Fracking industry will be minimally regulated in UK, letters reveal

23/09/2014 14:25


Shale gas :  Natural Gas Drilling in Fort Worth, Texas

A shale gas drilling platform in Fort Worth, Texas – the industry has avoided heavy regulation in the US. Photograph: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images


Companies hoping to exploit a reportedly massive underground shale gas field under Lancashire will face minimal regulation, despite using controversial extraction methods, an exchange of letters with government agencies has revealed.

A lack of government regulation has been widely blamed for explosions and pollution in the US, where hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" is taking place in some areas on the scale envisaged for Britain by Cuadrilla Resources. The company this week announced they had discovered 200tr cu ft of shale gas below Lancashire, and the possibility of drilling thousands of gas wells.

Environmentalists and engineers fear that shale gas extraction could potentially devastate water supplies near where fracking takes place, because methane or chemicals used in the process could leak into ground water.

But a series of letters seen by the Guardian between the company, a former oil and gas engineer with experience of fracking, and officials in the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the Environment Agency (EA), and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), shows that no government body has overall responsibility for monitoring the nascent industry.

The letters show:

• Government inspectors from three agencies have made only two random and a handful of pre-arranged visits to Cuadrilla's exploratory operations since work began 18 months ago.

• The government has no specific regulations on "unconventional" gas exploration located within hundreds of metres of settlements. It is relying on old regulations developed for offshore wells.

• No environment impact survey has been conducted by the EA or Lancashire County Council.

• No study has been released on the possible links between the small earthquakes that took place in Lancashire and the fracking operation being carried out by Cuadrilla at the time.

• Confusion between the DECC, EA and HSE, the three government agencies which each have different responsibilities.

• The recent energy and climate change select committee inquiry into shale gas did not consider tightening regulations, citing a lack of resources.

• Companies are not expected to monitor, measure or analyse the polluted liquids that come back up the boreholes and must be disposed of elsewhere.

• The government has not conducted any analysis on the impact of fracking on climate change and the renewable energy industry.

Environmental concerns centre on the release of methane and the potential for the chemicals used in wells to contaminate water, either through the cracks forced open in the rocks by the fracking process, explosions from the release of methane gases, or through drilling bores through aquifers.

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