Shale gas exploration should only continue if it is safe and has no significant negative impact on our countryside. I will monitor the progress of any application very carefully. If an application is successful I will study the results of the extensive environmental monitoring that will happen as exploration takes place every step of the way to ensure that public health is not put at risk.
Each application must go through the planning authority process and operators must consult with the relevant environmental agency (the Environment Agency (EA in order to establish the requirements for any environmental permits needed. Applications will only be granted if the relevant agency is confident that there is no unacceptable impact to the environment and, in particular, to principal aquifers that provide potable water supply. As part of this process, operators are required to disclose the content of hydraulic fracturing fluids to the relevant environment agency.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will scrutinise the well design for safety. An environmental permit will be required from the relevant environment agency for any borehole drilling as well as hydraulic fracturing activities. The HSE then monitors progress on the well. The HSE is also notified of any unplanned events. If it is deemed necessary, inspections may be undertaken by HSE/HSENI to inspect specific well operations on-site.
The UK has a goal-setting approach to regulation that requires operators to ensure and demonstrate to regulators that the risks of an incident relating to oil and gas operations are reduced to ‘as low as reasonably practicable’. This encourages operators to move beyond minimum standards in a continuous effort for improvement.
I have met with all the above agencies on several occasions and have been constantly assured that shale gas can be produced safely under our regulatory environment. I have also met with Yorkshire Water to understand their position on any possible contamination of water supplies.
Their current assessment is that the risks from shale gas production are acceptable, provided they are properly identified leading to appropriate risk mitigation.
I am also very keen to make sure that the taxpayer or landowner does not have to meet any longer term cost of shale gas exploration. The Department of Energy and Climate Change is discussing with industry arrangements so site restoration and aftercare (including any monitoring of abandoned wells) will be ensured, even when the operator goes out of business. Apparently this will take the form of an industry fund, but we do need more details on this and asked for such when I met with ministers recently.
I believe that fracking could provide national solutions to meet national needs, particularly in the areas of the economy, our security and the environment. According to current predictions, if we were able to extract even 10% of our shale gas reserves it could meet UK gas requirements for forty years and in the process create up to 64,000 jobs. I also believe that global energy markets are too dependent on trouble spots around the world, particularly in the Middle East and Russia.
A number of local residents have contacted me regarding protection for our most sensitive and beautiful areas. I have had confirmation from ministers that they will ban fracking from wells that are drilled in the surface of protected areas such as National Parks and AONB. 85% of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) are situated within these protected areas. The National Planning Policy Framework already makes clear that development should not normally be permitted if, either individually or in combination with other developments, it is likely to have an adverse effect on a Site of Special Scientific Interest. That applies even if the development itself is outside the Site of Special Scientific Interest boundary.
Here is the link to the consultation document if you would like more information. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/473795/Consultation_Surface_Restrictions_-_04_11_2015_FINAL.pdf
Following my fracking study visit to Pennsylvania, some people have questioned the geographic differences with North Yorkshire. Population density is much greater in Pennsylvania – three times higher I believe. Of course, our historic towns and village are much more impressive, but much of Pennsylvania is a picturesque rural area and we saw quite clearly that sites could be hidden, in a similar way to how the existing site has been screened in Kirby Misperton. To put things in context, there are hundreds of poultry and pig farms in North Yorkshire, so the additional 10 sites that Third Energy are proposing should not have a significant impact on the look and feel of the countryside.
Shale gas should not be considered to be an alternative to investment in renewable energy. If we were to re-invest revenue derived from successful exploration of shale gas in renewables it could lead us to the cleaner, greener renewable future we would all like to see. I have written to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to tell them my views.
Russia is the biggest individual supplier to the EU and we are dependent on world markets for our gas, oil and coal. I agree that we should invest in renewables, and have made that point many times to ministers that we should produce any fossil fuels we do need as cleanly as possible and ideally domestically. We do need to invest in renewables, but currently they only provide 7% of our energy needs so we also need a cleaner fossil fuel. The choice is not renewables or gas but rather coal or gas. Please see the report below for more details on the carbon footprint comparison.
The carbon footprint (emissions intensity) of shale gas extraction and use is likely to be in the range 200 – 253 g CO2e per kWh of chemical energy, which makes shale gas’s overall carbon footprint comparable to gas extracted from conventional sources (199 – 207 g CO2e/kWh(th)), and lower than the carbon footprint of Liquefied Natural Gas (233 - 270g CO2e/kWh(th)). When shale gas is used for electricity generation, its carbon footprint is likely to be in the range 423 – 535 g CO2e/kWh(e), which is significantly lower than the carbon footprint of coal, 837 – 1130 g CO2e/kWh(e).
You may be interested in well-known environmentalist Baroness Worthington’s view on this "We have to be realistic, we are going to be using gas for a long time because of the huge role it plays for heating homes and for industry. The important thing is to minimize the carbon emissions from gas. That means if we can get our own fracked gas, it's better to use that than importing gas that's been compressed at great energy cost somewhere else.”
For this to be right for Thirsk & Malton, or indeed any other constituency, I believe that we need the following.
Independent supervision of regulations:
Inspectors with experience and qualifications in:
Well casing construction and integrity
Environmental impact - particularly of air and water pollution
No notice inspections
Defined minimum frequency of visits
The nomination of a lead agency who takes overarching responsibility for the regulatory process
A ‘local plan’ for fracking covering a five year rollout and detailed solutions for key concerns:
Minimum distance from settlements and schools
Impacts on other important parts of our economy
Visual impact on the countryside
Real-time, publicly available environmental monitoring.
Community financial benefits (estimated at between £5m-£10m per 10-well pad) should then go directly to communities most affected
Long-term, secure investment in subsidies to nurture renewable energy and Carbon Capture and Storage.
The establishment of an industry fund for remediation, site restoration and aftercare
My report on my recent trip to Pennyslvania can be found below along with the reports from the Regulators Question Time held on 12th October in Malton.