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Branch representatives attend Shale UK 2016 Conference

Monday, 27 June 2016 10:46

Continuing to campaign for strongest possible regulations.

Two representatives from the Campaign to Protect Rural England’s Lancashire Branch attended the Shale UK 2016 Conference which draws on the expertise of the hydrocarbons industry, water and environmental management sector, financial services and other parts of the supply chain to examine the future of shale in the UK; the Conference was hosted by the Geological Society and was held from the 21st to 23rd of June as part of Liverpool’s International Festival for Business.

CPRE is passionate about landscapes and the living countryside, and promotes the need for transparency in decision making and sustainable development to ensure the right developments are directed to the right places.

Jackie Copley, Planning Manager of Lancashire Branch spoke during a panel session Shale Unplugged chaired by Nic Bilham, Director of Policy and Communications, British Geological Society. She spoke about CPRE’s insistence that shale gas should be used only in the UK’s transition to self-sufficiency in renewable energy.

Other panel members were Jane Moseley, Principal Planner, Communities & Infrastructure, West Sussex County Council; David Reiner, Senior Lecturer in Technology Policy, University of Cambridge, Judge Business School; Elizabeth Shepherd, Partner and Head of Environment Team, Eversheds; and Graham Dean of Reach, Central Scotland Gas .

A key topic was how public concerns about potential environmental impacts of shale gas exploration and production, and those of other forms of power generation (wind farms, nuclear, etc), could be reconciled with the need for affordable and secure energy supplies. This issue is at the heart of CPRE’s work on energy. Regardless of the type of infrastructure, its siting, scale, and design, are of crucial importance. The number of truck movements, the noise level, the disposal of waste, are all important considerations that must be adequately addressed.

Jackie Copley expressed concern that, whilst it is clear that senior Government figures, including the Chancellor, are committed to the exploitation of shale oil and gas, when it comes to addressing the nation’s commitments on limiting climate change their declarations are much less convincing. She said:

“If the Government does use shale gas as part of the transition from fossil to sustainable energy technologies, CPRE wants a codified rigorous regulatory regime in place, so as to ensure the risks associated with fracking are kept acceptably low.
Importantly, we argue that initially fracking should be confined to deep strata. For example, at the Preston New Road site in Fylde the target formation is between 2,200 m and 2,800 m, and at Kirkby Misperton KM8 between 2,100 m and 3,000 m; these are great depths. Shallower strata should not be fracked until we have a better understanding of the risks under UK conditions.”

Another crucial issue is that fugitive methane release must be taken seriously because of its very high greenhouse gas footprint. Further, geoscientists must ensure the potential problems are identified and resolved before fracking progresses at a larger scale, or it will be too late. Jackie illustrated how she and colleagues, including Dr Desmond Brennan (an Executive Member of CPRE Lancashire with a background Physical Chemistry at Liverpool University) have been meeting with operators, environmental regulators and planning decision makers to argue for Best Available Techniques, such as real-time monitoring of the penetration of fracking fluid, to ensure fracking fluid does not leave the specified target formation.

Currently some of these fundamental requirements will not be determined until the late stage, when the Hydraulic Fracture Plan is finally approved by the Oil & Gas Authority; this process is not open to public consultation, and its finalised details will not be in the public domain for some appreciable time after approval. We seek transparency in all stages of regulation; indeed, we believe it is a necessary condition for public acceptance of the technology.

Ms Copley outlined that as planning applications are submitted for determination, CPRE will object if we believe the location is unacceptable, or if we lack confidence in the environmental regulatory regime. We will continue to seek the safeguarding of protected areas such as National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

In other rural places, we shall advocate the imposition of appropriate planning conditions to ensure visual impacts are minimised, residential amenity is protected and the land is restored to its original state and usage at the end of operations.

Undoubtedly, there are many misconceptions contributing to the public’s hostility to fracking, but that fact should not detract from the need of geologists, industry and environment regulators to address the important issues which justifiably give the public concern. The important role of CPRE is to support rural communities to engage with the planning process.

Most renewable infrastructure can be removed at the end of the life of the project, but abandoned fracking wells exist forever and need long-term monitoring arrangements to check their continued integrity.

Another important topic was, if the price for oil or gas falls, it should not be the environment that suffers. There will always need to be funds available to ensure the continued integrity of fracked wells.

Toni Harvey, Senior Geoscientist, Oil & Gas Authority and John Blaymires, Chief Operating Officer, IGas Energy among others were also at the conference and they broadly accepted the arguments being put forward by CPRE. They also accepted that it is key to address these uncertainties prior to furthering developments around the production of shale gas in the UK context. CPRE Lancashire will follow up the discussions with the Environment Agency and the Oil & Gas Authority to try to seek an improvement in the wording of the environmental permits, which paradoxically at present do not regard pollution of ground water in non-target strata by fracking fluid as a breach of the permit.

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