Government statement confirms fracking is still allowed under moratorium – campaigners

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Some fracking for oil and gas could still go ahead, despite the government’s moratorium, a ministerial statement has indicated.

Kwasi Kwarteng, the energy minister, said the moratorium, issued on 2 November 2019, applied only to operations that required hydraulic fracturing consent.

His statement, a reply to a parliamentary question by the Rother Valley MP, Alexander Stafford, clarified that some fracking operations and the injection of acid into wells would not be outlawed by the moratorium.

Anti-fracking campaigners said this confirmed their suspicions that loopholes in the moratorium would allow some forms of fracking to continue. They called for a ban on well stimulation treatments.

The requirement for hydraulic fracturing consent was introduced in the 2015 Infrastructure Act. It is issued to fracking companies by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The government described the consent as “an additional step to the existing regulatory and permitting regime”.

Under the Infrastructure Act, hydraulic fracturing consent was needed for hydraulic fracturing of shale or strata encased in shale using fluid that met a volume threshold.

The legislation, later incorporated into the 1998 Petroleum Act, defined this volume as “more than 1,000 cubic metres of fluid at each stage or expected stage”, or “more than 10,000 cubic metres of fluid in total”.

Mr Kwarteng said:

“Activities outside this definition are not included in the moratorium.”

Before the moratorium, hydraulic fracturing consent had been granted to only one company, at one site. This was Cuadrilla Resources at Preston New Road, near Blackpool.

Earth tremors caused by fracking by the company led to the decision by the government to introduce the moratorium and withdraw its support for shale gas extraction.

Since then, anti-fracking campaigners have called for the moratorium to be extended.

Steve Mason from “Frack Free United” said today:

“I suppose we have a bit of clarity now but as we suspected, the definition is very narrow and keeps the door open for companies to set up shop in our communities.

“This definition of ‘fracking’ potentially allows ‘flouting of the rules’ by operators simply by reducing the amount of fluid they are to use or resorting to using strong acid to free up locked in gas.

“The moratorium should be extended to include all extreme extraction techniques and seek to prevent evidence gathering to break the moratorium under the guise of exploration.”

David Cragg-James, of Frack Free Ryedale, said the Infrastructure Act definition of fracking excluded more than 40% of the gas wells fracked in the US and was “a cynical ploy to achieve fracking via the back door”.

He said:

“When the government announced its moratorium in November, Frack Free Ryedale was one of the first to note that the value of the moratorium depended utterly upon the definition of fracking used.

“Our suspicions concerning government’s intentions were confirmed by Kwasi Kwarteng’s parliamentary answer.

“Not only is fracking as originally understood, using smaller quantities of fluid, still permitted, but also acidisation and other forms of fossil fuel extraction, as well as exploration.

Ada Zaffina, of Brockham Oil Watch, said

“Today’s statement highlights the many inconsistencies in the legal and regulatory framework for hydraulic fracturing and the need for an expanded ban for all well stimulation treatments.”

She said Mr Kwarteng’s reply appeared to contradict the written ministerial statement on the moratorium by the energy secretary, Andrea Leadsom.

Mrs Leadson said the industry regulator, the Oil & Gas Authority, was “unlikely to approve future hydraulic fracture plans”, a different permission required of operators, because of concerns that fracking would induce “unacceptable levels of seismicity”.

Ms Zaffina said:

“A Hydraulic Fracture Plan is required for a wider spectrum of fracking operations than those that also require Hydraulic Fracture Consent from the BEIS secretary of state.

“For instance, the planned operations at Wressle in Lincolnshire by Egdon Resources requires the submission and approval of a Hydraulic Fracture Plan. One of the main reasons for this is to manage the risk of induced seismicity. The difficulty in the management of this risk was the reason why the moratorium was imposed.”

Mr Kwarteng’s reply was also unclear on the volume definition, Ms Zaffina said. The minister said the threshold was the injection of “1000m3 or more of water per fracturing stage or 10000m3 or more of water during the entire fracturing process”.

Ms Zaffina said:

“The statement is not clear on whether the 1000 m3 threshold needs to be met at each or any stage of the associated fracturing operation. None of the fracking operations carried out in the UK to date used 1000m3 or more fluid at each stage.”

Other government statements on fracking

In response to other parliamentary questions, ministers also confirmed:

  • Oil and gas licensees were responsible for liabilities associated with environmental impacts of their operations.
  • Fracking operators are required by the OGA to necessary funds to pay for property repairs or an insurance policy including third party liability
  • There are no plans to review the moratorium or the traffic light system which regulates fracking-induced earth tremors
  • There are no plans to put the traffic light system into statute.
  • There has been no government assessment of a levy on shale gas companies to pay for the cost of policing at shale gas sites
  • There are no plans to commission an inquiry into fracking in the next six months
  • Shale gas companies can still apply for planning permission for fracking but the industry should “take the government’s position into account when considering new developments”.

Transcript of questions and answers

Question by Alexander Stafford, Conservative, Rother Valley

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what methods of fossil fuel extraction are covered by the moratorium on fracking.

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, whether (a) exploratory wells and (b) the process of acidisation are covered by the moratorium on fracking.

Reply by Kwasi Kwarteng, energy minister, Conservative, Spelthorne

The moratorium applies to operations that require Hydraulic Fracturing Consent. The definition of associated hydraulic fracturing, used for the purposes of Hydraulic Fracturing Consent, is as set out under section 4A of the Petroleum Act 1998 (inserted by Section 50 of the Infrastructure Act 2015).

This definition was based on the approach taken by the European Commission, which defines high-volume hydraulic fracturing as involving the injection into a well of 1000m3 or more or water per fracturing stage or 10000m3 or more of water during the entire fracturing process.

Activities outside of this definition are not included in the moratorium.


Question by Alexander Stafford, Conservative, Rother Valley

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what steps she is taking to ensure any environmental damage caused by the development and exploitation of shale gas is mitigated.

Reply by Kwasi Kwarteng, energy minister, Conservative, Spelthorne

We will not support shale gas exploration unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely. On the basis of the current scientific evidence the Government has taken a presumption against issuing any further Hydraulic Fracturing Consents.

In the UK, we have been regulating gas and oil drilling, both onshore and offshore, for decades and maintain the very highest safety and environmental standards. Licensees are responsible for liabilities associated with environmental impacts of their operations throughout the duration of the licence.


Question by Alexander Stafford

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what assessment she has made of the potential merits of requiring shale gas companies to put aside a bond to pay for householders’ property repairs, resultant from exploration and extraction.

Reply by Kwasi Kwarteng

As part of the Oil and Gas Authority’s (OGA) assessment of an application for hydraulic fracturing operations, the OGA requires the operator to have in place the necessary funds or an insurance policy (including third-party liability) that will cover unforeseen events.


Question by Alexander Stafford

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what plans she has to review the moratorium on fracking.

Reply by Kwasi Kwarteng

The Government has no plans to review the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. The Government’s position has been set out in the Written Statement of 4th November 2019 and will be maintained unless compelling new evidence is provided which addresses the concerns around the prediction and management of induced seismicity.


Question by Alexander Stafford

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, whether she plans to bring forward legislative proposals to put into statute the traffic light system on seismicity resulting from hydraulic fracturing.

Reply by Kwasi Kwarteng

There are no plans to review the Traffic Light System or to put it into statute.


Question by Alexander Stafford

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what assessment she has made of the potential merits of introducing a levy on shale gas companies to pay for the cost of policing at shale gas sites.

Reply by Kwasi Kwarteng

Policing is a matter for the Home Office and the local constabulary. No such assessment has been made.


Question by Alexander Staffor

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, whether she has plans to commission an inquiry into fracking in the next six months; and if she will make a statement.

Reply by Kwasi Kwarteng

The Government has no plans to commission an inquiry into hydraulic fracturing in the next six months, or to review the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. The Government’s position has been set out in the Written Statement of 4th November 2019 and will be maintained unless compelling new evidence is provided.


Question by Lord Greaves, Liberal Democrat

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answer by Lord Duncan of Springbank on 9 January (HL Deb, col 302), whether those who hold a licence from the Oil and Gas Authority which allows them to undertake exploratory drilling in relation to shale gas, such as those in East Lancashire, can still apply for (1) drilling licences, and (2) planning permission in relation to such drilling, during the current moratorium on fracking; and what advice they have given to the owners of such licences.

Reply by Lord  Duncan of Springbank, energy minister

The Government set out its position in the Written Ministerial Statement of 4 November 2019, confirming that it will take a presumption against issuing any further Hydraulic Fracturing Consents, creating a moratorium. Future applications for Hydraulic Fracturing Consent will be considered on their own merits by the Secretary of State, in accordance with the law.

Companies may still apply for drilling licences and planning permission for development which includes hydraulic fracturing. However, the shale gas industry should take the Government’s position into account when considering new developments.

No further advice has been issued to licence holders subsequent to the Written Ministerial Statement.


This content was originally published here.

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