A think-tank funded by private sector energy companies involved in the shale energy industry has recommended that an independent UK ‘super-regulator’ be set up to enforce safety and environment standards, while also serving to re-assure the public.
The first interim report by the Task Force on Shale Gas on Planning, Regulation and Community Engagement new, bespoke regulator for onshore underground energy be created as soon as possible by the new UK government after the May general election.
This regulator 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.
Lord Chris Smith, Chairman of the independent Task Force on Shale Gas, said: “It is clear from our conversations and studies that a consensus on whether or not a shale gas industry will benefit or harm the United Kingdom will not be found. Nor is it necessary that everyone agrees.
“Such propositions are bound by their nature to generate conflicting opinions. The danger is that, in the midst of argument, basic truths become obscured.
“Not everyone may agree on the benefits or risks of creating a shale gas industry – but everyone has the right to reach their own, personal decision on the basis of trusted and factual information.
“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.
“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.
“It is our belief that not only will this new regulator be able to command more public confidence, its specific remit will allow it to develop expertise and skills required to ensure that it is able to execute its duties effectively.
The Task Force recommends that the regulator conduct proactive, independent monitoring of any shale gas sites. It concludes that members of the community should be given the opportunity to be involved in this monitoring, in order to verify the process.
The Task Force has also proposed that operators be required to produce a Risk Assessment at the outset of any application, simpler, more succinct and more accessible than a full Environmental Impact Assessment, which can run to thousands of pages. Community engagement should begin before any proposal is formally submitted.
The recommendations include input from industry, relevant associations and community representatives from all sides of the debate on shale gas. Lord Smith added:
“Our guiding principle is to provide accurate, factual, impartial information that people need in order to make up their own minds about shale gas.
“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.”
Summary of the Shale Gas Task Force 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.
The Task Force on Shale Gas was launched in September 2014 to give careful consideration to public concerns, and to provide an impartial and transparent assessment of the potential benefits and risks of shale gas extraction to the UK.
More about the Shale Gas Task Force
The Task Force’s funding comes from businesses involved in the shale gas industry. It is not a member of the UK Onshore Oil Group (UKOOG).
However the Task Force operates independently from its funders and the funders have no influence over its research, recommendations or publications.
The Task Force recognises that the issue of shale gas extraction and its potential benefits and risks to the UK has become a polarising topic in the UK. As such, it is difficult to find a platform for reasoned discussion about shale gas extraction.
The mission of the Task Force is to create that platform, to provide reasoned and evidence-based conclusions and recommendations to both industry and Government about the potential of shale gas extraction in the UK, to inform the general public and to promote reasonable discussion about these findings.