CWaC Working Group Meeting 1 Regulatory Background : Evidence of Public Interest Issues

By March 4, 2015 News No Comments

Main Issues

  • Damage to health and quality of life of local residents with contamination of air and water with noise and light pollution, invasion of heavy traffic;
  • Damage to fragile built and natural environments, landscape character, ecosystems, agriculture, animal welfare, wildlife; and habitat of protected species from extraction, processing and burning of the fuel;
  • Damage to democracy and good government with disregard of residents’ and local communities’ wishes, previously inadequate consultation and the undermining of human rights with current proposals in the Planning and Infrastructure Bill and the Transatlantic Trade Agreement.

Detailed Issues

  • Non-elected decision makers within government with vested interests – specifically the undue influence of business representatives from oil and gas industry on government department boards and influence of the industry on local government through industry hospitality, conferences, grants and offers of sponsorship;

  • Loss of confidence in government and its agencies involved in unconventional coal or shale gas. Requirement of more honesty, openness and transparency with full and timely disclosure of facts and sharing of baseline and monitoring information for independent analysis;
  • Contempt for the public shown by the DECC publication in July 2014 of its heavily redacted report ‘Impact of Shale Gas on Rural Economies’. Not a shot in the foot. More a shot in the head;
  • The use of gagging orders, bankrupting tactics, disreputable Public Relations agencies, corporate and government influences and black ops to dilute and delay the emergence of evidence of damage in the USA generating fear and suspicion of similar activity in this country;
  • Risk of seismic activity and seismic thresholds that are too high and likely to go higher once full production goes ahead with proximity to sensitive and dangerous installations in this area; 
  • Inadequacy of regulation, independent monitoring and baseline data; 
  • Threat to the current laws in relation to trespass which do not allow hydraulic fracturing companies to use directional drilling under our or anybody else’s land without permission;
  • The ability of the Environment Agency (EA) and the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) to monitor safety when both are subject to budget restrictions and staff cutbacks. Concerns here relate to the chemicals used in the process which we understand number in excess of 500, the integrity of the wells, waste and contamination of water sources during and post-drilling, and the potential release of methane during the process and in perpetuity; 
  • Risks of handling large volumes of chemicals and dangerously polluted “produced water”;
  • Risk of causing shortages of water;
  • Risks of escapes of toxic chemicals and gases, endangering livestock, wildlife, and human health with air, ground and water pollution;
  • Lack of coordination with relevant authorities including river and health authorities and neighbouring Local Planning Authorities for which CW&C has a duty to cooperate;
  • Rejection of recent drilling proposals in Wrexham, Wirral and Cheshire East shows that CW&C could become the rotten filling in the toxic sandwich;
  • History of transience of petro-chemical companies with the third in five years now involved in this area and an established pattern in the USA of similar transience and ultimate defaulting on restoration and maintenance obligations.

Evidence of Regulatory Failures in CW&C. (Further information can be provided on particular cases if requested for verification but specific sites are not within the terms of this enquiry)

  • Minimal notice of applications known to be likely to affect a large part of the community and particularly regarding the applications for extensions to approval periods;

  • Failure to require or consider the full range of issues recommended for applications for exploratory drilling including hydrological, hydrological and soil permeability characteristics, water quality, ground stability and the character and scale of potential development following exploration;

  • Use of delegated powers to officers for applications despite receipt of representations;

  • Failure to accept responsibility and passing the buck for enforcing planning conditions;

  • Failure to enforce conditions including provision bunds and final reporting of drilling depth, strata and water;

  • Allowing works for drilling to start and proceed without planning approval;

  • Avoidance of the word ‘Fracking’ (following government guidance) as this term causes more alarm than the more familiar sounding coal bed methane;

  • Denial of the likelihood of Fracking despite drilling approved to extend past the expected coal seams and well into the gas bearing shale.

Concluding Comments 1. Well integrity is probably the most important factor in preventing/ controlling environmental pollution, according to the Royal Society/Royal Academy of Engineering report (Shale Gas Extraction in the UK : a review of hydraulic fracturing, June 2012, page 4). Well failure is a long standing and known issue for the oil and gas industries. Research conducted by Anthony Ingraffea suggests that 5 to 7% of new wells leak and this rises to 30 to 40% in 20 years and all wells leak eventually. Horizontally drilled and fracked wells have the highest failure rates. Clearly it would be in the industry’s own interests to solve this problem and avoid costly failures, but so far they have not been able to do so. The proposed mitigation of this risk is the regulatory framework, with responsibilities split between HSE and the Environment Agency and no evidence that either of these agencies will have the necessary skilled personnel available to regulate this effectively. Even if they did, no regulatory framework is going to prevent failures. The regulatory system also relies heavily on self-regulation by the industry, but we would question how much incentive there is for a drilling company to declare a well failure. We understand it took Cuadrilla six months to declare the well fracture at Preece Hall in Lancashire.

2. Health impacts: The Public Health England draft report of Oct 2013 (review of the Potential Health Impacts of Exposures to Chemical and Radioactive Pollutants as a result of Shale Gas Extraction) raises questions about additional risks for those living within half a mile of drilling, potential risks from sub chronic exposure and the cumulative impacts of multiple drilling sites. The main point is that there is an almost complete lack of reliable data and on p26 “analytical methods capable of detecting contaminants associated with shale gas extraction and related activities may need to be developed”. In other words, it may not be possible to measure the harm being done to local people using current methodologies. If CW&C were to rush to be in the vanguard of unconventional gas extraction, we could be the guinea pigs providing the data needed to develop the new measurement methodologies. Not a very tempting prospect when this region already has some of the worst health figures in the country related to local environmental contamination and this exploitation will inevitably make matters worse.

3. RS/RAoE report: We want to know how much progress has been made in implementing the recommendations of the RS/RAoE report (see 1 above) in particular of any progress on the part of Recommendation 10 which says “Priorities should include research into the public acceptability of the extraction and use of shale gas in the context of UK policies on climate change, energy and the wider economy”. More than two years has passed since this report was published. How many of the other recommendations have been ignored?

Attendees expected Phil Coombe, James Cameron, Matthew Bryan, Dianne Parrish, Fiona Young, Peter Benson, Steve Springfield as CWaC residents. Jake White– Friends of the Earth, as expert witness on regulatory landscape.

Other Material submitted in Evidence List of sources and references submitted separately.

Presentation The writers James Cameron and/ or Phil Coombe would be grateful for the opportunity to present this and the other material submitted as evidence by speaking in the public open section of the meeting and hereby give notice accordingly.

JAC/PC 12.09.2014.