Politics

Minister reveals details of new shale regulator

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Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road shale gas site, 25 December 2018. Photo: Ros Wills

The government’s new shale regulator, announced last spring, has three members of staff, at a cost of £75,000, operates “virtually” and has no powers, the energy minister has said.

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Claire Perry speaking in parliament in November 2018. Photo: Parliament TV

In reply to a series of written parliamentary questions, the energy minister, Claire Perry, said the Shale Environmental Regulator Group created a “single interface for Mineral Planning and industry”.

 

She told Lee Rowley, Conservative MP for North East Derbyshire:

“The Shale Environmental Regulator Group is a virtual entity bringing together the regulators of the onshore oil and gas sector, including shale gas operations.”

Ms Perry said the group would “streamline information access” to three regulators: the Environment Agency, Health and Safety Executive and the Oil & Gas Authority. Its purpose was “to improve the efficiency in resolving regulatory issues on sites and to share best practice.”

She said:

“Three current employees of the Environment Agency have been deployed to support this new entity.”

These employees would work on “activities for coordination and communications which are to be agreed annually”, she said.

“The cost within this first year for these roles is £75,000 and there have been no further additional roles or funding to any of the other regulators.”

The new group was “not a statutory body and has no new powers or regulatory responsibilities”, Ms Perry said.

“Each regulator will continue to retain its own independent regulatory functions, duties and enforcement powers as set out in law.”

Shale gas support and the commissioner

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Lee Rowley MP, 31 October 2018. Photo: Parliamentlive.tv

Mr Rowley also asked the government whether it had any objectives of increasing the rating for shale gas in an ongoing public attitudes survey.

Ms Perry said ministers understood that shale gas exploration “directly affects local communities and recognises the need to provide those communities with fact-based information”.

This was why the government appointed Natascha Engel, Mr Rowley’s predecessor in North East Derbyshire, as a shale gas commissioner:

“The Commissioner is a contact point for residents, to listen to their concerns, refer them to relevant and factual research and help improve communication with regulators and industry.”

Earth tremor regulations

In response to a question on fracking-induced seismicity, Ms Perry confirmed that the threshold at which fracking would continue to be 0.5ML (local magnitude) t. She said:

“These regulations ensure that the risk of seismic activity during hydraulic fracturing is assessed in advance and that operations are closely monitored to allow action to be taken by the OGA and other regulators where necessary.”

Protests and hospital admissions

Mr Rowley also asked about the impact of anti-fracking protests on the admission of children to hospital.

Ms Perry said police had powers to deal with violent or threatening protest behaviour. This was a matter for local police forces, she said.


 

Transcript of questions

Question from Lee Rowley, Conservative MP for North East Derbyshire

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, how many employees the new Shale Environmental Regulator Group plans to employ.

Reply from Claire Perry, energy and clean growth minister

The Shale Environmental Regulator Group is a virtual entity bringing together the regulators of the onshore oil and gas sector, including shale gas operations (the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive and the Oil and Gas Authority). Each of these regulators has the appropriate expertise and is properly resourced to enforce the regulations for which they are responsible. The Shale Environmental Regulator Group creates a single interface for Mineral Planning Authorities and industry, to streamline information access to the regulations, and three current employees of the Environment Agency have been deployed to support this new entity.


Lee Rowley

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what is the annual cost to the public purse will be of the Shale Environmental Regulator Group.

Claire Perry

The Shale Environmental Regulator Group (SERG) complements the existing regulatory regime and operates in a virtual capacity. This is afforded through existing budgets to the Environment Agency, Health and Safety Executive and Oil and Gas Authority, with the exception of some specific incremental costs for three roles within the Environment Agency which cover activities for coordination and communications which are to be agreed annually. The cost within this first year for these roles is £75,000 and there have been no further additional roles or funding to any of the other regulators.


Lee Rowley

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what new powers will be conferred on the Shale Regulator in addition to the powers held by existing regulators.

Claire Perry

The Shale Environmental Regulatory Group is a virtual entity bringing together the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive and the Oil and Gas Authority to provide a single interface for Mineral Planning Authorities and industry. It is not a statutory body and has no new powers or regulatory responsibilities. Each regulator will continue to retain its own independent regulatory functions, duties and enforcement powers as set out in law.


Lee Rowley

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, for what reason the new Shale Environmental Regulator Group was established instead of extending the remit and powers of the (a) Health & Safety Executive, (b) Environment Agency and (c) Oil and Gas Authority.

Claire Perry

The UK regulatory regime for shale gas is considered among the most robust and stringent in the world but it is also complex with three regulators: the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive and the Oil and Gas Authority. Therefore, the Government has brought the existing regulators together through a virtual Shale Environmental Regulator Group to act as a single point of contact for Mineral Planning Authorities and industry, to improve the efficiency in resolving regulatory issues on sites and to share best practice.

The Government is confident that the right protection is in place to explore shale safely and each regulator will continue to retain its own independent regulatory functions with the virtual regulator group having no statutory powers.


Lee Rowley

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, with reference to the Written Statement of 17 May 2018 on Energy Policy, HCWS690, whether the definition of non-hydraulic fracturing excludes fracturing with the use of (a) acid, (b) gas, (c) other substances and (d) water below the limits set out in the definition of hydraulic fracturing in section 50 of the Infrastructure Act 2015.

Claire Perry

In the Written Statement of 17 May 2018, the Government committed to consult on the principle of whether non-hydraulic fracturing shale exploration development should be treated as permitted development. The consultation sought views on a proposed definition of non-hydraulic fracturing shale exploration development. The Government will respond to the consultation in due course.


Lee Rowley

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what recent assessment his Department has made of trends in the level of public support for fracking.

Claire Perry

The Department undertakes quarterly assessments on a range of subjects and topics as part of our Public Attitudes Tracker (PAT). Questions which explore the public’s perception and understanding of shale are included as part of this.

The latest report was published on 8 November 2018 using survey data collected between 19 – 30 September 2018. The report can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/beis-public-attitudes-tracker-wave-27.


Lee Rowley

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, with reference to his Department’s Public Attitudes Tracker, September 2018 (Wave 27), whether he has introduced objectives for increasing the rating of shale gas in the next twelve months.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy undertakes quarterly assessments on a range of subjects and topics as part of our Public Attitudes Tracker (PAT). Questions which explore the public’s perception and understanding of shale are included as part of this. The Department has no specific objectives for increasing the ‘rating’ of shale gas in the next twelve months.

Claire Perry

The Government understands the development of shale gas exploration and production sites is an issue which directly affects local communities and recognises the need to provide those communities with fact-based information. Therefore, the Government appointed Natascha Engel to be the first Commissioner for Shale gas in October 2018. The Commissioner is a contact point for residents, to listen to their concerns, refer them to relevant and factual research and help improve communication with regulators and industry.


Lee Rowley

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what seismic magnitude his Department has set as the threshold to stop permanently a shale gas operation.

Claire Perry

In the UK, strong controls are in place to mitigate any risks from induced seismicity due to hydraulic fracturing operations. The Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) monitors seismicity as part of their regulatory duties and they require operators, as part of a pre-agreed Hydraulic Fracture Plan, to pause if a seismic event of 0.5ML or above on the ‘Richter Local Scale’ is detected. Operations will only be allowed to proceed if the independent regulators determine there are no safety concerns and that the seismic event conforms to the thresholds agreed as part of a Hydraulic Fracture Plan, which they have all signed off.

These regulations ensure that the risk of seismic activity during hydraulic fracturing is assessed in advance and that operations are closely monitored to allow action to be taken by the OGA and other regulators where necessary.


Lee Rowley

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, if he will make an assessment of the effect of the activities of anti-fracking protesters on the transportation of children to hospital.

Claire Perry

Protesters’ rights must be balanced with the rights of others to go about their business lawfully, without fear of intimidation or serious disruption to the community.  Rights to peaceful protest do not extend to violent or threatening behaviour and the police have powers to deal with any such acts. Any impact of protest activity on local access and highways is a matter for local police forces.

3 replies »

  1. Hopefully Lee Rowley (who I am in contact with as my local MP) will also now seek similar information about the role, back-up support, finances, facilities and activities of the Shale Gas Commissioner. I am trying for this under “Freedom of Information” provisions, but I am not sure whether I have used the correct avenue. When I did this no “freedom of information” questions had then been asked about her role and activities according to the relevant web-site.

  2. Here is a link to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s “Guidance on Fracking”. Information about the “Shale Environment Regulatory Group” raised by Lee Rowley in his parliamentary questions is given in point 6.6 and information about the role of Natascha Engel the “Commissioner for Shale Gas” appears under point 7.1 See –
    https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/about-shale-gas-and-hydraulic-fracturing-fracking/developing-shale-oil-and-gas-in-the-uk

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