Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC )
- Showed they are planning on the basis of no decrease in domestic consumption of gas by 2050 (about 30% of the UK’s usage) despite that being one of their goals.
- Denied that there was any planning permission for production – ignoring the 2 local CBM exploration and production permissions.
- Admitted they would rely solely on companies to report emissions. They would only investigate to confirm their accuracy if asked to do so by the public – i.e. we would be required to police these sites – with no funding, no official access to any monitoring equipment and no right to enter the sites!
- Claimed that they had consulted the public prior to passing bill allowing underground access. The consultation however was deeply flawed. Out of over 40,000 responses to the consultation, an overwhelming 99% were against the bill, but they went ahead anyway, showing complete contempt for the public.
- Said that drilling would cease if seismic activity exceeded 0.5. The Lancashire quake measured 2.4. There was no way of stopping it exceeding 0.5. You cannot regulate against earthquakes. You can only cease drilling after they occur!
- Confirmed that the industry would self-regulate and self-report.
Environment Agency (EA)
- Stressed that levels of ‘Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials’ (NORMs) are expected to be only marginally higher than average levels in soil around the EU (90 compared to 70 Becquerels)– omitting to say that these levels are nowhere near average for drinking water and that processing waste water would concentrate the radiation at much higher levels.
- Tried to dismiss risks to aquifer using Lancashire as an example, stressing the undrinkable saline aquifer there – ignoring the fact that the aquifer under Cheshire provides 25% of England’s groundwater.
- Highlighted limited areas where drilling would not be permitted so as to protect water boreholes – ignoring the fact that the water extracted there would be polluted by toxins released anywhere within the aquifer through water migration.
- Repeatedly refused to answer the question about who would be liable for sites if the licence owner goes bankrupt.
- Failed to mention that there is currently no suitable water treatment process in this country.
- Said they would be onsite during drilling, fracking, mini-frack and flowback – How are they planning to achieve this given their budget cuts?
- Insisted that volumes of water used would not be that great. The figures he gave however were for a single frack – the figure would need multiplying for each well and each frack.
- The EA should be able to tell the Council exactly where and how water will be treated.
- Claimed chemicals no more harmful than lipstick and antiseptic! – Biocides not antiseptic. No mention that full production will require many more chemicals to increase flow rates.
- Confirmed that most monitoring would be based on assessing operators’ reports.
Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
- Decided that fracking wouldn’t be covered by COMAH (Control of Major Accident Hazards) regulations which force all the main agencies to work together.
- Claimed they took a ‘lifecycle approach’ to wells but then admitted they would stop monitoring 6 months after a site had been abandoned. Wells will in fact need monitoring FOREVER as all wells will leak eventually.
- Confirmed HSE remit is restricted to human safety.
Local Planning Department
- Claimed there were no production licences in the area – Then forced to admit that planning had been given to 2 sites for exploration AND production without consultation with the public, using delegated powers. EIAs were not required for these sites even though they were both approved for production. This was based on total lack of knowledge of dangers of CBM and is completely unacceptable.
- The Council need to decide how planning applications are handled. There should be NO delegated powers.
- Said they would ‘encourage’ developers to engage with local communities and to be open and transparent – but this will not be a requirement. So far this has not happened.
- Said they would screen for need of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on a site-by-site basis – not a legal requirement as sites are always just under the statutory 1 hectare. This is completely unacceptable. Size of site on the surface is irrelevant as a much larger area below ground would be affected. Given the detrimental effects of CBM extraction on the environment EIAs should always be required regardless of site size.
- Said they would consult the public within 250 metres of a drilling site. This is also completely unacceptable as people beyond this distance will also be badly affected.
- Confirmed they are granting planning consents for a minimum depth but not maximum. Why would they specify a minimum depth but no maximum when it is the maximum depth which determines whether they are drilling for shale gas or CBM?
- Admitted that they wouldn’t send all planning applications for Unconventional Gas exploration or extraction direct to the Strategic Planning Committee but pointed out that councillors could refer them there.
- Suggested councillors who represented Wards not Parishes should find a local representative group to provide the same community input as a Parish Council should.
- Admitted there are no powers to require applicants to provide a bond to cover clean-up costs if the company goes bust.
- When asked if there was any planning guidance on fracking the reply was that it is early days but they decided EIAs weren’t required for exploratory drilling and they would decide on requirements as the industry progresses.
- Admitted that independent regulator need not be independent and may be an employee of the company.
- Claimed EIA screening assessments were available on the web – they are not, and many other regulatory documents are also missing.
- Confirmed that planning considerations included noise, light, traffic, livestock, wildlife, health, water, environment, nuisance, etc
- Gave inadequate explanation of reporting applications to Committees – none have gone to Committee.
There appeared to be a distinct lack of knowledge, on the part of the planning department in particular, with regard to CBM. It is just as bad for the environment as shale gas extraction and this must be acknowledged.
This consultation is about “unconventional gas extraction” and should include BOTH fracking and CBM. Is there a plan to make this consultation about fracking so that CBM slips through unnoticed?
We request that our evidence be forwarded to and read by the panel prior to each meeting.
Councillors from both parties asked intelligent, probing questions. It would seem that and at the end of the session, no one could have been convinced that the speakers from DECC, the EA, HSE or planning demonstrated the ‘Gold Standard’ of regulation that has been repeatedly promised.