http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/oct/11/france-fracking-ban-shale-gas
    (2) http://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-fracking-idUSKBN0MS3PE20150401
    (3) http://www.shalegas.international/2015/07/13/dutch-government-bans-shale-till-2020/
    (4) http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/18/nyregion/cuomo-to-ban-fracking-in-new-york-state-citing-health-risks.html?_r=0

  5. Perhaps there are lots of “pro” fracking comments because there are many people who support the exploitation of shale gas in UK? There are several countries / US States that have banned fracking; there are many more that have not. Generally fracking bans are politically motivated. France does not need shale gas or any gas for electricity generation – in 2012 nearly 80% of France’s electricity was nuclear generated. France has introduced a ban apparently because of the risks connected to the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process. What they could have done is banned any chemicals deemed hazardous as we have in the UK.

    Cuadrilla used the following additives in their fracture fluid at Preese Hall:

    Water and sand (99.9%) and polyacrylamide. Polyacrylamide is often used for horticultural and agricultural use under trade names such as Broadleaf P4, Swell-Gel and so on. The anionic form of cross-linked polyacrylamide is frequently used as a soil conditioner on farm land and construction sites for erosion control, in order to protect the water quality of nearby rivers and streams. It is also commonly used in cosmetics and facial creams, suspended in a hydrocarbon carrier.

    The Netherlands produces most of it’s electricity from fossil fuels (2012 nearly 90%), mostly from natural gas (nearly 60%). The Netherlands also exports natural gas sourced from “conventional” wells. So there is little need for shale gas exploitation at this present time. However wait and see what happens in 2020 when the giant Groningen field depletes / is restriced further. You may be interested to learn that the Netherlands is one of the main suppliers of electricity to Germany when there is no sun and high pressure. Germany cannot meet demand without imports on windless nights.

    • Ian – not seen this before. Always wary of stuff from people like Crane and Smythe however I will have a look at the issues raised. Clearly any frack fluid that did get into an acquifer (and it should not if the well is designed and drilled correctly) will be massively diluted – the point which Smythe does not go into. I have had discussions with the EA on Cuadrilla’s frack fluid before and may bring this up again with them if needed.

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