The Government has lifted the suspension on hydraulic fracturing  by announcing today that exploratory hydraulic fracturing for shale gas (“fracking”) can resume in the UK, subject to new controls to mitigate the risks of seismic activity.

These controls include:

  • A review to assess seismic risk and any faults before fracking begins
  • A fracking plan to be submitted to DECC setting out how seismic risks will be addressed
  • Seismic monitoring before, during and after fracking and
  • A new traffic light system to categorise seismic activity and direct appropriate responses.

The Government’s decision that seismic risks associated with fracking can be managed effectively is based on the evidence, following analysis of detailed studies and advice from leading experts. It recognises the potential of shale gas as a promising new energy resource which could contribute significantly to the UK’s energy security, reducing reliance on imported gas as the UK moves to a low carbon economy.

The Government has stressed that shale gas exploration in the UK is still in its very early stages, that emerging evidence will be kept under review and that the new Office for Unconventional Oil and Gas, lead by DECC, will focus regulatory effort where necessary.

In today’s Ministerial Statement “Exploration for Shale Gas”, Edward Davey, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, has confirmed that he considers that consistent application of good practice by the industry, supplemented by the additional controls on seismic hazard announced today, will ensure that there will be no unacceptable damage to the environment, or threat to the health of local residents or interference with their lives.

He points out that the new controls on seismic risks do not remove any of the existing regulatory controls and requirements, including the obtaining of environmental permits from the Environment Agency or the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, planning permission, and scrutiny by the Health & Safety Executive.

The Environment Agency has stated that it has carried out a thorough assessment of the risks from fracking, and is satisfied that existing regulations are sufficient to protect people and the environment in the current exploratory phase. It has established a Shale Gas Unit to act as a single point of contact for industry to ensure an effective, streamlined approach to regulation.

Today’s announcement permitting shale gas exploration to resume will be seen as  a further sign of the Government’s intention to encourage and support the safe development of unconventional gas resources in the UK. It follows last week’s announcement by the Government of the establishment of the new Office for Unconventional Gas and Oil and of a targeted tax regime to be developed for the shale gas industry as part of the Government’s Gas Generation Strategy.

It will be welcomed by the industry as a positive step forward, providing the opportunity for the UK’s shale gas potential to be fully explored under carefully managed conditions. Whilst some other Member States of the EU continue to hesitate over whether to allow fracking to proceed, it seems that the UK is leading the way with an evidence-based, proactive approach.