Necessary Conditions for Hydraulic Fracturing


Monday, January 26th, 2015. 8:22pm

House of Commons - 26 January 2015

House of Commons – 26 January 2015

On the evening of the 26th of January 2015, MPs unanimously passed a new law on “fracking” or “hydraulic fracturing” through the House of Commons without a vote.

The new clause (NC19) for the Infrastructure Bill was put forward by Tom Greatrex MP, Labour’s Shadow Energy Minister. It introduces a series of conditions which have to be met before “hydraulic fracturing” can take place.

The conditions look well meant, but they appear easy to circumvent.

When the Government like an idea which has been proposed by opposition, or backbench, MPs, but which has not been expressed in a manner suited to becoming law, the Government sometimes vote it down and write it in a proper, robust, manner and reintroduce it. It appears to me as if this is a case where the Government should have followed that course of action.

The new clause states:

Hydraulic fracturing: necessary conditions

Any hydraulic fracturing activity can not take place:

  • (a) unless an environmental imapct assessment has been carried out;

That the spelling of impact isn’t right is a red flag, it shows those writing this amendment didn’t really think it could become law so didn’t take much care over it.

While an environmental impact assessment is required there’s no mention of reviewing the conclusions of that assessment and considering if the impacts it finds are to be deemed acceptable or not.

This condition can be met by simply carrying out an assessment and then ignoring it.

With no review of the outcome of the assessment there is no requirement for the assessment to be a good quality piece of work.

  • (b) unless independent inspections are carried out of the integrity of wells used;
  • (c) unless monitoring has been undertaken on the site over the previous 12 month period;
  • (d) unless site-by-site measurement, monitoring and public disclosure of existing and future fugitive emissions is carried out;

What is the purpose of the inspection and monitoring; who will look at the results?

  • (e) in land which is located within the boundary of a groundwater source protection zone;
  • (f) within or under protected areas;

What “protected areas”? Who can define them?

  • (g) in deep-level land at depths of less than 1,000 metres;

Deep-level land is defined in the Bill as “any land at a depth of at least 300 metres below surface level”; is this just seeking to change that definition? (The Bill does cover broader exploitation of petroleum or deep geothermal energy not just hydraulic fracturing, so perhaps a distinction is intended?)

  • (h) unless planning authorities have considered the cumulative impact of hydraulic fracturing activities in the local area;

What if a planning authority considers the cumulative impact and determines it’s negative? They’ve still considered it and met this “necessary condition”.

  • (i) unless a provision is made for community benefit schemes to be provided by companies engaged in the extraction of gas and oil rock;

What if the provision is negligible and nominal? It could still be a “scheme” for the purposes of meeting this condition.

  • (j) unless residents in the affected area are notified on an individual basis;

This appears to be a rather impossibly high hurdle; how will a body wishing to exploit petroleum or deep geothermal energy know who’s living in an area? Does this mean that any individual who says they’ve not received a letter from the company will be able to block a scheme?

  • (k) unless substances used are subject to approval by the Environment Agency
  • (l) unless land is left in a condition required by the planning authority,

These conditions appear reasonable.

  • (m) unless water companies are consulted by the planning authority.

A water company could be consulted, and object, but this “necessary condition” would be met.

Labour Reaction

Following the unanimous approval of the new clause, without a vote, many Labour MPs tweeted the same image:

There was no announcement. The House of Commons passed the new clause, it didn’t announce anything.

I actually approve the use of “Parliament” rather than House of Commons as I don’t think we should pay much attention to our unelected Lords and we should get rid of them.

I think the use of a positive and a negative and then a positive when saying “agreeing to prevent fracking going ahead” is language which is hard to parse.

The important point is, as I’ve listed above, I don’t think these are tough protections.

My View

I think new ways to obtain energy need to be encouraged. We need to ensure they are carried out as safely as possible with minimal risks to the environment and health.

A role of government when regulating activities such as hydraulic fracturing is to ensure any costs to wider society are passed on to those who will profit from the exploitation and extraction.

We need to accept there are risks, and MPs need as much information as possible to weigh up the risks, such as those to the environment, with the benefits to the economy, the resilience of our energy supply, our ability to heat and light our homes and hospitals over upcoming winters and more.

4 comments/updates on “Necessary Conditions for Hydraulic Fracturing

  1. confirmordeny

    I agree with a lot of what you are saying. Some of the more unreasonable potential actions you refer to might be challengable by judicial review for people who can afford that route.

  2. Richard Taylor Article author

    On the 11th of February 2015 the majority of MPs voted to accept a Lords amendment to the conditions on fracking in place of that MPs had previously agreed.

    The new more detailed and extensive conditions:

    Onshore hydraulic fracturing: safeguards After section 4 of the Petroleum Act 1998 insert:
    4A Onshore hydraulic fracturing: safeguards

    • (1) The Secretary of State must not issue a well consent that is required by an onshore licence for England or Wales unless the well consent imposes:
      (a) a condition which prohibits associated hydraulic fracturing from taking place in land at a depth of less than 1000 metres; and
      (b) a condition which prohibits associated hydraulic fracturing from taking place in land at a depth of 1000 metres or more unless the licensee has the Secretary of State’s consent for it to take place (a hydraulic fracturing consent).

    • (2) A hydraulic fracturing consent is not to be issued unless an application for its issue is made by, or on behalf of, the licensee.
    • (3) Where an application is made, the Secretary of State may not issue a hydraulic fracturing consent unless the Secretary of State:
      (a) is satisfied that:
      (i) the conditions in column 1 of the following table are met, and
      (ii) the conditions in subsection (6) are met, and
      (b) is otherwise satisfied that it is appropriate to issue the consent.

    • (4) The existence of a document of the kind mentioned in column 2 of the table in this section is sufficient for the Secretary of State to be satisfied that the condition to which that document relates is met.
    • (5) But the absence of such a document does not prevent the Secretary of State from being satisfied that that condition is met.
      Column 1 Column 2
      conditions documents
      1 The environmental impact of the development which includes the relevant well has been taken into account by the local planning authority A notice given by the local planning authority that environmental information was taken into account in deciding to grant the relevant planning permission
      2 Appropriate arrangements have been made for the independent inspection of the integrity of the relevant well A certificate given by the Health and Safety Executive that it—

      (a) has received a well notification under regulation 6 of the Borehole Sites and Operations Regulations 1995,

      (b) has received the information required by regulation 19 of the Offshore Installations and Wells (Design and Construction, etc.) Regulations 1996, and

      (c) has visited the site of the relevant well

      3 The level of methane in groundwater has, or will have, been monitored in the period of 12 months before the associated hydraulic fracturing begins An environmental permit has been given by the relevant environmental regulator which contains a condition that requires compliance with a waste management plan which provides for monitoring of the level of methane in groundwater in the period of 12 months before the associated hydraulic fracturing begins
      4 Appropriate arrangements have been made for the monitoring of emissions of methane into the air An environmental permit which contains a condition requiring compliance with a waste management plan which provides for the monitoring of emissions of methane into the air for the period of the permit
      5 The associated hydraulic fracturing will not take place within protected groundwater source areas A decision document given by the relevant environmental regulator (in connection with an environmental permit) which indicates that the associated hydraulic fracturing will not take place within protected groundwater source areas
      6 The associated hydraulic fracturing will not take place within other protected areas A notice given by the local planning authority that the area in respect of which the relevant planning permission has been granted does not include any land which is within any other protected areas
      7 In considering an application for the relevant planning permission, the local planning authority has (where material) taken into account the cumulative effects of—

      (a) that application, and

      (b) other applications relating to exploitation of onshore petroleum obtainable by hydraulic fracturing

      A notice given by the local planning authority that it has taken into account those cumulative effects
      8 The substances used, or expected to be used, in associated hydraulic fracturing—

      (a) are approved, or

      (b) are subject to approval,

      by the relevant environmental regulator

      An environmental permit has been given by the relevant environmental regulator which contains a condition that requires substances used in associated hydraulic fracturing to be approved by that regulator
      9 In considering an application for the relevant planning permission, the local planning authority has considered whether to impose a restoration condition in relation to that development A notice given by the local planning authority that it has considered whether to impose such a condition
      10 The relevant undertaker has been consulted before grant of the relevant planning permission A notice given by the local planning authority that the relevant undertaker has been consulted
      11 The public was given notice of the application for the relevant planning permission A notice given by the local planning authority which confirms that the applicant for the relevant planning permission has certified that public notification requirements, as set out in a development order, have been met
    • (6) The conditions mentioned in subsection (3)(a)(ii) are:
      (a) that appropriate arrangements have been made for the publication of the results of the monitoring referred to in condition 4 in the table;
      (b) that a scheme is in place to provide financial or other benefit for the local area.

    • (7) A hydraulic fracturing consent may be issued subject to any conditions which the Secretary of State thinks appropriate.
    • (8) A breach of such a condition is to be treated as if it were a breach of a condition of a well consent.

    4B Section 4A: supplementary provision

    • (1) ;Associated hydraulic fracturing means hydraulic fracturing of shale or strata encased in shale which:
      (a) is carried out in connection with the use of the relevant well to search or bore for or get petroleum, and
      (b) involves, or is expected to involve, the injection of:
      (i) more than 1,000 cubic metres of fluid at each stage, or expected stage, of the hydraulic fracturing, or
      (ii) more than 10,000 cubic metres of fluid in total.

    • (2) For the purposes of deciding the depth at which associated hydraulic fracturing is taking place in land:
      (a) the depth of a point in land below surface level is the distance between that point and the surface of the land vertically above that point; and
      (b) in determining what is the surface of the land, any building or other structure on the land, and any water covering the land, must be ignored.

    • (3) Subsections (1) and (2) apply for the purposes of section 4A and this section.
    • (4) The Secretary of State must, by regulations made by statutory instrument, specify:
      (a) the descriptions of areas which are
      “protected groundwater” source areas, and (b) the descriptions of areas which are
      “other protected areas”, for the purposes of section 4A. 7

    • (5) A statutory instrument which contains regulations under subsection (4) may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.
    • (6) The Secretary of State must lay a draft of the first such regulations before each House of Parliament on or before 31 July 2015.
    • (7) The Secretary of State must consult:
      (a) the Environment Agency before making any regulations under subsection (4)(a) in relation to England; (b) the Natural Resources Body for Wales before making any regulations under subsection (4)(a) in relation to Wales.

    • (8) These expressions have the meanings given:
      “development order” has the meaning given in section 59 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990;

      “environmental permit” means a permit granted under regulation 13 of the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010;

      “hydraulic fracturing consent” has the meaning given in subsection (1)(b);

      “licensee” means the holder of the onshore licence for England or Wales;

      “local planning authority” means—

      (a) the planning authority to which the application for the relevant planning permission was made (unless the Secretary of State or Welsh Ministers are responsible for determining the application), or

      (b) the Secretary of State or Welsh Ministers (if responsible for determining the application);

      “onshore licence for England or Wales” means a licence granted under section 3 which authorises a person to search or bore for or get petroleum in those parts of the landward area (within the meaning of the Petroleum Licensing (Exploration and Production) (Landward Areas) Regulations 2014) that are in England or Wales or are beneath waters (other than waters adjacent to Scotland);

      “relevant environmental regulator” means—

      (a) the Environment Agency, if the relevant well is situated in England, or

      (b) the Natural Resources Body for Wales, if the relevant well is situated in Wales;

      “relevant planning permission” means planning permission to be granted, or granted, in respect of development which includes the relevant well;

      “relevant undertaker” means the water undertaker or sewerage undertaker in whose area of appointment the relevant well is located;

      “relevant well” means the well to which a well consent relates; “well consent” means a consent in writing of the Secretary of State to the commencement of drilling of a well.

    • (9) The power of the Secretary of State to make regulations under section 4 includes power to make such amendments of the definition of “onshore licence for England or Wales” in this section as the Secretary of State considers appropriate in consequence of any other exercise of the power under section 4.
    • (10) The Secretary of State may, by regulations made by statutory instrument—

      (a) make such amendments of column 2 of the table in section 4A as the Secretary of State considers appropriate, and

      (b) make such other amendments of section 4A or this section as the Secretary of State considers appropriate in consequence of provision made under paragraph (a).

    • (11) A statutory instrument which contains regulations under subsection (10) may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.””

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.
Please consider saying where you are from eg. "Cambridge".
Required fields are marked *

*

Powered by WP Hashcash