A government energy minister has declined to give details of the acceptable level of fugitive emissions from fracking wells in the UK.
Speaking this afternoon in the House of Lords, Baroness Neville-Rolfe (pictured left) avoided giving direct answers to three different peers. She said it was a matter for experts and it would be decided on a site-by-site basis. Finally, she agreed to write to the House on what advice the government had received.
The issue of fugitive methane emissions from shale gas wells was a key concern of the government’s adviser, the Committee on Climate Change.
It said in a report delivered in March that shale gas development was inconsistent with UK carbon budgets unless three tests were met. The tests included strict limits on leaks during well development, production and decommissioning.
This afternoon, Baroness Royall (Labour), asked the minister:
“Given that methane is 80 times more significant as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide what level of fugitive emission, that is to say leakage, would the government define as an acceptable level?”
Baroness Neville-Rolfe replied:
“The noble lady is right to draw attention to methane and that is of course one of the key focuses of the Environment Agency who have control over the permitting process and environmental emissions.”
Lord Foulkes (Labour) asked the question again:
“Try again and answer the question asked by my noble friend Baroness Royall what amount of leakage is acceptable?”
Baroness Neville-Rolfe replied:
“I think this is a matter for the experts concerned in the particular circumstances. Our regulatory system is site-specific. You go to the particular site and you work out clearly you want to minimise the emissions of all six of the Kyoto basket of gases and I would think that would be an agreed objective.”
Lord Harris of Harringey (Labour) asked:
“Does that imply that the government doesn’t have a view of this matter as to what is an acceptable degree of leakage? Or is it perhaps consulting those experts and, if so, will the noble lady the minister share with us what advice has been received on what would be an acceptable level of leakage.”
The minister replied:
“I can certainly write to the noble lords about what advice we have received if that would be helpful and I return to my point that we have a strong regulatory system right across the board in this area and we should look to this as an opportunity.”
Earlier, in an answer to Baroness McIntosh (left), the minister said the government believed the UK’s regulatory system would meet the CCC’s test on fugitive emissions.
The minister said she had “been struck by the variety of independent agencies” involved in decisions about shale gas. This has been a criticism made by some opponents of fracking.
She also said decisions about fracking should be “taken by the relevant local planning authority”. The Communities and Local Government Secretary is expected to announce his decision next month on whether Cuadrilla should be allowed to frack at two sites in Lancashire, after its applications were refused by Lancashire County Council.
Baroness Neville-Rolfe said: “I believe that shale has the potential to make a strong contribution to the transition from a heavily coal-fired carbon-inducing energy mix to a transition that I think we all share in 2050.”
Who sets the acceptable level?
DrillorDrop asked the Environment Agency whether it set acceptable levels of methane emissions for each site, as suggested by the minister, and nationally. We also asked if the EA did not set acceptable emissions levels, who did?
A spokesperson for the EA replied:
“The operator will need to describe how they will manage fugitive emissions in an emissions management plan and that requires approval by the Environment Agency, it is required by the environmental permit. Permits are obviously on a site by site basis.”
The spokesperson added that the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has taken over from the Department of Energy and Climate Change responsibility “for the national picture”.