Regulator call gets lukewarm response

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Pro and anti fracking groups have poured cold water on new calls for an independent regulator for onshore gas.

The call came from the Task Force on Shale Gas which wants to see a new regulator to help boost the public’s confidence in the industry.

The new regulator should conduct proactive, monitoring of fracking sites, particularly assessing the integrity of wells to make sure any problems that could lead to leaks are discovered and remedied, nd the local community should be given the chance to be involved in the monitoring a report by the task force said.

Chairman of the Task Force on Shale Gas, Lord Chris Smith, (pictured) said: “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.”

A spokesman for the Preston New Road Action Group said the report had some merit but missed the point.

He said: “The report’s main call, for a single regulatory body, makes precisely the point that we have been making repeatedly, that the current regulatory system needs complete overhaul and is not geared to onshore gas.

“Other points reinforce our worries about planning procedure. For example we don’t have a clear layman’s guide to the Environmental Impact Assessment the report says is vital.

“The report recognises the current inadequacy of well monitoring, but fails to address the issue of what happens in the long term.

“It recognises that public opinion is growing against shale gas, but the only recommendation is to boost the industry’s public relations activity, rather than admit to the truth, that it never can be 100 per cent safe, however you redesign the regulatory system.

“Despite its failings, this industry-funded task force report should make it perfectly clear to the county council they can not rely on the current regulation system to look after the interests of the Fylde community.

“For this reason alone LCC must turn down Cuadrilla’s application for a fracking site at Preston New Road.”

Bob Dennett from Frack Free Lancashire said: “Lord Smith is not independent. His group is funded in part by the industry.

“If fracking does go ahead we will need strong independent regulator with real enforcement powers.”

CONTRIBUTION

A Cuadrilla spokesman said: “The Task Force on Shale Gas’s first interim report on UK Planning, Regulation and Local Engagement makes a useful contribution.

“Its recommendations that operators produce a risk assessment and engage with local communities before any proposal is submitted have already been enacted by Cuadrilla for our proposed exploration sites in Lancashire.

“With regard to the recommendation on independent monitoring, the British Geological Survey (BGS) announced early this year that it planned to lead a consortium of UK Universities in carrying out independent environmental monitoring and reporting of shale gas exploration sites.

“Cuadrilla is pleased to give the BGS led consortium unfettered access to our proposed Lancashire sites for this purpose.

“While we will, of course, continue with our own monitoring, as required by law, the extra level of transparency that the BGS monitoring and reporting will provide will give further reassurance to communities that shale gas exploration can be done safely and securely.

“The Task Force calls for independent monitoring of well integrity, however the Health & Safety Executive already independently verifies this and we believe the Task Force should have consulted with relevant experts in the HSE before reaching this conclusion particularly given the number of UK onshore wells successfully and safely drilled to date.”

The Onshore Energy Services Group which represents firms hoping to get involved in the supply chain for the fracking industry also opposed the call saying it would be costly.

Lee Petts, chief executive of the OESG, said: “It is clear more needs to be done in order to build public confidence in the regulations that exist to protect people and the places where they live.

“But creating a single regulator isn’t the way to do this.

“It will be unnecessarily time-consuming and costly for the taxpayer, with no guarantee that it will do anything 
to improve public confidence.”