British lawmakers demand freeze on fracing, Environmental Audit Committee releases frac report summarizing significant environmental risks to Public Health

Public pressure forces Government retreat on fracking Press Release by FOE, January 26, 2015

The Coalition Government was forced to retreat over its fracking plans in
Parliament today following widespread concerns from MPs across the political
spectrum. However, Friends of the Earth repeated its call for an outright
ban, saying the concessions do not go far enough and would not prevent the current fracking applications in Lancashire.

Despite wanting to go ‘all out for shale’, the Government has been forced
to agree to ban fracking in National Parks; set stricter conditions for
fracking in individual areas; and has promised to introduce measures so that
fracking could only go ahead if it was shown to be compatible with climate targets.

Commenting on today’s vote, Donna Hume, Energy Campaigner at Friends of the
Earth, which has been leading the campaign against government fracking plans,

“Public opinion and increasing concern from MPs has forced the Government
into retreat on fracking. Everywhere fracking is proposed, local communities
say no.

“But these concessions do not go far enough. These changes would not
prevent fracking getting the green light in Lancashire, despite overwhelming
opposition from local communities.

“The only way to safeguard our climate, local communities and their
environment from the fracking threat is to halt shale gas completely.

“Ministers should stop believing their own fracking hype and concentrate on
real solutions to the energy challenges we face such as the renewable power
and cutting energy waste.”


Notes to Editors

1. The Government today agreed to a fracking ban in national parks, as
well as regulatory changes that include giving extra protection to ground
2. A leaked letter, obtained by Friends of the Earth, from Chancellor
George Osborne to Cabinet colleagues reveals how closely the Government is working with the shale gas industry to ensure that controversial fracking takes off in the UK. George Osborne’s letter to the Economic Affairs Committee can be seen here [1]. …

British lawmakers demand freeze on fracking by Associated Press, January 26, 2015, Yahoonews

A committee of British lawmakers demanded a national moratorium on fracking due to environmental concerns on Monday, ahead of a crucial vote intended to boost the shale gas industry.

An inquiry by the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee, which examines the effect of government policy on the environment, found the extraction and burning of more fossil fuels was contrary to Britain’s pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions. It warned that fracking…posed uncertain risks to public health, air quality, and water supplies.

“A moratorium on the extraction of unconventional gas through fracking is needed to avoid both the inconsistency with our climate change obligations and to allow the uncertainty surrounding environmental risks to be fully resolved,” the report said.

It comes as lawmakers prepare to vote on the Infrastructure Bill, which contains a number of measures intended to kick-start the fledgling British fracking industry.

The report was the latest blow to Cameron’s pledge to go “all out” on developing shale gas and oil….

Last week, a report by Lancaster County Council recommended rejecting plans by British energy firm Cuadrilla to drill at two sites, saying it would have an “adverse affect” on the life of local residents.

The report noted public opposition to fracking, and criticised a provision in the Infrastructure Bill that would make it easier for energy companies to drill beneath homes without residents’ permission. 

In addition to the moratorium, the committee recommended that fracking be banned outright in protected areas such as national parks, ancient woodlands, and areas that feed groundwater sources. 

The Department of Energy and Climate Change rejected the report. 

Stop fracking now, MPs tell Government amid fears of impact on health and climate change by David Williamson, January 26, 2015, Walesonline
Gower Labour MP Martin Caton and fellow members of the environmental audit committee demand a moratorium on fracking

U.K. lawmakers urge fracking moratorium by FuelFix, January 26, 2015

Environmental Audit Committee calls for halt to fracking Press Release by Environmental Audit Committee, January 26, 2015, UK Parliament

2015 01 26 UK Environmental Audit Committee calls for halt to fracking

NEW REPORT: Environmental Risks of Fracking by Environmental Audit Committee, House of Commons EMBARGOED: 0.01am Monday 26 Jan 2015

Shale fracking should be put on hold in the UK because it is incompatible with our climate change targets and could pose significant localised environmental risks to public health. That is the conclusion of MPs on the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee who will attempt to amend the Government’s Infrastructure Bill in Parliament today.

Committee Chair Joan Walley MP:

“Ultimately fracking cannot be compatible with our long-term commitments to cut climate changing emissions unless full-scale carbon capture and storage technology is rolled out rapidly, which currently looks unlikely. There are also huge uncertainties around the impact that fracking could have on water supplies, air quality and public health.”

“We cannot allow Britain’s national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty to be developed into oil and gas fields. Even if a national moratorium on shale drilling in the UK is not accepted there should be an outright ban on fracking in such special sites.”

“The Government is trying to rush through changes to the trespass laws that would allow companies to frack under people’s homes without permission. This is profoundly undemocratic and Parliament should protect the rights of citizens by throwing these changes out when they are debated later today.”

The report warns that only a very small fraction of our shale reserves can be safely burned if we are to keep global temperatures below 2 degrees. And that considerable uncertainties remain about the hazards fracking poses to groundwater quality, air quality, health and biodiversity. It points out that continually tightening carbon budgets under the Climate Change Act will have significantly curtailed the scope for fossil fuel energy by the time shale gas is likely to be commercially viable on a large scale.

Infrastructure Bill

The Committee is also calling for other changes to the Infrastructure Bill. Proposed changes to trespass law that would grant companies automatic right of access to land at depth should be removed from the Bill because they seriously undermine citizens’ rights and are not supported by the public. Fracking should also be prohibited outright in nationally important areas such as National Parks, the Broads, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, SSIs, ancient woodland.

The Committee is also insisting that:

• Licences and permits must not be issued if commercial operators cannot demonstrate sufficient resources and insurances to cover full liability in event of pollution incidents.
• Venting of methane emissions is unacceptable. Full containment of methane must be mandated in all fracking permits and permissions.
• To protect groundwater a minimum separation distance – between the shales being fracked and underground aquifers – should be defined and mandated.

Monitoring and transparency

Current plans to allow fracking companies to handle the safety monitoring for fracking wells are also unacceptable, the report concludes. Independent monitoring must be conducted to ensure the public can have confidence in the results. Regulators must also conduct regular unannounced spot checks and audits of all fracking sites, and facilitate clear and accessible public disclosure of all monitoring data. Companies must be made to disclose – in an accessible way – all of the chemicals used in shale gas exploration and production, and the potential risks they pose. It is unacceptable that there are currently no monitoring requirements for decommissioned or abandoned wells. 


Eight MPs on the Committee have put forward an amendment to introduce a moratoriums, linked to the Bill’s clauses aimed at setting a strategy to maximise fossil fuel extraction

Some MPs have also used the opportunity to also put down amendments to give the Strategic Highways Company an explicit legal duty to address air pollution in its work, to reflect a recommendation in another of the Committee’s reports — Action on Air Quality

The Infrastructure Bill11 includes provisions for the Government to produce a strategy for “maximising the economic recovery of UK petroleum” (which includes oil and gas). It also includes provisions “to introduce a right to use deep-level land” for “petroleum or deep geothermal energy”, including fracking, which will ease the planning difficulties that energy companies would otherwise face in getting access rights to shale deposits under landowners’ properties. At present, a drilling company must reach agreement with each landowner to obtain rights of access. The new provisions follow a Government consultation in 2014 on its Proposal for Underground Access for the Extraction of Gas, Oil or Geothermal Energy. That consultation included a voluntary community payment of £20,000 for each horizontal well, previously agreed with the industry, and the Bill includes provisions allowing the Government to impose such community payments (paragraph 5).

More Information

Nicolas Davies, Select Committee Media Officer, Energy and Climate Change | Environmental Audit | EFRA | Science & Technology

House of Commons

020 7219 3297 |  07917488141 | @NckDavies

2015 01 26 EMBARGOED UK Environmental Audit Committee, Fracking Risks Report HC 856 SNAP.jpg

COMPLETE REPORT: Environmental risks of fracking – Environmental Audit

Terms of Reference


    • Fracking must be prohibited outright in protected and nationally important areas.
    • Full containment of methane must be mandated.
    • Fracking should be prohibited in all water source protection zones.

The current debate on fracking reveals a lack of public acceptance, or ‘social licence’, for it.

1 Introduction

Our inquiry

2 Implications for our climate change obligations


Security of supply

Climate change impacts

3 Environmental risks

Groundwater quality

32. It is critical that groundwater is protected from contamination. The Environment
Agency’s Groundwater protection: Principles and practice state that damage to groundwater may be irreversible, and that the precautionary principle must be followed.

Members of the public are clearly concerned about the risks to groundwater from fracking, many looking to the “track record of fracking elsewhere in the world”.

Balcombe Resident’s Association raised concerns that “wells or fractures intersecting with natural faults could easily become conduits for leaking gases and liquids” in Britain’s highly faulted geology. ENDS’ UK shale gas and the environment reported the make-up of flowback fluid at one of Cuadrilla’s sites:

At Cuadrilla’s Preese Hall site near Blackpool, the fluid was some three-times saltier than sea water and had up to 179 micrograms of lead per litre against a 10μg/l drinking water standard. It had chromium at up to 222μg/l, more than four-times the drinking water standard.

… SaFE believed…“the Government is putting people and the environment at significant risk” because it is not applying the precautionary principle.

38. … However, we heard that the only fracking well drilled so far in the UK, at Preese Hall near Blackpool, suffered well integrity issues and that crucial tests had not been carried out.

39. Caroline Raffan told us her “greatest worry is that water contamination will get worse over time as wells develop concrete failures, and the methane escapes into the water table and also into the environment.” There is concern that underground pollution events might not be identified before, or may happen after, wells are abandoned. The National Physical Laboratory told us that “there are no monitoring requirements for abandoned wells.”


41. Typical wastes arising from hydraulic fracturing include drill cuttings, waste drilling
muds, waste flowback fluids, waste gases, and ‘fugitive emissions’. The Institution of Civil Engineers estimate that a single well might produce between 7,500 to 18,750m3 of waste water and 13,400 to 33,500 tonnes of CO2 annually. Both volume and content raise concerns.

42. One of these concerns is about the accumulation of naturally occurring radioactive
materials, minerals and salts in flowback fluid and drilling muds. …

44. Despite assurances from the Environment Agency that use of ‘hazardous substances’ for fracking would not be permitted where they could enter groundwater and cause pollution, Frack Free Balcombe Resident’s Association raised a concern that the access rights provision in the Infrastructure Bill (paragraph 7) effectively allows “any substance to be injected into and left in the lateral wells … drilled under our property.”

Water supplies

Air emissions and health

51. … A weakness of the Environment Agency’s consideration of ‘best available techniques’ is that they will take account of costs in the appraisal of permitting applications. [Same in Canada]

52. Unintentional leaks—‘fugitive emissions’—have the same potential consequences as
planned flaring. Mark Ellis-Jones told us “from a regulatory point of view, our expectation is full containment. Any industrial process will have fugitive emissions of some kind, but our starting point is the expectation that there is 100% containment.”

[Has any company anywhere in the world contained their fugitive methane 100%?

Do regulators enforce their “expectations” of companies?]

[The Environment Agency] told us:

Should elevated levels of methane be detected, we would require the well to
be shut and the cause for the increase in levels to be investigated and
remedied. The operation will only resume once we are satisfied that the issue
has been resolved. [Would the UK EPA risk being sued by every company fracing?]

Habitats and biodiversity

Geological integrity

Noise and disruption

60. INEOS believed that “local disruption associated with drilling and fracking is
comparable in scale to a building site, and only temporary (typically lasting about six
months). [It was recently reported that Cuadrilla is promising their noise to be like a library.  Encana promised Rosebud the company’s noise would be like a quiet library. Twelve years later, Encana’s compressors continue to be inappropriately attenuated and rumble like heavy construction noise. Encana continue to violate Ernst’s legal right to quiet enjoyment of her home and property. Over Christmas 2014, the noise was some of the loudest yet.]


Regulatory regime



‘Social licence’

Conclusions and recommendations

1. Any large scale extraction of shale gas in the UK is likely to be at least 10-15 years away. It is also unlikely to be able to compete against the extensive renewable energy sector we should have by 2025-30 unless developed at a significant scale. By that time, it is likely that unabated coal-fired power generation will have been phased out to meet EU emissions directives, so fracking will not substitute for (more carbon-intensive) coal. Continually tightening carbon budgets under the Climate Change Act will have significantly curtailed our scope for fossil fuel energy, and as a consequence only a very small fraction of the possible shale gas deposits will be burnable. (Paragraph 26)

2. A moratorium on the extraction of unconventional gas through fracking is needed to avoid the UK’s carbon budgets being breached in the 2020s and beyond, and the international credibility of the UK in tackling climate change being critically weakened—already a prospect if the provisions in the Infrastructure Bill aimed at maximising North Sea oil extraction are passed. (Paragraph 27)

3. The Infrastructure Bill should be amended to explicitly bar fracking of shale gas. This could be done through an Amendment to Clause 37, to qualify the provision in the Bill which seeks to introduce a strategy to maximise the economic extraction of ‘petroleum’ (which includes natural gas) reserves, so that the “principal objective [of the strategy] is not the objective of maximising the economic recovery of UK petroleum but ensuring that fossil fuel emissions are limited to the carbon budgets advised by the Committee on Climate Change and introducing a moratorium on the extraction of unconventional gas through fracking in order to reduce the risk of carbon budgets being breached.” (Paragraph 28)

4. It remains to be seen whether [the existing regulatory regime] will ensure effective regulatory co-ordination across all the relevant bodies and departments. A joint strategy concerning the regulation of unconventional oil and gas signed by all relevant national and local departments and agencies must be developed and published. (Paragraph 64)

5. The Government must ensure adequate numbers of skilled and experienced staff are in place to regulate unconventional oil and gas now and in the future.
(Paragraph 65)

6. Work to determine the baseline status of the environment, including baselines related to methane in groundwater and fugitive emissions, and subsequent monitoring requirements must be completed as soon as possible and the findings used to inform fracking permits and permissions. (Paragraph 66)

7. The UK has complex geology and more effort is required to understand and map specific local geological conditions and the influence of historic mining activity. (Paragraph 67)

8. Fracking must be prohibited outright in protected and nationally important areas including National Parks, the Broads, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and ancient woodland, and any land functionally linked to these areas. (Paragraph 68)

9. Venting of methane emissions is not acceptable. Full containment of methane must be mandated in all fracking permits and permissions. (Paragraph 69)

10. It is crucial that groundwater is protected and the restriction on fracking in water source protection zones 1 is welcome. However, fracking should be prohibited in all source protection zones and all fracking activity must require a groundwater permit when wells extend under aquifers. A minimum vertical separation distance between shales being fracked and a groundwater aquifer should be defined and mandated. (Paragraph 70)

11. There must be clear and accessible public disclosure on the chemicals used in the exploration and production of shale gas, and the risks they potentially pose. (Paragraph 71)

12. Automatic right of access to “deep level land” is not supported by the majority of the public and is not considered necessary by the industry. It should be removed from the Infrastructure Bill. (Paragraph 72)

13. Changes to the regulatory system identified above, though essential, do not address the fundamental need for a more coherent and more joined-up regulatory system, and one that needs to be put in place before further fracking activity in contemplated. First, the Strategic Environmental Assessment of the Licensing Rounds, Environmental Impact Assessments, planning and permit appraisals must all consider the cumulative impacts of fracking. Second, environmental impact assessment must be mandated for all fracking activity. Third, attention must be paid to the way in which the industry and the risks might scale up. There is the prospect that a regulatory regime for operational extraction would be applied without the same rigour that had been applied to the exploration phase. It is important that the necessary regulatory arrangements are determined and in place prior to the expansion of the industry. Finally, there should be a consolidated regulatory regime specifically for fracking. (Paragraph 73)

14. We welcome the Environment Agency’s inclusion of mandatory conditions for baseline monitoring in the draft permits for the two sites currently pending planning permission. Mandatory baselines and continued monitoring, covering all relevant indicators, must be conducted. (Paragraph 74)

15. It is unacceptable that there are no monitoring requirements for abandoned wells and this should be remedied immediately. We agree with the Environment Agency that it is “essential that [commercial operators] take responsibility for their work” and conduct their own monitoring “in accordance with the standards that are set in [the Environment Agency’s] monitoring certification scheme”, and welcome the Agency’s recognition of the “the desirability of some independent monitoring at this stage of the industry’s development.” Monitoring by the commercial operator should be supplemented with such independent monitoring in all cases to increase public confidence in the results. The regulators must conduct regular unannounced spot checks and audits of all fracking sites, and facilitate a clear and accessible public disclosure of all monitoring data. (Paragraph 75)

16. It is imperative that commercial operators have sufficient resources and insurance to cover full liability in the event of a pollution incident. Licences, permits and permissions must not be issued if this cannot be demonstrated. We welcome the industry’s efforts to develop an insurance mechanism: this must be in place in advance of any fracking activity. (Paragraph 76)

17. Public acceptance—what Tom Burke called a ‘social licence’—is critical in determining whether fracking should continue in the UK. We can envisage the development of a regulatory regime fit for the purpose of fracking but we are unable to see at this stage how the crucial ‘social licence’ can be established when the debate around fracking is so polarised. The openness of all involved is vital. Publishing only a redacted report on Shale Gas Rural Economy Impacts has not been helpful in this regard. We asked Defra for an un-redacted version of the report during our inquiry, and this should now be published as soon as possible. The Government and industry must be transparent and make publicly available all other information relating to fracking as a matter of course. (Paragraph 79)

18. This proposed change in trespass law has serious implications for citizens’ rights which could unnecessarily undermine the democratic process for objecting to development. On this issue, the public have spoken and the Government must listen. (Paragraph 80)

[To be profitable and avoid liability, fracing needs secrecy, cover-ups, gag orders and mass deregulation.]

19. The Government must fully engage with the work of the Task Force [on Shale Gas] on the climate change and environmental risks, and await its findings before proceeding further with fracking in the UK. We called for a moratorium on fracking because it cannot be accommodated within our climate change obligations. A halt is also needed on environmental grounds, and it is essential that further independent studies into the impacts of fracking in the UK are completed to help resolve the environmental risk uncertainties. It is vital that the precautionary principle is applied. Until uncertainties are fully resolved, and the required regulatory and monitoring system improvements we identify are introduced, there should also be a moratorium on the extraction of unconventional gas through fracking on environmental grounds. (Paragraph 83)

Formal Minutes


Published written evidence

List of Reports from the Committee during the current Parliament

[Refer also to:

2013: Pennsylvania Supreme Court Says It’s Unconstitutional For Gas Companies To Frack Wherever They Want; Act 13, Gas Industry Takeover Law thrown out by State’s Highest Court

“By any responsible account,” Chief Justice Castille wrote, “the exploitation of the Marcellus Shale Formation will produce a detrimental effect on the environment, on the people, their children, and the future generations, and potentially on the public purse, perhaps rivaling the environmental effects of coal extraction.” ]

This entry was posted in Global Frac News. Bookmark the permalink.