Politics

Some fracking controls now in force – but not all

Cuadrilla fracking site

Picture: Cuadrilla Resources

Rules on fracking, set out in the Infrastructure Act, came into force today.

They are in section 50 of the act, which sets the depth at which fracking is prohibited and creates an official definition based on the volume of fluid used. The rules also identify requirements that must be met before fracking is allowed to go ahead.

The Energy Minister, Andrea Leadsom signed a commencement order for the rules on 24th March 2016, the day the House of Commons rose for Easter. Link to commencement order

But proposed restrictions on hydraulic fracturing from the surface of some landscape, wildlife and drinking water areas are not in force. The government has not yet published the result of a consultation which ended 16 weeks ago (See section Surface protected areas below).

What is needed before consents can be issued?

Infrastructure ActSection 50 of the Infrastructure Act adds two new sections to the Petroleum Act 1998.

The Onshore hydraulic fracturing: safeguards set out conditions for a well consent, issued by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change before fracking can begin.

The legislation says the Secretary of State must not issue a well consent if fracking is to be carried out at depths of less than 1,000m.

For depths of 1,000m and below a hydraulic fracturing consent is needed. There are 11 conditions that must be met before a hydraulic fracturing consent is issued.

The conditions cover: the environmental impact of a development, independent well inspections, monitoring of methane in groundwater, monitoring of methane emissions to air, consideration of cumulative effects, regulatory approval of substances used, restoration conditions, banning fracking in groundwater source areas and other protected areas, consultation of the local water company and notifying the public.

The legislation also says that before a hydraulic fracturing consent can be granted a scheme has to be in place to provide financial or other benefit to the local area. There also have to be arrangements for publishing results of monitoring methane emissions to air.

What is fracking and what are protected areas?

Section 50 of the Infrastructure Act also creates an official definition of fracking for the first time, based on the volume of fracking fluid. To count as hydraulic fracturing, an operation must inject more than 1,000 cubic metres at each stage or more than 10,000 cubic meters in total.

It also requires the Secretary of State to define protected groundwater source areas and other protected areas.

This got complicated when the government separated what it meant by protected areas below and at the surface.

The sub-surface definition was set out in the Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing (Protected Areas) Regulations 2015, passed narrowly by MPs in December last year.

These regulations, which came into force on 10th March 2016 (link), defined protected groundwater source areas as “any land within 50m of a point at the surface at which water is abstracted from underground strata and used to supply water for domestic or food production purposes”.

They defined Other protected areas as the land at depths of 1,200m or less below National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Broads and World Heritage Sites.

These regulations allowed fracking below (but not from the surface of) these protected areas providing it was at depths of 1,200m or more.

Surface protected areas

ConsultationIn November last year, the Government proposed to restrict fracking at the surface from a wider range of protected areas.

A consultation document defined the surface protected areas as: National Parks, the Broads, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, World Heritage Sites, drinking water Source Protection Zones 1, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Natura 2000 nature conservation sites.

The consultation proposed no fracking from the surface of these areas. But it said the restrictions would not be applied through legislation but by a condition in Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences.

The licences to be issued under the 14th onshore licensing round, confirmed in December 2015, would include this condition, the government proposed. For previous licences, the government said it would make a policy statement which would indicate the Secretary of State would not grant consent for fracking at the surface of these protected areas.

The consultation closed just over 16 weeks ago on 16th December 2015 but the outcome has not yet been published. A spokesperson for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said this afternoon no date had been set for the publication of the consultation report but it was expected.

  • The restrictions which come into force today apply to England and Wales. But the Welsh Government has issued a notification which allows it to decide planning applications for fracking where the local authority is minded to approve.

9 replies »

  1. All part of the stepping process. Shows the legislation is being evolved in the background. Good news.

  2. The conditions cover: the environmental impact of a development, independent well inspections, monitoring of methane in groundwater, monitoring of methane emissions to air, consideration of cumulative effects, regulatory approval of substances used, restoration conditions, banning fracking in groundwater source areas and other protected areas, consultation of the local water company and notifying the public.

    There is no map of groundwater flow at depths frackers can drill beyond the stated 1,000 metres or deeper, all hydrologists and geologists of integrity will tell you that. Therefore, to say some groundwaters will be protected, when there is no map of all groundwaters feeding surface waters, is negligent, unacceptable and a risk to this nations future non polluted water sustainability for generations to come.

    The Secretary of State trying to define ”protected groundwater source areas,” when in fact this is impossible, shows yet again that this government is ignorant of the dangers Australia and the US encounter daily. Hydrology and geology being in their infancy, with so called experts, learning with hindsight, after the danger has arrived, rather than well informed, well evidenced and substantiated and peer reviewed findings.

    However, hopefully frackers will start abstracting from groundwater, not currently known, but with hindsight found out to feed Buxton springs, Derbyshire, so owners Nestle discover whoops their investment is now at risk…

    Are corporate owners of springs entitled to clean spring water to sell, when Nestle argued in court that access to drinking water isn’t a birth right?

    As for the reference to PEDL, the worst regulated licensing on the planet ,that saw gas exuding from sperm whales beached at Hunstanton earlier this year, why is the government insisting these are suitable when our oceans are being killed off along with marine life?

  3. The conditions cover: the environmental impact of a development, independent well inspections, monitoring of methane in groundwater, monitoring of methane emissions to air, consideration of cumulative effects, regulatory approval of substances used, restoration conditions, banning fracking in groundwater source areas and other protected areas, consultation of the local water company and notifying the public.

    There is no map of groundwater flow at depths frackers can drill beyond the stated 1,000 metres or deeper, all hydrologists and geologists of integrity will tell you that. Therefore, to say some groundwaters will be protected, when there is no map of all groundwaters feeding surface waters, is negligent, unacceptable and a risk to this nations future non polluted water sustainability for generations to come.

    The Secretary of State trying to define ”protected groundwater source areas,” when in fact this is impossible, shows yet again that this government is ignorant of the dangers Australia and the US encounter daily. Hydrology and geology being in their infancy, with so called experts, learning with hindsight, after the danger has arrived, rather than well informed, well evidenced and substantiated and peer reviewed findings.

    However, hopefully frackers will start abstracting from groundwater, not currently known, but with hindsight found out to feed Buxton springs, Derbyshire, so owners Nestle discover whoops their investment is now at risk…

    Are corporate owners of springs entitled to clean spring water to sell, when Nestle argued in court that access to drinking water isn’t a birth right?

    Are corporate owners of springs entitled to clean spring water to sell, when Nestle argued in court that access to drinking water isn’t a birth right?

    As for the reference to PEDL, the worst regulated licensing on the planet ,that saw gas exuding from sperm whales beached at Hunstanton earlier this year, why is the government insisting these are suitable when our oceans are being killed off along with marine life?

    However the most despicable inclusion of this statement in the drive to give a free pass to pollute our land at 2d, in the document about further consultation, is this:
    ”if those objectives remain appropriate, assess the extent to which they could be achieved in another way which involves less onerous regulatory provision. ” aka oh dear it’s all too much trouble for us MP’s to busy with our offshore tax evasion to be bothered with onerous regulation let’s build in an exclusion clause that means when no one is looking frackers can do what they like.

    • Oh dear, ar g, why do you pass comments on geology when your appear not to have a clue about it? I am a mere engineer but what you have written seems to ignore other stuff I have read. This really needs the opinion of a specialist, but the legislation was drafted with expert input.

      As I understand it, the waters that exist deep down are salty and do not move from there. In general, aquifers are fresh as they have absorbed and drained out rainwater. The aquifers are surface stores of water, in the pores of the rock. The shale areas are beneath cap rocks, that isolate the surface water and fracking has never polluted aquifers, even after fracking. Thats why the 1000m limit is in place to make sure the two are isolated.

      There is a possible exception to that in Pavillion Wyoming, where they fracked as shallow as 200 m, when aquifers were at similar depths. Difficult to tell where the pollution did originate from, as they also didnt bother cementing wells too much, and dumped all the flowback fluid into unlined pits.

    • “As for the reference to PEDL, the worst regulated licensing on the planet ,that saw gas exuding from sperm whales beached at Hunstanton earlier this year, why is the government insisting these are suitable when our oceans are being killed off along with marine life?”

      PEDLs are onshore licences according to the Government guidance – not a lot to do with whales. You keep repeating the allegation that somehow offshore oil operations have caused earthquakes and filled sperm whales with methane. I am interested to know how this process actually works?

      I agree that seismic airguns offshore may impact cetaceans in a localised area but not sure how the methane into whale process works?

      • As ar g or mar g deems me to stupid to reply to I will reply on her / his behalf regarding methane in dead whales:

        http://wildwhales.org/2014/06/what-happens-when-a-whale-dies-part-ii/

        What happens to a whale’s body after it dies?

        Decomposition begins almost immediately after death and there several processes begin to break down various parts of a cetacean’s body. Autolysis (the process in which cells or tissues are broken down by naturally occurring enzymes), bacterial decomposition, putrification (the process of breaking down proteins and is responsible for organ liquefaction), and fermentation all occur and all produce noxious gases such as CO2, methane, hydrogen sulfide, and ammonia.

        Gases accumulate in the body cavity of a deceased cetacean causing, in some cases, extreme bloating. An estimated 3-5 atmospheres of pressure can build inside the whale, equivalent to the pressure experienced diving 40 metres underwater. Eventually, these gases find a means of escaping the body through weak points in the connective tissue, skin, and blubber. This process can occur rapidly, resulting in an explosive event, where gases and organs may be propelled several metres from a whale upon release, or slowly if several points of escape are present.

  4. There are ways to weasel round the regulations – and they are nowhere near robust enough to control this industry – that is the opinion of a lawyer. Not to mention the fact that not everything is in place. The good news is the public is becoming increasingly aware and this industry will be scrutinised by them like no other. The concerned public will be watching them every step of the way.

    • KT, why do you assume this is industry is any different to any other? Did the contractors who drilled Crossrail skimp on cement? Everything on a well is open to public scrutiny in time, and FOI requests mean that nothing is concealed. Companies would have to be spectacularly stupid to cut corners, especially as they would save peanuts.

      Would the lawyer you referred to the law graduate Joanne Hawkins? (She is not a lawyer, + has no experience of drilling or the practice of regulation)

      You can see my review of regulation on http://www.ryedalegas.co.uk/myths/myth-5-regulation

  5. Do you know what I just found out?!!!! The entire UK is TOTALLY UNREGULATED! That is right. It turns out that there is no guarantee that every farm and factory has an onsite regulator or has even been visited by a regulator this week. This is the case even though farming is the UK’s largest source of groundwater pollution and even though a quick check online reveals a large number of environmental issues in UK factories over the past 130 years!

    It is totally shocking I tell you. I am never buying another product made in the UK.

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