Government policy “risks unrestricted drilling and fracking”, MPs told

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Cuadrilla’s shale gas site at Preston New Road, near Blackpool, 19 June 2018. Photo: Ros Wills

Government proposals to take shale gas decisions out of the local planning system could result in a “one-size-fits all” approach with unrestricted drilling and fracking, a new parliamentary group has been told.

The first evidence session of the All Party Group on Shale Gas Impacts heard that a Written Ministerial Statement, issued last month, would undermine attempts to control the industry and address cumulative effects. Transcript of statements to APPG on shale gas impacts (pdf)

The Written Ministerial Statement (WMS) from Business Secretary, Greg Clark, and Local Government Minister, James Brokenshire, proposed to classify non-fracking shale gas schemes as permitted development. This would mean these schemes would be treated like small house extensions and would not need planning permission.

The anti-shale network, Frack Free United, told the meeting at Westminster:

“With the release of the new Written Ministerial Statement on shale gas, there is the threat of a one-size-fits-all approach of unrestricted drilling and fracking in all shale gas areas.”

“The government is pressuring local authorities to permit shale gas planning applications, without giving them the detailed assessment they need.

“The ability of local authorities to control shale gas is being undermined by the WMS.”

The Campaign to Protect Rural England, also giving evidence, told MPs:

“It is neither appropriate, given the scale and significance of impacts caused by exploratory drilling, nor in terms of the precedent of local decision-making, to allow such development to fall within permitted development.”

A CPRE online petition against the permitted development proposals, promoted today, had nearly 94,000 signatures at the time of writing.

How many shale gas wells are needed to reduce imports?

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Heavy goods vehicles arriving at Cuadrilla’s shale gas site at Preston New Road, 26 April 2018. Photo: Ros Wills

The APPG session focussed on the cumulative effects on landscape, traffic and communities of scaled-up shale gas developments

Friends of the Earth told the hearing the UK would need to drill one new well every day for 15 years to produce enough gas to replace half the country’s gas imports from 2021-2035. The figures were based on central estimates of well productivity in a study commissioned by Friends of the Earth from Professor Calvin Jones, of Cardiff Business School.

Connor Schwartz, for Friends of the Earth, told the meeting:

“In the low productivity scenario, the number of wells required is estimated to rise to 16,550, or 3 new wells per day.”

He said the central estimate would need more than 1,000 wellpads, equivalent to 4,900 football pitches, to meet 50% of UK imports.

In a written submission for Frack Free Ryedale, industry analyst Gundi Royle, said the UK would need 18,000-20,000 wells to produce half of the country’s annual gas consumption. She said:

“The only region in the world which is producing shale gas on that scale is the US.”

The licence regulator, the Oil and Gas Authority, declined to given a estimate:

“The purpose of exploration activity, particularly drilling and testing, is to identify commercially-viable resources of oil and gas. Without such information, which is often specific to a relatively small geographic area, it is not possible to make accurate forecasts of the resulting development activity.

“Consequently, the OGA will not make an assessment of future potential activity for a particular area or for the contribution to the UK energy mix until more is known from exploration.”

“Local efforts undermined by Government”

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Third Energy’s fracking site at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire, 5 November 2017. Photo: Eddie Thornton

The draft North Yorkshire Minerals and Waste Joint Plan has proposed 500m setback distances between shale gas sites and homes, as well as buffer zones around protected landscapes.

But Kit Bennett, representing Frack Free United, said:

“The attempts of North Yorkshire Minerals and Waste Joint Plan (MWJP) to address cumulative impact may be undermined by the new Written Ministerial Statement.”

He added:

“The planning system is currently actively avoiding proper consideration of the cumulative impacts of shale gas development. This can be seen in the recent Written Ministerial Statement, which places great weight on promoting shale gas, with little consideration of its impacts, and in Planning Practice Guidance, which prevents proper consideration of the whole life cycle impact of oil and gas development when applications for exploratory wells are made.”

Daniel Carey-Dawes, for CPRE, said:

“The spectre of exploration becoming permitted development also has implications in relation to cumulative development as it may then evade policy compliance.”

He said ministers had decided that exploratory drilling did not need an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) when applying for planning permission. But he said European case law suggested that in some cases an EIA would be appropriate because of the likely cumulative impacts of the development. If exploratory drilling did not need to apply for planning permission it could avoid the need for an EIA and assessment of cumulative impacts.

“Salami slicing” phases of development

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Exploratory drilling at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road shale gas site near Blackpool, 20 June 2018. Photo: Ros Wills

Frack Free United said the ability to control cumulative impacts was also limited by the requirement in planning guidance to consider separately the phases of exploration, appraisal and production.

Kit Bennett, speaking for the network said:

“This is because the impact of later stages cannot be taken into account at planning applications. This is despite the fact that it is clear the goal of the industry is widespread and intensive development.”

Connor Schwatz, for Friends of the Earth, said:

“The Planning Practice Guidance for minerals divides or “salami slices” fracking into three distinct phases: exploration, appraisal and production. This makes the assessment of cumulative impacts of the different phases difficult from a planning point of view.”

Roseacre Awareness Group (RAG), which opposes Cuadrilla’s application for Roseacre Wood near Blackpool, raised concerns about local development plans:

“Local authority plans do not consider the impacts of full-scale production fracking, and associated infrastructure, or the potential impacts on existing sectors such as agriculture and tourism and their supply chains.”

“Yet fracking threatens to industrialise our countryside (already under threat from housing developments) at a time when green spaces are essential for health, leisure and biodiversity.”

Barbara Richardson, for RAG, said:

“We believe national guidance should look at the wider picture, such as number of sites required nationally, well density, separation distances, buffer zones, waste management storage and treatment, water usage, well integrity, well abandonment, financial viability and other matters of national importance including that of public health.”

Capacity of the planning system

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West Sussex County Council officers advising members on an application for flow testing at Cuadrilla’s Balcombe well, 8 January 2018. Photo: From Webcast

Witnesses were also asked whether current planning policy and practice could support the level of extraction needed for full-scale commercial fracking.

Connor Schwartz, for Friends of the Earth, said:

“There is already national shortage of town planners. Local government faces funding pressures, therefore minerals and local planning authorities struggle to recruit and retain sufficiently qualified, skilled and experienced planning staff.

“The cumulative implications of needing to provide the correct level of planning consideration for the multiple planning stages of each of the over 12,000 wells necessary for self-sufficiency are vast, and not currently within the realms of possibility for current planning practice.”

The Written Ministerial Statement proposed to speed up fracking applications by classifying them as Nationally Significant Infrastructure. This would mean decisions would be made by a government—appointed planning inspector, rather than local authorities.

CPRE said local mineral planning authorities were under-resourced but it said:

“[It would not be right] in terms of the need to ensure local communities are fully involved in planning decisions, to move the locus of decision-making for shale production to the NSIP regime.”

  • DrillOrDrop also asked the industry body, UK Onshore Oil and Gas for its statement to the APPG. This post will be updated with any response.

Transcript of statements to APPG on shale gas impacts (pdf)

33 replies »

  1. Since we need to actually need to explore & test first – all this “debate” is premature .

      • And how wonderful to be having the debate; eight years ago Becconsall first application hidden on a post and passed under officer delegation with no public participation; we have come a long way. It has awoken a mighty force which grows by the day. Well done everybody.

        • Sherwulfe, same in Balcombe, eight years ago, planning permission snuk through our parish council by unconventional means, hidden within the application for someone’s carport. Yes, what a long way we have come, and how we have changed.

        • The planning decision on Cuadrilla’s Preese Hall Site in Lancashire was also delegated to officers and sneaked out under the radar. A pity for Cuadrilla that the earthquakes that resulted should not be equally hushed up.

  2. Meanwhile, Swansea Bay scheme gets rejected as “not good value for money”. This Govt. is either making decisions based on vested interests, or absolutely barking mad.

    • The Government has told us we have a diverse and secure gas supply. They recently stated,

      ‘Government security of supply assessments have conservatively assumed no shale contributions during the next 20 years’.

      We have no need to explore or test for shale gas in the UK.

      Vested interests or barking mad?

      Hard to say but clearly one of the two or perhaps a bit of both.

  3. I was impressed by Lee Rowley, Tory MP for NE Derbyshire, and his new APPG last week.

    Unlike the previous 2 APPGs on shale gas, this one does not seem to be a club for Tory fracking fetishists and industry. Lee Rowley was a good, firm chair, and asked tough questions of the guys from the OGA and UKOOG. He has assembled a balanced bunch of speakers.

    Amongst the ‘public’ were reps of IGAS and INEOS and two UKOOG employees in addition to Ken Cronin, who spoke – and quite a lot of campaigners, all of us squished into the smallest room in Portcullis House, chairs in scant supply. There were several MPs, more that at previous APPGs, including Ben Bradley, Tory MP for Mansfield, and Kevin Barron, Labour MP for Rother Valley in S Yorkshire… and Kevin Hollingrake, presiding MP (but for how long?) of Kirby Misperton and surrounds.

    Lee Rowley intends to write a report, following a series of such meetings.

  4. Personally I find it extremely tiresome that people having a letter or two after their name think this validates statements demonstrating a blinkered view, promoting their narrow self-interest and missing the whole point of the arguments which should determine fracking’s future. If there is no possibility of a developed fracking industry being politically acceptable it matter not a jot what’s down there, particularly when the potential damage is done to the environment, community and well legacy by the exploration stage, drilling, fracking and flow testing.

    • My sentiments exactly Alan. It is about time an MP, and a previous gas and oil analyst, asked the industry some tough questions because it is quite clear that the government has only listened to industry.

      • So the last post you need to bother reading, after mine of course, is KatT June 26 at 9.30am.
        Everything below is just diversion and space wasting (apologies to Kat for the bit you got tied up in).

        So again:

        In the balance [still] after 12 months the number of pro fracking comments on Drill or Drop giving conclusive evidence that shale gas extraction:

        1. Is economically viable
        2. Will provide energy security
        3. Is not for plastic
        4. Will replace clean renewable energy production
        5. Won’t cause seismic activity
        6. Won’t pollute ground water
        7. Won’t cause property devaluation
        8. Will stop imports of gas from conflict areas
        9. Is supported by the majority of the UK
        10. Will be better than renewables at slowing climate change

        is…{drum roll, fanfare and fireworks]….

        NONE. [again]

        Keep happy!

    • I don’t understand your statement Alan, how can it not be politically acceptable?

      The Labour Party issued the exploratory drilling licences 10 years ago, the standing Government is pushing it through

      As for the Fylde Coast in the General Election last year as Cuadrilla was in the process of drilling which was well documented…

      The Conservatives won with 58.8% of the vote!!!

      In actual fact the green party with 2.8% of the vote actually lost more votes than the last election so their support is on the decline and with recent antics I Don’t think Tina will be allowed to stand for the greens again anyway…

      On the Fylde Coast the electorate mainly supports the Conservative Party, in its manifesto for the election shale gas extraction was firmly in place…

      I’d say that was politically acceptable by a long long way wouldn’t you???


  5. Meanwhile, back in the real world, progress eventually (but slowly) emerges from process.

    So much hot air. Surprising UK is still using so much gas.

    • It does make you laugh, some of the posters just thought the Swansea tidal lagoon was a good idea?

      It’s been common knowledge for years how green gangsters were trying to push through an extremely expensive intermittent renewable project costing the bill payer a fortune for decades to Come

      £30 Billion extra for the same energy by using the tidal lagoon CRAZY

      Wales must be soooo rich to allow that price to fall on It’s people…

      • KISHENY

        CRAZY money

        £30 bn ………. The cost of the LAST Iraq and Afghanistan failed war.
        With such concern for saving and not wasting UK taxpayers money , I would be very interested to hear your views on this colossal wastage

        YES that £30bn could of been used to strive ahead with renewable energy projects…..

  6. Alan, I presume you consistently hold your personal opinion ” Personally I find it extremely tiresome that people having a letter or two after their name think this validates statements” when you fly on an aeroplane, or when you seek medical treatment, etc etc???

    • I think the consensus here Nick is that you don’t have to have, or display letters to know what you are talking about. It is a myth of our culture and prejudice against many, to wave overpriced qualifications to show credibility. It has be shown time and again that many so called ‘nimbys’ have done more credible research onto the effects of fracking and have been acknowledged by those in the decision making process, only to be overturned by politically incorrect power sharers.

      Psychologically it seems that the general populous will not take the word, qualified or not, if those who are or have working in the industry as they appear to have a vested interest.

      Those who pertain to have experience or similar will be treated with caution if they don’t also add the relevant and indisputable evidence to back up their claims.

      Just a fact of life and something the PR have missed by a mile.

  7. My view is consistent with what the OGA presented to this committee.
    “The purpose of exploration activity, particularly drilling and testing, is to identify
    commercially-viable resources of oil and gas. Without such information, which is often
    specific to a relatively small geographic area, it is not possible to make accurate forecasts of
    the resulting development activity.”

  8. Too warm for some of the antis to sleep it appears.

    All that electricity being consumed in the middle of the night. Solar generated-no. Wind-no.

    “Do as we say, not as we do” is the polite terminology.

    No wonder they are so grumpy (medical fact, Giggle it.)

  9. Oh Nick Riley, it’s the blinkered experts Alan means, not the open-minded ones. Oh Martin C, actually, yes domestic solar in these long hours of daylight, and juice in my computer battery in the middle of the night.

    What about the expensive nuclear?

    Tides are predictable and constant. You can’t slag off the tides for intermittence.

    Wales, like Scotland, would be better off without us. Until Corbyn rules the waves!

    • Kathrynmcwhiter. Having been involved in the only successful deep aquifer geothermal project in the UK at its inception (Southhampton), plus getting ground source heat going with the Carbon Trust, and also using my expertise in nuclear waste management with respect to Sellafield, plus the Severn Barrage (Sabrina Project), underground energy storage & carbon capture & storage. You are far off the mark throwing out insults that I am a “blinkered expert”. Of course you have a right to have your own personal opinions – but not
      your own personal “truths”, when they are evidently untrue.

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