‘Gold standard’ regulation of UK onshore oil and gas is a joke, says MEP

Keith Taylor 170720 Jono Houston

Keith Taylor MEP at the Broadford Bridge site in July 2017. Photo: Jon O’Houston

UK oil and gas companies are regularly breaching regulation of their operations with little consequence, new research published today concludes.

Far from gold standardA study by Keith Taylor, the outgoing Green Party MEP for south east England, dismisses government statements that UK regulation is “gold standard” and “among the most robust and stringent in the world”.

He says there are systemic failings in the regulatory system and he doubts whether it can be improved enough to protect people and the environment.

The report, Far From Gold Standard – The Flawed Regulatory System for Onshore Oil and Gas, compiled what it described as “an extensive set” of breaches of planning, regulatory and environmental conditions at nine sites across England. It said the industry was difficult to monitor and regulations were weak, conflicted and failing to keep up with developments.

Mr Taylor, an opponent of many UK onshore oil and gas operations, said:

“This report reveals what campaigners have been saying for a long time; that the claims about ‘gold standard regulations’ are a joke.

“The regulators cannot be on the ground 24/7 to monitor operations, and the reliance on self-regulation and form filling is failing local communities and environmental protection.

“It is time for the regulators to send a strong message to companies who might be tempted to play fast and loose with the rules; companies found deliberately or negligently flouting the rules should not be allowed to drill for oil and gas.”

He said concerned residents were taking on the job of monitoring sites, which he said should rightly be done by regulators.

“This reality is leading to a whole range of negative consequences, including broken trust and confidence in the industry and decision makers.”

The report makes recommendations for improvement but acknowledges they would be expensive to implement. It concluded:

“There is a real danger in the Government promoting an industry where standards are not good enough, and possibly cannot be made good enough to protect our communities and environment. There should be no expansion of this industry – the focus should be on properly regulating our historic wells.”

Brockham night working Brockham Protection Camp

Night working on the Brockham sidetrack, January 2017. Photo: Brockham Protection Camp


The report found regulatory failings at sites in Surrey (Bury Hill Wood/Leith Hill, Brockham and Horse Hill), West Sussex (Lidsey, Broadford Bridge and Markwells Wood), North Yorkshire (Kirby Misperton), East Yorkshire (West Newton) and Lancashire (Preston New Road).

It said the failings involved all the regulators: Environment Agency, Health and Safety Executive, Oil and Gas Authority and planning authorities.

Issues included:

  • Breaches of permit or permission conditions
  • Working without permission
  • Out-dated permits
  • Lack of coordination by regulators
  • Lack of communication with communities
  • Poor monitoring
  • Financial uncertainty
  • Over-reliance on self-regulation
  • Unsuitable sites
  • Failure to meet licence conditions
  • Delays in decommissioning

The report said the drilling of a sidetrack without planning permission at Brockham highlighted a lack of joined-up working between the regulators and the need for vigilance.

“Had it not been for a group of residents and a protection camp monitoring and reporting about activities on site, this serious breach might never have come to light.”

At Markwells Wood, the site was never issued with an environmental permit so the Environment Agency had no regulatory remit for decommissioning.

Residents living near the Broadford Bridge site reported Sunday working, against planning conditions, but the local authority took no punitive action against the operator.

There were breaches of planning and/or permit conditions at Kirby Misperton, Preston New Road and West Newton.

Mr Taylor said:

“The public should be able to expect regular and independent monitoring and sufficient and robust enforcement, even on seemingly minor issues like traffic breaches or with respect to lighting or noise at night/outside normal working hours. There are good reasons for these rules; these activities cause disturbance to local people and harm their environment.”


Markwells Wood in West Sussex before restoration. Photo: DrillOrDrop



  • Clearly define conventional and unconventional reservoirs and operations
  • Review volume-based definition of hydraulic fracturing

Use of acid

  • Establish government-led investigation into operations using acid
  • Regulate acid operations in the same way as hydraulic fracturing

Environmental permitting

  • Fast-track permitting of older sites
  • Close regulatory loophole on decommissioning of older sites
  • Require companies to publish daily operational logs


  • Extend the traffic light system to cover acidisation, water reinjection and pressure release
  • Require operators to pause operations for longer after more powerful seismic activity
  • Require operators to install geophone arrays around well sites in the absence of 3D seismic surveys
  • Require operators to provide operational information to allow correlation between activity and seismic events
  • Require a moratorium on operations where there is no identifiable cause of induced seismicity
oga tls full

OGA Infographic. Source: gov.uk

Emergency procedures

  • Apply the Civil Contingencies Act to all oil and gas sites
  • Require Local Resilience Forums to advise schools, residents and businesses of risks


  • Keep decisions on oil and gas sites with local authorities
  • Require local consultation on all applications

Licence extensions

  • The Oil & Gas Authority should cease renewing licences where operators have failed to carry out work commitments
  • Licences should be surrendered where not suitable site can be found within licence phases


  • Introduce independent scrutiny of the Oil & Gas Authority’s roles as promoter and regulator of the industry
  • Oil & Gas Authority should scrutinise financial information provided by companies
  • Stock Exchange should carry out more rigorous monitoring and enforcement


  • Require bonds as a condition of any planning approvals
  • Attach a statement of liability to planning decisions to make it clear who is responsible for future problems


  • Establish an agreed procedure and order for obtaining permits and permissions
  • Set out a protocol for liaison between regulators for individual sites

Community engagement

  • Require companies to consult the public before they make a planning application and at all stages of the planning process
  • Establish a recommended procedure for community engagement


DrillOrDrop invited representatives of the regulators to comment on the report. This post will be updated with any response.

Katherine Gray of UK Onshore Oil and Gas said:

“While this document goes to great lengths to highlight a few minor permit breaches, it conveniently fails to mention that compared to every other industry the Environment Agency regulates, onshore oil and gas was by far the best performing in the latest available data.

“It appears some see things differently, but I for one would be very concerned at a regulator that never found anything to regulate. Indeed, this paper serves only as an encouraging progress report for the diligence and stringency of our five separate regulators.

“It may be of note to the authors that the Environment Agency regularly visits our sites to conduct assessments, through regional and national permitting teams. Similarly, we take issue with the opinion that we fail to engage with the communities near our sites. Between the public exhibitions, local newspaper adverts, community meetings, telephone calls, newsletters, local business discussions and social media updates, it seems the only people who aren’t engaging with our industry are activist groups committed to scaring local people with tired myths.”

Ann Stewart, of the Weald Action Group, said:

“The government boasts about our “gold standard” regulations to promote industrial drilling in the green belt and in rural communities.

“These communities find that the reality is different. Regulations are frequently breached and the systems to deal with this are flawed and inadequate.

“We are grateful to Keith Taylor for collecting evidence and documenting the many weaknesses in our regulatory system.”





24 replies »

  1. And to think we are probably about to lose all our MEPs. Checks and balances such as this are precisely the major reason I voted Remain. Well said Keith Taylor.

  2. Well said Keith Taylor, many of us have been saying this regularly on Drill or Drop, the great but unspecified promise of these “gold standard world class regulations” always evaporates and becomes so much empty rhetoric at every investigation of the on shore fossil fuel activities in the UK.

    The operators break every rule and regulation, conditions and promises with apparent indifference, mainly due to the uncomfortable fact that none of these have any real teeth to prosecute or fine or even to monitor the growing list of failures and deliberate non compliance.

    Give an inch and they take a mile in any direction you care to mention, and we have given so many inches and they have taken so many miles, we have lost count or they were never recorded..

    The EA always admit they are understaffed, underfunded and their staff are seconded to irrelevant departments such as those in the ongoing political incompetence and fraud that is the brexit debacle.

    Then there are the ongoing attempts to undermine and compromise the few hard regulations that do seem to have some real teeth, like the TLS limit of 0.5 ML and the moves to allow even more chemicals to be injected into wells, the acidisation and fracking definition confusion and obfuscation, the sudden appearence of flares when we were promised that no flaring would be allowed in the UK, and of course lately the moves to class exploration and unspecified and vague non fracking definitions as Nationally Significant Infrastructure and all the other get out of jail free definitions.

    How many sites still operate under the “old style regulations”? Now there is a get out of jail free card if ever i saw one, not only do the operators not need to tell anyone what they are doing, or have done, or will do, they dont even need to keep records?

    How insane is that? The operators must have laughed themselves all the way to their undeclared off shore tax havens over that one.

    It is time we threw the false claims of “gold standards world class regulations” in the overflowing waste bin where they came from and started the entire regulation protocols from scratch with real teeth and real penalties.

    • This is from David Kesteven of Fracking Farmhouse on the methane “missing” data when their monitoring equipment “stopped working” at a convenient time when there was a cold release of methane….yeah right! And then some overseas reports from China, Sichuan province with a series of earthquakes that killed two people with a 4.9 quake caused by fracking.

      Weren’t we told by these anti anti armchair “experts” that (i will not shout in capital letters, but you can do that yourself) and i quote

      “Fracking does not cause earthquakes ever, end of!”

      Funny that? So many empty rhetorical claims that

      “no harm can come from fracking”

      (insert your own capital letters) seem to have bitterly bitten the shale dont they? But the shale bites back doesnt it? As do we.

      As always…



  3. Nice that an MEP should take an interest in local, UK, matters. Always good to have a hobby.

    However, not quite sure how an MEP suddenly becomes an expert in UK oil and gas.

  4. A damning report which indicates an industry driven by greed, with such a culture of self importance and assumed entitlement that ignorance of safety and environmental responsibilites has become standard management practice. All of the incidents cited are indicators that the mechanism of regulatory and operational failure are embedded to such an extent that a major incident is not only likely, but almost inevitable.

  5. So-called couch experts, knowledge of the energy industry! If we were to listen to them 50 years ago, the UK PLC wouldn’t have had the oil and gas industry and the privilege of home produced energy!! We are Now importing more exported energy than ever before, and getting out of europe, it is a close to social suicide I’ve ever been accustomed to see, so its someone else’s country’s problem, to produce our energy is it?
    I weep for the future, turn off the light

  6. Couch Expert? Hardly. An energy industry health and safety adviser actually. I have just had the HSE and the drilling company involved acknowledge and acede to my analysis of an incident, as recorded by members of the public at one of the sites included in Keith Taylors report. Come back when you know what you are talking about.

    • What kind of “major incident” is “almost inevitable” Dennis? As an energy industry (oil and gas?) health and safety advisor it will be interesting to know what you are predicting. Most HSE advisors I know are experts on working at height and lifting regs but know nothing about down hole operations.

      • Perhaps the 4.9 ML earthquake in Sechuan province in China that killed two people will give you a clue Paul.

        • that is “Sichuan” province of course, not “Sechuan” could that be changed please? Obviously i cant read Chinese.


          • Is that the same Sichuan province that suffered a devastating 7.9 ML earthquake in May 2008 that wasn’t caused by fracking?

        • Hello Dennis – I never thought you were really PhilC?

          Perhaps “Dennis” can answer my question with his HSE hat on?

          A 4.9ML earthquake in China has no relevance to the UK. In 2017 or February 2019.

          • Hello Paul – A bit desperate aren’t you?

            I never thought you were really “Judith?” darling either?

            But maybe I should re-evaluate that?

            So “Paul” or “Judith?” Darling, or whoever….

            No we are not and yes it is.

            You lot are getting more bizarre by the day!

            Have a nice day!

    • What kind of “major incident” is “almost inevitable” Dennis? As an energy industry (oil and gas?) health and safety advisor it will be interesting to know what you are predicting. Most HSE advisors I know are experts on working at height and lifting regs but know nothing about down hole operations. Still no answer?

      PhilC predicts an earthquake magnitude 4.9ML in China will be a possible “major incident” which could occur due to lax UK regulation. Not sure how he works that one out, perhaps using some new relativity theory / black hole / Ian Crane logic?

      • Wrong again Paul Trest(o) i said nothing of the sort, it was an example, i simply pointed to the event in China as a counter to the claim that fracking is perfectly safe and never harmed anyone (insert your own capitals), but hey! make up your own story if you want to, maybe it fits your attempts at weaponised narrative to do so. But its a bit sad really.

        As soon as you descend into your obsessive Ian R Crane diatribe you just jusw yourself up again, like i have said before when you say those things, you reflect what is in your own consciousness, not anyone else’s.

        If you spent less time making personal remarks like your eminent colleagues, and more time making an attempt at rational debate, we would not have to descend into this polarised combative stupidity that you display here.


  7. How many oil wells are operating on shore UK, or have done so, without any major incident? Perhaps Dennis could enlighten us?

    I think he will find the regulations appear to be achieving pretty good levels of safety.

    Much better than the Torrey Canyon, Dennis. USA alone shipping 372k boe (crude oil and NGL products) to UK- EACH DAY!

    A further 425k to Netherlands-EACH DAY from USA, puffing up the Channel.

    “Major incident almost inevitable”-oh yes Dennis. So, lets be safety and environmentally responsible and prevent such a maritime disaster.

    Katherine Gray-well said.

    Somewhat connected, I spotted the aviation fuel distribution network for the southern half of the UK recently. EVERY ONE of the airports served were planning major expansion due to demand. Hope Mr. Taylor is looking after the interests of his area and working to prevent untold congestion at Gatwick.

  8. Of course John no one recognises that operating, or indeed, have operated, is different to drilling.

    If in doubt, ask your dentist.

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