Fracking Week in Westminster – w/e 15th January 2016


In this Fracking Week in Westminster:

  • Caroline Lucas asks about flood risk in drilling areas
  • Chris Matheson asks about the methane leak in Porter Ranch, California
  • Peers debate whether an amendment to a new bill could promote fracking in National Parks

Thanks to TheyWorkForYou.com for the transcripts

Written environment questions

13th January 2016

carolinelucasQuestion by Caroline Lucas, Green, Brighton, Pavilion
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what proportion of onshore oil and gas (a) licence blocks and (b) wells with permission to be drilled are in areas with high or medium flood risk; what the Government’s policy is on permitting fracking in areas of flood risk; what assessment she has made of the effect of flooding on the risks of water contamination associated with shale gas extraction; and if she will make a statement.

Rory StewartReply by Rory Stewart, Environment Minister
Prior to the launch of the 14th Onshore Oil and Gas Licensing Round, a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) was undertaken for all areas offered for licensing applications, which addressed flood risk. The award of a Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence (PEDL) does not itself give any permission for operations to begin. Before a licensee can commence any operations they must apply for and be granted a number of further permissions and consents for each specific site within a PEDL area. These include planning permission and environmental permits from the Environment Agency.

Flood risk will be considered on a case by case basis where relevant as part of the consideration through the planning system of proposals for onshore oil and gas development, including development involving hydraulic fracturing. National planning policy is clear that inappropriate development in areas at risk of flooding should be avoided by directing development away from areas at highest risk. Where development is necessary, it should be made safe without increasing flood risk elsewhere. The policy is also clear that development should not contribute to, or be adversely affected by, unacceptable levels of water pollution.

Flood risk is also taken into account by the Environment Agency before any environmental permits are issued to drill for oil and gas. If a company wishes to carry out works in, over, under or near a main river, flood defence or a sea defence, they must apply to the Environment Agency for consent. To carry out work on watercourses which are not regulated by the Agency, a company will need to apply to the relevant regulatory body responsible for that particular watercourse.

Written energy questions

12th January 2016

Chris MathesonQuestion by Chris Matheson, Labour, City of Chester
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, what initial assessment she has made of the implications of the incident at Porter Ranch, California, for safety and engineering procedures and standards in the UK onshore unconventional gas extraction sector.


Reply by Andrea Leadsom, Environment MinisterAndreaLeadsom
In the UK, we have an entirely different regulatory system to the US.

We have over 50 years of experience in safely conducting surface activities and constructing onshore gas wells, regulated by the Health & Safety Executive and Environment Agency.

Our tough regulations ensure on-site safety, prevent water contamination, mitigate seismic activity and air pollution. To reinforce our already robust regulations, the Infrastructure Act 2015 introduced a range of further requirements that must be met before an operator can carry out hydraulic fracturing in a responsible, sustainable and safe manner. These include the assessment of environmental impacts, groundwater monitoring, community benefits and prohibiting hydraulic fracturing in specified protected areas.

The UK has one of the best track records in the world when it comes to protecting our environment while also developing our industries – and we’ve brought that experience to bear on the shale gas protections.

Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, House of Lords

12th January 2016

Baroness WilliamsExtract of speech about an amendment on National Park Authority powers by Baroness Williams of Trafford, Communities and Local Government Minister
My Lords, there has been much speculation about what these powers might mean in respect of fracking and so on. The whole purpose of the amendment is to give park authorities the scope to be more innovative, rather than to act in an unduly competitive way with each other.

Lord BeechamExtract of speech on Lord Beecham, shadow spokesperson on communities and local government
One matter that was raised in the House of Commons was clarified at the time by the Minister, but I invite the noble Baroness to repeat the assurance that nothing in this proposal would facilitate the adoption of fracking in any national park area—that is, that it would not be open to a national park authority to allow such a development. It would be good to have it on the record in your Lordships’ House as well as in the Commons.

Extract of speech by Baroness Williams
I can also assure the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, that nothing in the proposal facilitates fracking.

6 replies »

  1. Question by Chris Matheson, Labour, City of Chester – The LA gas well blow out is nothing to do directly with shale gas / CBM drilling / fracking. It is a gas storage injection well in an old oil field which is now used for storing / distributing utility gas. The origin of some of this gas may be shale but the problem is not related to the extraction of the gas. As we have minimal gas storage in the UK (we should have a lot more) and what we have is generally in specifically designed and constructed salt caverns and depleted gas fields, the LA problem is unlikely to be able to happen in the UK. All shale / CBM wells will be constructed with new and properly designed casing in accordance with the regulations and checked and verified by independent well examiners / HSE. Shallow casing failure as is the case in the LA well should not happen in UK.

    I would however have expected our Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (not Environment Minister as noted above) to have known this and responded acordingly. Clearly poorly briefed by her Civil Servants.

    • Well examiners are not independent despite being referred to as such. This fact is addressed in the 2012 Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering joint report on shale. The industry, its regulators and the government have yet to respond on the issue of the independence of well examiners.
      The term “unlikely” in the context of this leak is not reassuring.
      Similarly the expression “should not happen” is not reassuring.
      What is concerning is the reluctance and failure of operators to use diagnostic tools and procedures to detect and locate inadequate cementing and seals. When they have been used the tools became stuck resulting in well abandonment or considerable additional costs.
      This industry does not stand up to scrutiny which is why it ducks it at every step and turn.

      • Well examiners are independent from the point of view of company / ownership. Clearly the engineers working for well examination companies have worked in the industry. How else would they get the necessary experience? Well examination is highly technical and requires a lot of diverse experience in the industry. As far as I am aware shale gas companies are required to run cement integrity diagnostic tools to confirm cement tops and integrity (no channels, micro annulli etc.). In my 30 odd years working in drilling / production we never stuck a cement evaluation tool (CBL/ VDL, CET then USIT etc.). The main reason these tools are not stuck is because they are run inside casing after cementing operations are completed – not open hole. The timing is important to get a valid log.

        And why are you worried if a tool becomes stuck and a well has to be abandoned – the costs are to the well operator and / or insurance?

        I use the terms “unlikely” and “should not happen” as nothing undertaken ever has zero risk. But the ALARP principle is applied in the industry and works very well in the UK.

    • There is no legislative requirement for pressure tests or CBLs to be carried out.
      Regarding well examiners, examination by paper trail is standard practice since the scheme has its origin in reviewing offshore wells. Well examiners can be employees of the operator’s organisation. This means that independent well examiners are not independent and under standard practice never even see the well let alone inspect it.
      The examination of well integrity is not considered from an environmental perspective.
      ALARP (As Low As Reasonably Practicable) is a meaningless expression, as are the expressions “unlikely” and “should not happen”.
      In its catalogue of errors Cuadrilla got a tool stuck and subsequently abandoned the well in question.

  2. Well examiners are appointed and employed by the well operator. They can be employees (staff) or third party contractors. They have to be independent of the people responsible for well design and operations. I.e independent of the line management. So you are correct in that the examiner can be an employee of the operator’s organisation.

    As far as I know, the UK is the only Country to adopt independent well examination as mandatory.

    You are also correct in that the examiners do not physically inspect wells offshore. HSE inspect wells and well sites. Examiners examine well designs and well operations (on a daily basis during operations and when any deviation from the approved program is requested) . This is rightly a paperwork exercise.

    UKOOG guidelines extend well examination to environment issues. Not a major problem since Offshore Regs cover major environmental hazards but it means that well examiners also cover possible aquifer contamination . UKOOG guidelines also mention examiners making site visits although I’m not sure how this fits with HSE.

    You are right in that cement evaluation logging is not mandatory- but pressure testing to ensure well integrity will be part of the program, and as I understand it, so will cement evaluation.

    ALARP is not a meaningless expression. Safety law uses this term and it has been tested in the courts and it is used increasingly throughout the world. It applies to nuclear safety which is somewhat higher level risk compared to drilling simple onshore wells.

    According to the “Frack-Off” website a Cuadrilla statement on 16th November 2012 confirmed that it would discontinue the current well (Anna’s Road) and drill another 10ft away. It said a cement bond log showed the possibility that the cement had not adhered evenly to the casing near the bottom of the well below the aquifer. During tests, a packer became trapped by the pressure and the company said it was not feasible to drill through or around it.

    So a cement integrity log was run successfully, and identified channeling – and the CBL tool not stuck. The tool which caused the problem was a retrievable packer run to test the casing / execute a remedial cement squeeze. No loss / no harm to any party other than Cuadrilla.

    I note from this statement that the shallow acquifer is saline at this location.

    • The tool was a tool.
      The aquifer was and is not saline.
      Cuadrilla abandoned Anna’s Road.
      ALARP is a meaningless expression existing only to line the pockets of bottom feeding lawyers.
      The well examination scheme does not have an environmental perspective.
      UKOOG guidelines are not obligatory, carry no penalty when infringed, are vague and self policed by the operator. In short they do not inspire confidence but do signal arrogance.
      Pennsylvania has state employed officials to enforce detection of and prosecution for violations to specific regulations.
      The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has a system of self regulation mildly reinforced by an anemic under skilled, ill resourced hodge podge of state related and hogtied ministries, agencies and local government institutions.

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