URGENT ACTION DECC CONSULTATION RESPONSE NEEDED BEFORE MARCH 28TH
Say no to 63% of the country being licensed for fracking
For the past three months, a team of dedicated souls, have been busy ferreting away with a comprehensive response to the current DECC consultation which offers up a potential 63% of the UK for fracking. Obviously that would be fracking mad, so we have ploughed through legions of research (so you don’t have to – some of it was earth numbingly technical!) to create a template response with which we can all collectively shout a resounding: FRACK OFF to any more licenses being awarded!
Please post your response to the DECC consultation in the online survey here: https://econsultation.decc.gov.uk/decc-policy/consultation-env-report-further-oil-gas-licensing/consultation/intro/view
The survey is split into three separate questions, which we’ve included in the report, in bold, so you can see where each answer begins. Cut and paste away anti-frackers! And please share this widely.
Do you think that the Environmental Report has identified the significant environmental effects of the activities that follow the licensing round? If not, what other significant effects do you think we have missed, and why?
No. The report has identified some environmental effects but has not measured these as significant. However, these environmental effects are objectively and measurably significant and there are others which have not been presented at all. One can only speculate as to why, despite being a ‘strategic’ assessment, the Environmental Report presents only a superficial assessment of the potential impacts of ‘fracking’ in the UK.
In the first instance, the appropriateness of the authorship is questioned. Amec are a significant UK player in the field of engineering, infrastructure and utilities. Whilst their professionalism is not doubted here, their ability to produce an environmental report on strategic environmental issues is challenged, as the document does not demonstrate the involvement of landscape architects, geophysicists, or ecologists, who are the only professionals suitably qualified to make certain judgements that occur in this paper. It may be implied that a conflict of interest exists in the impartiality of the document as Amec are likely to gain from fracking licensing. As a result, landscape and amenity issues are not dealt with fully and with only superficial analysis.
The European requirement for Strategic Environmental Assessment, as transposed to UK law, established a requirement to ensure that subsequent proposed projects make a positive contribution to sustainable development. The report reads as if in defence of fracking rather than as an objective mechanism for ensuring implementation in the most sustainable way, and perhaps that’s because this industry cannot be made to add up on an environmentally sustainable level. Categories have also not been assessed for their interrelationships, as recommended in SEA guidelines. Overall the Amec report is unacceptable as a robust SEA and will not hold up to scrutiny.
The significant absence of baseline data
Only limited baseline data is presented, making it impossible to draw conclusions on the validity of the assessment findings. Furthermore, methodologies for assessment of individual categories are unclear and no references made to industry accepted procedures and methodologies.
It is also an impossibility for this report to claim to be able to identify significant environmental effects, when there are so many variables that are unknown or uncertain about the practice of fracking in the UK, due to operations occurring substrata and unable to be predicted or monitored as detrimental effects may occur beyond and below the operational site activities. For example, such uncertainty presents unacceptable and significant risks due to the likelihood and magnitude of consequences relating to possible induced seismic activity, which may open up underground pathways allowing radon gas to siphon off into the atmosphere or into buildings. Furthermore, this cannot be mitigated and cannot be planned for and therefore fails the criteria of the SEA.
Several areas of operational activities remain unclear. For example, how the gas will be processed on site is mentioned and likely facilities alluded to, but there is no recognisable prototypical plan to assess. These exemplar plans need to be laid out clearly, professionally and with maximum/minimum dimensions so that the impact of the proposed industry on the environment can be honestly and transparently assessed in the SEA.
Induced seismic effects have not been taken into account in this SEA. This subject area is suspicious by its absence, despite recent public acceptance of responsibilities for seismic activity by drilling companies. These previous seismic events did cause damages to residential properties in Blackpool – which was deemed uninsurable for those affected – and this damage is not properly represented in this report. The potential financial consequences of fracking-induced seismic activity in the area you have earmarked for licensing will be astronomical.
The NCB paid out millions in subsidence claims (1983-84 £280million – about £1.6billion in today’s equivalent http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/lords/1985/mar/20/mining-subsidence-cost) there are thousands of miles of mine workings through the North West that only the smallest seismic fracking nudge would cause to collapse, with devastating effect. This is not an abstract extrapolation. It is a real risk with likely consequences that could kill people; destroy their homes; their families and their communities. Yet, this likely significant effect is not mentioned in this SEA. It is imperative that this issue is reviewed immediately and adequately assessed, measured and subsequently noted as a high risk within this SEA.
Understated effects on water reserves and aquifers
In the low and high activity scenarios for unconventional oil and gas, measurement is based on the effects of a well being re-fractured only once. Wells can – and are in USA and Australia – re-fractured up to seventeen times in addition to initial fracturing. Hence, this figure is entirely unrealistic and deliberately downgrades the high activity scenario. I can’t imagine this was missed out when calculating the revenue per well head. Furthermore, the proposed 20-year lifespan of a well would suggest a high activity scenario beyond that stated in the report as site licence and assembly for the revenue of only two re-fracturings would surely not break even.
This glaring inaccuracy regarding the frequency of fracking per well then has serious implications on the required amount of water for the activity. In reality, 72 trillion gallons of water will be required for this process. Given UK water reserves and the current state of our aquifer supplies, the UK is unlikely to be able to support the 20,000-50,000 cubic metres per well that is tentatively suggested in this report. In fact, this hardly makes national sense when each high summer, we are required to observe a hosepipe ban. Should this amount of water be utilised, it would pose significant environmental effects to UK hydrology and water availability. This cannot be mitigated through the planning system as these issues are managed at a regional, if not national, level. This is simply unsupportable. The report states that high activity supports 360 wells per year. However, there have already been almost double that figure in exploratory wells licensed, each pad could hold up to 50 wells. This places heavy doubt on the accuracy of the measurement of the effects. We recommend this issue be evaluated realistically and honestly. Should the report then be honest and accurate about the amount of wells that a high activity scenario would support, then the Environment Agency and utilities consultees would have no alternative but to raise significant concern about the proposals, thus warranting public inquiry or rejection.
The report states that 30% to 75% of the water injected during fracturing will return as flowback. Estimates of flowback rates vary from 20% to 100% (Report for European Commission DG Environment), but a figure of 15-20% is given by the US EPA (“Wastewater (Flowback) From Hydraulic Fracturing” Ohio EPA) The report advocates the cleaning of flowback water at local wastewater facilities. This irresponsibly risks drinking water contamination. Such irresponsibility is a criminal offence under section 85 of the Water Resources Act 1991. It is also irresponsible, therefore, to award licenses in the knowledge that there is no legal and appropriate waste disposal system in place for the 80,000 gallons of waste each well frack will create. By the same token, if there is no appropriate plan, the activity cannot be adequately monitored. The admission that you are confident there will be a system to properly deal with flowback in place by 2020 is criminally irresponsible. The purpose of SEA is to avoid such irresponsibility at local level, yet here it appears to be flaunted and would, by association be considered within the same frame of criminal liability.
Article 7.3 of the Water Framework Directive notes that “member states shall ensure the necessary protection for the bodies of water identified [for the purposes of providing human consumption for 50 persons or more] with the aim of avoiding deterioration in their quality in order to reduce the level of purification treatment required in the production of drinking water.” This contradicts your stated objective which is to find a way to treat the water. The idea it can be kept in the system is a tenuous justification for not assessing the risk as major and detrimental. The baseline data is freely available and should have been highlighted in your scoping study. There have been thousands of reports of water contamination from the fracking industry in the USA. Four states have openly declared they have suffered water contamination from fracking. Again this risk is only superficially assessed in regards to the sustainability parameter of the SEA. Shale gas is often referred to as a bridging fuel, but bridging the way to a future where the nation’s water is irrevocably poisoned would suggest this is a bridge not worth building.
“We are committed to an international objective to ensure sustainable use of water resources and reduced pollution and physical impacts.” This is simply impossible whilst supporting the fracking industry, and the memorandum of understanding between Water UK and UKOOG sets an alarming precedent for the industry’s use of water to be placed above the population’s rights to water. This is not a prudent use of resources or one commensurate with our UK commitment to reducing pressure on the environment in relation to water taken for human use.
Furthermore, there is some reference to water treatment facilities on site. Again, this needs to be detailed properly and subject to compulsory EIA. The public need to be aware and consulted on the detailed information. They need to be presented with the information that in addition to the well itself, there is the further and likely proposal for a generating station and radioactive water storage facility. It would appear that the report is rejecting or ignoring all that is uncertain at the expense of professional objectivity and to the point of irresponsibility and criminality. This is disingenuous to the purpose and spirit of the SEA which sits within a European framework devised to protect the European environment and its citizens. Why? Certainly, the economic benefits do not justify these costs.
UK Specific Geological risks
Geological characteristics noted by Professor Emeritus David K Smythe in his report, ‘The economic impact on UK energy policy of shale gas and oil’, presented as evidence to House of Lords Economic Affairs Select Committee, pose a direct risk to aquifers and will also negatively impact on economic projections for the shale gas industry. These risks have not been assessed or noted as significant in this SEA, a matter of grave concern when Prof. Smythe unequivocally states that UK shale basins are heavily faulted, from the shale layer right to the surface. “Pre-existing faults provide a potential fast-track pathway for fracking fluid and produced gas to escape upwards into drinking water aquifers and even to the surface…This fault-leak problem associated with fracking has been recognised in France and Germany, but not in the UK.” France has banned fracking and Germany has halted its plans to exploit shale gas because of this very serious risk. Smythe categorically states that there should be an overall ban in the UK. (http://www.barcombe.org/fracking/docs/Prof%20David%20Smythe/Smythe%20shale%20gas%20submission%20to%20HoL%20v1.5.pdf)
Significant effects of traffic and transportation
The report assesses there will be between 14-51 vehicle movements a day during the fracking process. However, the report does not qualify the nature of those vehicles. These vehicles will be enormous 30,000ltr tankers. These tankers tear up the roads and no mitigation and repair proposals are suggested in the report. The movement figures will materialise as thousands of vehicle movements once an area has been designated as a production zone. Indeed, the supposedly generous offer of 1% of the fracking revenue and a paltry bribe of £100k and 100% business retention rates to local councils bribed into plunging their community into fracking hell is unlikely to offset the damage done to roads by the fracking industry. Even if you throw the potential £5-10m in business retention rates for local councils into the equation now being offered by central government, case studies from America demonstrate that local governments benefitted temporarily from increased tax revenues during drilling booms, but costs to repair road damage sometimes ran into millions of dollars, outweighing the short-term bonus. In 2012, the State of Texas received about $3.6 billion in severance taxes from all oil and gas produced in the state (from conventional wells as well as those in fracked shale). But during that same year, the Texas Department of Transportation estimated damage to Texas roads from drilling operations at $4 billion. Arkansas has taken in roughly $182 million in severance taxes since 2009, but costs from road damage associated with drilling are estimated at $450 million. Roads designed to last 20 years are requiring major repairs after only 5 years due to the constant stream of overweight vehicles ferrying equipment and water to and from fracking sites.
Specious community and employment benefits
Apparent community benefits are set out in the Community Engagement Charter as a credit sheet with no debit sheet. We recommend that data from comparable sites in the States is offset against these community ‘benefits’ so that there is a realistic assessment quantitative and qualitative cost to local communities caused by the industry. In assessing these costs in the broadest strategic sense in assessment is likely to conclude that the costs could, in fact, far outweigh the benefits. This is not addressed anywhere in the report and on that basis, the evidence needed to establish whether there is any financial benefit is incomplete as it is of no benefit to the community if the revenue collected from the industry is spent in service to it – on roads to fracking sites and repairing damage to those surrounding them – rather than the supporting and enhancing local services, for example. In essence, what has been assessed as a significantly positive effect is, at best, a neutral state. At worst, it is a minor negative effect.
The community disbenefit of financial depreciation has also not been accounted for in the report. It has already been proven that house prices in fracking areas have slumped, causing financial loss to licensed communities. People who have worked hard their entire lives, with their savings invested in their home will now find they have no security in old age. This really is immoral and unconscionable. It puts the damages these people may be awarded by a government that has quietly eroded the right of each individual to be notified under law about operations beneath their homes into negative balance. This industry has operated under cloak of government legislation like the Great Shale Robbery: a small, innocuous note hidden between an advert for tanning beds and a second hand lawnmower in 5pt script in a local paper or on a parish noticeboard is where you’ll discover that your house is up for shale (No, that’s not a Sean Connery impression; it’s a fact). This must be noted as a black mark and heavy negative weight against any financial benefits that have been assessed as positive. The SEA process explicitly conveys a duty to establish and assert the potential irresponsibilities of industries that seek to make commercial gain from our environmental heritage.
The report itself is written with a bias towards the industry (hardly surprising given the authors, AMEC, stand to gain financially from its approval.) This is especially apparent in Appendix B which states that fracking may encourage an influx of protest groups into an area, raising the crime level. This is slanderous and ridiculously subjective. This statement must be removed. Characterising people who assert their democratic right to peacefully protest as ‘criminal’ is inaccurate and prejudicial. The vast majority of charges against protestors have yet to be upheld in court. Furthermore, they receive considerable support from affected communities who question a practice that has been banned in France, Northern Spain and Bulgaria, but is being perpetuated as ‘safe’ by their own government.
The employment estimates of between 15-32,000 are clearly a mean figure taken between the report published by Cuadrilla and similar published by the Institute of Directors (which is widely accepted to be a massive over-estimate) at 70,000 jobs. Cuadrilla’s 2011 Regeneris report estimated that test well activity might support 250 FTE jobs across the UK over a twelve month period. Also at the UK Level, the estimated FTE employment impact peaks at some 5,600 FTE jobs in the period 2016 through to 2019, with upward increment in the years from 2013 onwards, should there be a move to a commercial extraction phase. I would suggest that a realistic estimate of jobs is 15,000 at best, and this report acknowledges only 15% of these jobs will be taken locally. This should be acknowledged in the main body of the report – not hidden away in Appendix B. The inflated assessment of employment benefits isn’t balanced by the data relating to the health risks to those who are employed in this industry. We recommend a clear and transparent statement in the main body of the report (not Appendix B), relating to the exposure to radioactive substances and crystalline silica exposure health statistics which pose a serious occupational health risk to those employed in this industry.
The report admits the vast majority of labour used in the industry, around 70%, will be recruited from abroad, which actually fails to meet positive objectives in employing local labour. Local labour is likely to be a minority engagement with significant health risks. It is laughable that the report presents this as a positive and significant benefit. This assessment renders the report irresponsible, inaccurate and dishonest.
Furthermore, tax incentives for the fracking industry of a 30% tax rate and 75% of costs written off against tax levied – the most generous in the world – clearly favour this energy gathering over other more sustainable renewable energy models, which will be unable to compete economically. The criteria of the SEA to assess categories in an interconnected way, calls upon this report to recognise that jobs created in this industry, favoured as it is, need to be assessed against those lost as a result of those ‘gained’ in the unconventional onshore oil and gas industries and any jobs gained must be weighed against jobs lost as a result of other industries being run out of business by central government tax breaks.
Unethical underassessment of health risks
We are internationally bound under the United Nations Environmental Development objectives to “achieving economic development and reduction of inequalities whilst adhering to the principles of social and environmental justice and sustainable development;” This is impossible whilst supporting fracking, which will cause huge health inequalities within affected communities, as well as damage to their chances of self-sustainability through loss of farmable land.
If international health objectives that we are signatory to are examined, it is clear that we are ignoring these objectives by supporting an industry that all evidence says is likely to pollute air and water and prejudice the health of large sectors of the public. It is recognised within the health assessment category of this SEA that we need to meet the below criteria recognised in International law.
• To ensure children have safe water and clean air;
• To ensure that measures to improve the health and wellbeing of the population are appropriately supported;
• To preserve, protect and improve the quality of the environment and to protect human health;
• To promote good health throughout the lifespan of the population;
• To reduce inequities in health;
I would suggest that all of the above are incompatible with the practice of hydraulic fracturing. The associated health risks are not properly considered within this report. It is stated repeatedly within the report and its appendixes that health risks cannot be properly assessed when it cannot be know what proximity sites will have to population. This is a misrepresentation of the facts. Local frameworks for mineral exploration (including fracking and CBM extraction) provide for a 250m buffer zone between well sites and ‘urban’ areas. Surely then, this should be taken as a baseline by which to measure the health effects? Given that significant negative effects on health have been recorded within 10-miles of fracking wells in medical research conducted in the United States, we recommend that a 10-mile buffer zone is preserved between residential areas for any licenses awarded for unconventional oil and gas wells and those that wish to apply for unconventional license practices, even if they have been initially licensed as conventional wells.
To say that well flaring will not have a significant impact on local communities when residences can be within 250m of a well is not accurate. The decibel level is comparable to that of a jumbo jet starting up. This will cause extreme disturbance and mental distress to the surrounding community, not to mention the effects of exposure to PM10, NOx, CO, VOCs and SO2.
We also find Public Health UK’s report into the health effects of the industry totally lacking in its failure to regard the latest research around Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals in fracking fluid which has not been considered as part of their report or this SEA. Their excuse for not doing so is that there is no evidence chemicals used in the USA will be used in the UK the bias in this statement is entirely against their ethical responsibility to societal health as a whole. They are erring on the side of industry. It is noted at the end of the report that only effects acknowledged in the SEA will be monitored, so it is critical this research is included for proper assessment on impacts on human health, facilitating accountability when serious and widespread damage is caused to local populations.
If the evidence below is taken into account, a highly significant percentage of the British public would be affected. It is critical that the SEA adequately assesses the impact on populations.
The evidence of androgen and estrogen receptor impacts from hydraulic fracturing published by the University of Missouri 2013 (http://medicine.missouri.edu/news/docs/en.2013-1697.full.pdf) needs to be considered.
The Bamberger and Oswald research around impacts of gas drilling on human and animal health, (http://www.psehealthyenergy.org/data/Bamberger_Oswald_NS22_in_press.pdf) is also critically relevant here.
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ report on Birth outcomes and maternal residential proximity to natural gas development in rural Colorado (2014) (http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/wp-content/uploads/122/1/ehp.1306722.pdf) is also of national and strategic concern.
The high risks of development to children in utero and throughout their development are much higher than those posed by maternal smoking in pregnancy which is presented as a key public health concern and is awarded a significant amount of public health funds in order to raise national awareness of the risks and therefore positively impact on the health of the public. In this context, it is unacceptable that the above research is not considered in this report when families living within a 10-mile radius of a fracking well in the USA have experienced low Agpar scores in their children at birth; low-birth weights increasing by 50%; women are twice as likely to give birth to a baby with a neural tube defect; and parents 30% more likely to be devastated by the birth of their child with a congenital heart defect. I appeal for this information, not as an ‘objector’ or troublemaker, but as one human being to another. I don’t think this is a risk to which any human being would knowingly and willingly expose their unborn child, and in that respect it cannot morally or ethically be asked of the general populace. It also radically conflicts with the objectives of WHO Children’s Environment and Health Action Plan for Europe (CEHAPE) (2004).
Other health problems that have been skirted over in this report, include acknowledgement of cumulative damage from exposure to toxins in air and water from fracking. This has eerie parallels with asbestos exposure, which resulted in huge compensation payouts for the poisoned workers and those who were exposed. Insufficient credence has been given to evidence from overseas in this regard. This is a significant negative effect and a major risk to public health for which operators would – and should – be liable. No more licenses should be awarded and those that have already been issued should be revoked under the justifiable auspice of serious impacts to human health. This is the only responsible thing to do. There is no plausible deniability here. The evidence speaks for itself.
Soil and agricultural impacts
An area that now covers 63% of the country is potentially about to put up for license. This is not commensurate with our international pledge “to ensure that soil resources are protected and that expansion of organic farmland and adoption of sustainable farming techniques can be facilitated.” With a well pad every 5km and up to 50 well pads in a production zone, this is an enormous area of farmable land that will be lost irrevocably. There is no way the soil or the land can be restored to its former value. In areas where the land is cleared of vegetation for fracking activities, this will increase water-run off, contributing and exacerbating the real problem of flooding on our island. This short-termist proposal separates communities from their land, increasing their reliance on state support. This commits entire areas to a state of basic dependency where once they would have had basic independence. This is clearly not sustainable and therefore cannot purport to meet the standards of an SEA.
Further, it is a criminal offence under Section 78A(2) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to risk causing land to become contaminated. Just the risk is an offence. Therefore the decision to allow vast areas to be prospect for shale gas using a technique that has been banned in France, Northern Spain, Bulgaria and several US cities is not only irresponsible, it is criminal. Despite a culture of data repression, four separate USA states have confirmed that fracking has poisoned their water. The Pennsylvania Alliance For Clean Air and Water’s list of the harmed at the hands of this toxic, unpredictable and highly dangerous industry grows daily and by allowing this license you are condemning the people of England to a future of terminal illness, where childhood development will be blighted and warped even in the womb. If you permit this you are facilitating a criminal offence and will be open to prosecution in the European Courts. Most of all you are committing a moral offence against people’s right to breathe clean air, drink clean water and raise their children in a safe environment.
It is good that a ‘likely significant negative effect’ identified in relation to climate change is acknowledged. However, this will be manifested globally as well as nationally. By the authors’ admission, this puts this industry at odds with the EU SEA commitment that proposed projects make a positive contribution to sustainable development. It is clear that admissions from George Osbourne and Lord Browne (CEO of Cuadrilla) that shale gas won’t be cheaper indicate that domestic product will be sold abroad, meaning global emissions will rise. On a national level the most recent climate change report showed that 60-80% of fossil fuel must stay in the ground if we are to meet are EU targets on decarbonisation. We are currently failing to do this and unleashing an industry which unleashes methane (unmonitored) into the environment – which is 100 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period – will not alleviate this situation. The argument that shale gas is a greener gas than coal completely falls down once you take fugitive methane gas into consideration – which this report doesn’t. According to the IEA’s ‘Golden Rules for Gas: “To have an approximately 50% chance of keeping global warming below the widely accepted target of 2 degrees, atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations must stabilize below 450 parts per million (ppm). But the IEA has found that a global energy mix high in natural gas would result in atmospheric levels of GHGs reaching 650 ppm CO2 – leading to catastrophic consequences from the resulting, long term, global temperature rise of more than 3.5 degrees Celsius.” It is important this is recognised as a significant negative impact – it really is dishonest to characterise this as a minor negative effect – and one that leaves us with no room for manoeuvre in terms of exploiting shale gas and CBM. On this basis alone, no more licenses should be awarded and those that have should be withdrawn, or exempt from production.
SEA requires a reasonable assessment of alternatives to the proposed plan or project. This document, however, merely makes a broad assessment of conventional oil and gas production as an alternative. This contradicts the sustainability objective of the SEA by omitting to make evidence-based comparisons with other, more sustainable forms of energy production. Similarly, the report fails to assess the viability of the ‘do nothing’ approach, which would necessitate national incentives for more prudent use of energy and resources – a concept which is explicit in international strategy and incorporated in UK strategy via the UK Sustainable Development Strategy (DEFRA, 2005).
We witness ever more extreme weather. Weather that could flood fracking sites, flushing all the toxins out into the ground water and poisoning rivers and canals irrevocably, with grave consequences for all life. Even without flooding risk, the statistics on pipeline integrity are truly grim: 6% of gas wells leak immediately; 50% of all gas wells leak within 15 years and all gas wells will leak eventually, ensuring there is no integrity for this project on myriad levels. Why are these stats not present in the report? It seems you are happy to bring over all the technology and workforce from America but somehow (apparently by magic) none of the uncomfortable truths about the industry. And the truth is the problems you have seen in the USA and Australia will be amplified on a small island with a large population.
This industry cannot and should not be justified. These losses cannot be mitigated for through planning and to infer they can be without a full and detailed risk assessment is completely unrealistic. Such a risk assessment is imperative for an industry where wellheads leak toxins and radon and methane into the environment, causing 200 times acceptable levels of radiation to be measured around them, not to mention the data on wellhead blow outs.
Landscape and visual impacts
In terms of the impact on landscape, the idea that the site can ever return to what is before is fantastical and ill-informed. The “minor” effects to landscape and biodiversity will be permanent. It is unlikely that the landscapes and habitats which are subject to this physically and visually intrusive development can be restored to their former value and if so, it would take years to restore an ecosystem that has become established over lifetimes.
Whilst it is accepted that an SEA is a process limited to the strategic analysis of a plan, the Environmental Report seeks to cascade responsibility down to the local planning decision makers. This abdication is on the basis that impact magnitude would be dependent on the specific and local sensitivity of the individual site and that impact is dependent on the qualities of the receiving landscape. This appears to ‘pass the book’ and avoid the appropriate level of assessment which is required of an SEA. This would be easily achieved by including the report of an appropriately qualified professional working within the Guidelines for Landscape & Visual Assessment published by the Landscape Institute and Institute for Environmental Management & Assessment.
The situation would also further be remedied by providing a clear and feasible set of mitigation measures which are sufficient to protect the landscapes which ‘receive’ fracking sites. For example, mitigation measures suggest that site selection is a key mechanism for protecting sensitive landscapes, yet site selection is impossible to influence through the planning system and remains developer led.
The term ‘landscape’ is not defined in the report, so it is not clear what is being assessed. The Rural White Paper of 2002 promotes four elements of landscape that can be used as indicators of change. These are:
• Extent and stock of characteristic landscape element
• Condition and appropriate management
• New elements in the countryside
• ‘countryside experience’ e.g. tranquillity/disturbance; and benefits it offers – access, experience of wildlife.
The report deals only with ‘new elements in the countryside’, yet the remaining three elements should also be assessed, notwithstanding the strategic nature of the exercise. Furthermore,‘sensitivity’ appears to be limited to designation (AONB for landscape). However, whether a landscape has been designated or not is not an indicator of its value or sensitivity.
Currently, the methodology for assigning levels of impact is unclear and somewhat confusing. Baseline data and methods of calculation are required before the report can constitute a robust assessment of relevant impacts. As it stands, the assessment is generalised and superficial with inadequate consideration of aspects included within the term ‘landscape.’ Evidence is limited to a limited sample of cases in areas of low sensitivity, which is inadequate for the national relevance and purpose of the document. The report states that “it is generally anticipated that landscape and visual impacts would be minor” but fails to detail how this minor status has been assigned or calculated.
Findings are also over-simplified. For example, on page 77, where a ‘complete loss of habitat’ is discussed, this is considered as a local impact. Worse, it is identified as having only a ‘minor adverse effect’ (p82). How has this ‘minor’ effect been calculated? Surely, total loss would constitute a significant and adverse effect being by its very nature, irreversible. This ignores the problem of loss of a rare or high value landscape or habitat being an issue of national (even international – where it affects the migratory patterns of birds e.g. Fylde Coast) concern.
Impacts are also likely to be of regional concern, where landscape character is adversely affected by the ‘clustering’ of fracking licenses in areas of reserve availability. In addition, this clustering around available sites is likely to facilitate the construction of urban elements (concrete pad, steelwork, security fencing) in areas which were previously identified as rural landscape character zones, thus changing the regional perception and character of the area. The high visual impact of structures and increased traffic is acknowledged in the document but this is not carried forward to the overall findings of the report.
Where local impact is discussed, the naive and comical suggestion is made that the visual impact of a 26m high drilling rig could be minimised through appropriate setting, screening and by managing the extent of overlook (p97). Given that an appropriate screening tree could take 20-30 years to reach this height (with minimal screening value in winter), it would seem highly unlikely that the suggested mitigation measures are viable. Yet, this issue is not addressed in the mitigation measures, or indeed, the reports overall findings.
Do you agree with the conclusions of the report and the recommendations for avoiding, reducing or off-setting significant effects of the activities that follow the licensing round? If not, what do you think should be the key recommendations and why?
We think it’s clear that this report has an agenda in framing risks as less significant than they are in order to sidestep the need for an EIA – which are only required if a significant affect is noted. Significant effects are noted at production level, so there is little point in avoiding an EIA at exploratory level. In fact it is unsound to do so because that would be to avoid a proper baseline for which to assess impacts against. EIAs are advised for deep drilling under Section 2. They are also advised over developments that could prove controversial. This begs the question why are EIAs being treated as optional rather than compulsory when there is no way something as controversial as fracking could fail to meet this criteria? Under UK legislation and EU legislation it is not best practice – however much Mr Cameron would like it to be – to attempt to avoid an EIA. Doing so is irresponsible and criminal. As is ignoring cumulative affects. We recommend that Environmental Impact Assessments are compulsory.
We recommend that the protective principle is applied to all aspects of the industry so that the burden of proving it won’t cause harm is placed on the industry and not placed as a burden on communities.
The inadequacy of the current regulations around this industry – and potential for abdication of responsibility – are illustrated in practice by the fact CBM sites have been licensed on carbon sequestration areas – for example, Barton Moss in Salford – which is not advised in this report. Already fracking sites have been licensed on the habitats of Barn owls – the most protected bird under UK law. Clearly the regulations designed to offset damage to ecosystems and nature habitats have not been observed and what you are playing out as a positive affect is, in practice, a negative – which supports that it is insufficient and ineffective to cascade responsibility down to a local level. This is a huge failing and puts the system currently in place for SEA in conflict with both international. EU and UK law. The rules are unclear, not enshrined properly in relation to UK and international law and this needs to be properly rectified, not swept under the carpet in a report written by those with vested interests, or passed down to local level. The answer is simple: site specific EIAs must be compulsory and plans must be actively rejected – despite the expectation a DECC PEDL license will create – if they do not meet the criteria.
There needs to be a clear plan in place to monitor methane emissions and to guarantee that radon within shale gas is monitored and dealt with according to HPA’s standards. THE Radon issue is skirted over in this report despite the fact that it is chemically inert and cannot be separated from shale gas. This means that when shale gas is piped into boilers, ovens, hobs and other gas appliances in homes and burnt, radon gas is released into indoor areas. Radon is a recognised public health threat, and the Health Protection Agency (HPA) has issued guidance stating the existing homes should be remediated where radon levels reach 200 Bq per cubic metre. For new homes, the target is 100 Bq per cubic metre. High indoor radon concentrations from shale gas are already a serious health problem in parts of the United States including New York City. This report suggests that gas can be piped directly into the national grid – which would be illegal under their own terms. There is no explanation of how this will be done.
The key recommendation should be that no further licenses are awarded. We also recommend that in the interests of not recreating the patchwork of differing legislation and differing outcomes that left the USA vulnerable to so many major negative effects from unconventional gas and oil exploration – that those licenses that have been awarded so far must be able to be placed under review if they haven’t met the criteria laid out in this draft licensing plan, they should also be subject to an EIA.
Much of the mitigation in terms of health impacts depends on proximity to residential areas, which are decided at local planning level. There is only a 250m buffer zone observed at local level for fracking activity, despite the fact that negative health impacts have been scientifically evidenced within 10 miles of fracking wells. This buffer zone is clearly inadequate and exposes the local population to significant major health inequalities. We recommend a ten-mile buffer zone.
There have been myriad costs for well clean-ups left to affected communities in USA which have negative impacts on financial benefits – particularly relevant in this country where if an operator becomes insolvent it is the communities themselves who will be left holding the bill for cleaning up after them as operators are not required to pay a bond in lieu of this. We recommend that in the interest of encouraging the observation of best practice all operators are required to pay a £5 billion bond at time of licensing and a further £50M per well and that this recommendation be included as a precursor to licensing. This would fit in line with OUGO’s remit to “Ensure government has the right policies in place to ensure safe decommissioning of sites and high quality restoration of the land, without increasing burden to the public purse.”
This bond should be held in a fund for uninsurable damage caused to homes by seismic activities induced by hydraulic fracturing. Already people are finding they cannot insure their homes in designated fracking areas and it is utterly unconscionable that there is no provision for this from the industry. Damages should also be sought against the fund for damage to health caused by fracturing and CBM extraction and clean-up costs for inevitable leakages should also be paid from this fund which should be managed by an independent non-statutory committee appointed locally for every council area in which a fracking site sits.
Not only that, but it should not be down to local communities to foot the bill for forcing through this industry, so the industry itself should pay for the policing of the industry – much in the same way football clubs are responsible for paying for the policing of football matches.
Mitigating traffic congestion problems to the population by “seeking to avoid residential areas by HGV routes” doesn’t say what it should “if you can’t avoid then you can’t support the industry” simply ‘seeking’ is not enough, and frankly it reads as an excuse to spend the revenue that is supposedly for the community on a bypass for the industry itself – further blighting the environment around fracking sites and potentially encroaching onto greenfield areas.
Much of the offsetting of problems from the industry relies on the use of unproven techniques, for example CCS, and a nod to waste water being treated on site – when the report admits that waste water can’t be treated fullstop because the technology doesn’t exist – it cannot therefore be properly assessed for sustainability and therein fails to meet the SEA terms. There is not enough detail around storage and processing here either.
Hydrocarbon reservoirs are referred to as an option, however, it is unclear whether these are above the ground or below, inside or outer. There really isn’t enough detail about this element which poses considerable risk of contaminating the land – which is an offence under Section 78A(2) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. We recommend the expansion of the industry be halted until proven techniques are available for proper assessment.
In almost every aspect mitigation of threats is based on areas which are stated as being unknown, and the bias is consistently on the side of industry – most noxious when this is observed by public health officials like Public Health England, who simply excuse potential irreversible damage to human health by saying there is no evidence chemicals used in the USA will be used in the UK. If the use of the toxic chemicals which are of concern had been banned in the industry that would make it safe. In the light there is no such ban, it cannot be deemed to be safe. Therefore we recommend that this round of licenses be halted until there is clarification over what chemicals are to be used so that the risks may be properly assessed.
Risks are continually mitigated by referencing an exciting new super safe well-head design. I’m really please for the engineers who designed this. I’m sure they expect to die rich men. But it does not have the power to change the geological nature of the UK which has been been identified as the biggest risk to water contamination. The fault lines will allow methane to migrate into aquifers. This cannot be mitigated or monitored. It is a risk that puts us at odds with international law. It is a risk that means the industry is too dangerous to proceed with.
Do you agree with the proposed arrangements for monitoring significant of the activities that follow the licensing round, detailed in the Environmental Report? If not, what measures do you propose?
Too many monitoring responsibilities are left to the operator. In this respect the industry is self-monitoring – and in practice not monitoring at all. This was proven by the fact that the first earthquake at Preese Hall damaged the well head and drilling continued for another six weeks with harmful toxins and gasses leaking into the environment. Drilling was only stopped when another earthquake occurred which damaged people’s houses– which insurers would not cover – and which is consistently downplayed in this report. Furthermore, the well hasn’t been adequately capped two-years on from the incident at Preese Hall because, although the well has been abandoned in terms of drilling, no technical abandonment has been sought by Cuadrilla, and without this paperwork in place the well has not been ‘secured’ as it should be to render it ‘safe’. No one has policed this and by your own standards it is unsafe.
Monitoring procedures as outlined in this report are nothing more than superficial box ticking. No visual monitoring procedures for the landscape category have been established or referred to and are impossible in the absence of baseline data. In terms of ‘total loss’ of landscapes and habitats, monitoring will simply be a bureaucratic exercise to be undertaken once the horse has bolted.
The reduction of fugitive methane is in keeping with an improved well design – but if conventional wells can apply to frack then this will clearly not be observed.
The responsibility for ensuring adequate well design falls to the HSE and this isn’t even acknowledged in this report. If the people writing this report can’t expect to get that fact correct how can the public affected by it or the operators attempting to follow it? There is very little point UKOOG drawing a pretty picture of a supposedly safer well if no one makes sure this is being observed in practice.
There needs to be an independent body that acts as an inspectorate in terms of this industry that is there to monitor it at all times and that is there from the start to see that planning permission is not given locally that ignores any of the licensing plan criteria. There are fracking wells that are currently being drilled within a one-mile radius of schools, within less than a mile of secure children homes – this is completely against any local planning regs and also against national regulations – why is this happening if this system is allegedly ‘robustly regulated’? It obviously isn’t and what is worse is that no one is answerable. There must be one body that can be held accountable, who can halt drilling and be trusted to supersede the other statutory bodies who flagrantly ignore the regs – not just dish out fines that industry will take like a smack on the hand – but STOP the drilling from ever starting or halting it mid-drill at the point of concern.
Indeed European recommendations on learning from the American experience, where there were over 1,000 reported cases of methane contamination of water, support this: “Most of the accidents and ground water intrusions seem to be due to incorrect handling, which could be avoided”. Regulations exist in the USA, but monitoring and supervision of operations is rather poor, be it for lack of available budgets of public authorities or for other reasons. Therefore, the basic problem is not inadequate regulation, but their enforcement through adequate supervision. It must be guaranteed that best practice is not only available, but also commonly applied.” (Impacts of shale gas and shale oil extraction on the environment and on human health by European Parliament) So far we are making EXACTLY the same mistakes as in the USA, with all the ensuing hazards to people, animals and the environment that will follow as a result.
The Environment Agency have failed to meet their monitorial obligations at every single exploratory fracking well drilled in the UK so far. At Barton Moss in Salford during their two visits these checks were not made:
• No inspection of emissions other than surface water, (i.e, air, land and groundwater NOT tested)
• No inspection of management on EITHER visit-cf fire explosion safety
• No inspection of monitoring and records, maintenance and reporting including: Monitoring of emission and environment.
• Record of activity, site diary, journal and event, but “Waste transfer notes and consignment notes were checked”
• Maintenance Records
• Reporting and notification
• Staff Competence
Several triggers for EA visits–for example flooding of the adjoining field at Barton Moss – did not result in an EA officer attending. Chemical spills of Sulphur Hydroxide in transit to the site did not trigger a visit from the EA. It is pretty clear that those who should be rendering this industry as safe as it can be are not – and this is when they are only dealing with 1 or 2 wells – not the tens of thousands they could be potentially called upon to oversee and assess.
Furthermore, the Environment Agency have no way of halting planning applications and are merely reduced to commenting on applicant’s Environmental Statement (ES), meaning that the EA is dependent upon information furnished by the applicant. This is noted in David K Smythe’s report: “It is a reactive rather than a proactive system. The EA is ill-equipped to cope with the new demands of unconventional hydrocarbon exploration.” He notes their failings within his report in reference to sites which should have been rejected on a geological basis being green-lighted in Cumbria and West Sussex and concurs they “have insufficient in-house expertise to respond to planning applications” on a geological basis.
Despite these failings within the EA (a department facing serious job and budgetary cuts) they have recently proposed a streamlining process to cut down the granting of permits to 1-2 weeks – which we have objected against in the most serious of terms as it will be impossible to properly consult affected communities within this timeframe and they intend to assess companies rather than sites – promising even more inappropriate developments will be made without site-specific oversight.
We have also witnessed the EA presiding over the dumping of 800gallons of radioactive water into the Manchester Ship Canal when the waste from Preese Hall was illegally taken to Davyhulme water treatment centre. How this happened has yet to be properly explained. But it certainly happened under the watch of a body who have the remit to protect our water and environment, so this is alarming and more evidence that the EA are not up to the task of properly regulating or enforcing law for this industry. This costly environmental oversight puts us at odds with our international commitment “to protect the environment from the adverse effects of urban wastewater discharges and discharges from industrial processes.” And with no plan in place for waste, there is no clear answer as to how you are going to do this and therefore you cannot safely proceed with the industry.
Furthermore the “polluter pays” principle in the Water Framework Directive is an oxymoron. When water is polluted everyone pays. A fine is not enough of a disincentive. There should be immediate disqualifications for polluting water, and a blacklist kept of polluters who should not be allowed to work in the industry again. I would also recommend lengthy jail sentences for those who facilitated it happening with CEOs held ultimately responsible.
There is no mention of HSE’s evacuation criteria in this report. There should be evacuation zones and treatment plans incorporated with the local health authority and local fire services. This is particularly important for sites that have gone against the criteria to avoid carbon sequestration zones. The Barton Moss site in Salford is made up predominantly of peat which is highly flammable. In the event of an accident the whole area would go up. If EIA had been applied to this plan it would not have been an acceptable site – by your own criteria it is not an acceptable site. So how does it continue to operate when your own mitigation measures include: “careful site selection to avoid adverse impacts on sensitive land uses and important soil types”? And how has it managed to acquire a 20-year CBM methane extraction license without the 5-year appraisal phase? Your ‘robust’ rules and regulations are being treated like guidelines and no one is stopping this.
Under the SEA Member States must monitor the significant environmental effects of the implementation of plans/programmes in order to identify unforeseen adverse effects and undertake appropriate remedial action. Whilst this report is prepared to mitigate for technology that doesn’t exist, it is not prepared to regulate for adverse effects that do exist. This is a failure to meet basic criteria that cannot be denied, and one which begs a person to wonder if the mitigation procedure is as fantastical as the imaginary radioactive water treatment facility and CCS technology which this whole plan relies on to be robust.
UKOOG’s community engagement charter does not give communities any chance to stop the industry once it has been greenlighted by DECC – even if rules have not been kept to in local planning. It is not enough. This is being foisted upon communities who are still unaware of just how negative the impacts could be. And where they are, no amount of ‘engagement’ is going to convince them otherwise. This industry has no social license, no mandate, and should not be supported until communities are given the opportunity to democratically decide whether they want it. They have the most to lose and so ultimately they should be allowed to make the decision. Without this it is just a pretence to ‘engagement’ with no real choice and no real access to justice without a long and protracted struggle. This is if they actually engage with what can be characterised as the community. iGas’s supposed public consultations were held privately, with a hand-picked member of the community speaking for all of them. Meanwhile, the concerned local community were locked out. This is not engaging the community. It is riding rough shod over them.
And, as noted earlier, you really cannot properly put this report in the context of “energy security supply based on uncertain fossil fuel prices and greenhouse gas reduction efforts” if there is no plan to monitor fugitive methane emissions by an independent source. We note there is an effort to say methane will be directly injected into the national grid. But gas must be of a certain quality to go into the national grid and, potentially, this gas may also be married to shale and radon – which would be utterly dangerous and unacceptable by the HSA.
If energy security is seriously an objective then do not chance the nation’s energy on a resource that will have dried up (at best) in twenty years leaving a trail of destruction behind it. The sun, the sea, the wind are truly limitless, sustainable and clean resources to harness. If you are serious about being the Department of Energy and Climate Change then shale gas and CBM are not the answer and failing to compare unconventional oil and gas gathering with renewable energy is a failure that will have irreversible consequences for large swathes of the UK populace and the sustainability of our planet’s ecosystem. It also fails to meet the criteria of the SEA under EU law.
I have been advised that DECC is soon to be subsumed into the Business Innovation and Skills Department, much in the same way local communities desires are being subsumed by corporate interest. I request that in the interest of a real commitment to avoiding disastrous climate change, taking into consideration the heavily-faulted UK geology which poses a serious risk to water, you advise no further licenses are awarded. In every aspect, this is the only credible and deserving response, yet tellingly absent from this report’s summary.