The current shale regulatory system in the UK is “complex and relatively unapproachable” and needs to be replaced by a new regulator that will independently monitor fracking sites – such were the findings of an industry-backed body Task Force on Shale Gas.
According the Task Force’s recommendations, a new, bespoke regulator for onshore underground energy should be created, which would assume the current responsibilities of the Environment Agency (EA), Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the regulatory activities of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) with joint accountability to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and DECC.
“Speaking to local communities, we have been struck by how complex the regulatory framework appears, and how this leads to a lack of confidence in the system,” said Lord Chris Smith, Chair of the Task Force on Shale Gas. “We believe the creation of a new, bespoke regulator for onshore underground energy would command more public confidence for ensuring proper monitoring and regulation of any proposed shale gas industry.”
The new recommendations – which include input from industry, relevant associations and community representatives from all sides of the debate on shale gas – include a suggestion that the regulator should carry out proactive, independent monitoring of any shale gas sites while engaging local communities in this process.
Also, a Risk Assessment should be produced by the operators at the outset of any application – offering a simpler, more succinct, and more accessible alternative to a full Environmental Impact Assessment, which can run to thousands of pages. Community engagement should begin before any proposal is formally submitted.
‘Our guiding principle is to provide accurate, factual, impartial information that people need in order to make up their own minds about shale gas,’ said Lord Chris Smith, ‘With this first report the Task Force has reviewed evidence, talked with experts and communities, and has developed a series of conclusions and recommendations about the UK’s current planning and regulatory system. We look forward to the public’s response.’
A summary of the recommendations:
- Regulation: Create a new, bespoke regulator for onshore underground energy, to assume the current responsibilities of the Environment Agency (EA), Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the regulatory activities of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) with joint accountability to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and DECC
- Monitoring: The regulator must undertake proactive, independent monitoring to ensure that all sites are fully compliant with permits – especially in relation to well integrity – so that the public can be assured that any examples of poor implementation are being identified and remedied. Where they wish, local community representatives should be able to take part in the monitoring process, alongside the regulators
A readily understandable Risk Assessment: Required for all applications for shale gas recovery and should cover cumulative and immediate impacts, as well as clusters of sites where they are in close proximity to one another
- Planning: Authorities should have a statutory duty to consult the new regulator when assessing an application
- Community engagement: Must begin before a proposal is formally submitted to the new regulator or planning authority
The Task Force will publish three additional reports in 2015 covering environmental protection, climate change, and economics. A final report on the potential risks and benefits of shale gas for the UK will be published as the culmination of the Task Force’s research in the spring of 2016.
Speaking to BBC News, Ken Cronin, chief executive of industry body UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG), said the industry was already addressing many of the areas highlighted in the report.
“Public confidence in our regulatory system is vital, we will look in detail at this report and discuss with the Task Force how to take their interim recommendations to the next stage after further research,” he added.
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