UK regulation of onshore unconventional oil and gas exploration
17 December 2012
UK environment agencies and the HSE are responsible for the regulation of unconventional gas, a term that includes natural gas produced from underground shale rock (shale gas). This gas is extracted from the rock using a technique called hydraulic fracturing (known as ‘fracking’), which is also sometimes used for coal bed methanes and more conventional oil and gas wells.
The Environment Agency (EA) in England and Wales, and Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) are the environmental regulators who monitor the environmental aspects of shale gas fracking. The key regulation that governs how shale gas fracking operators comply with environmental laws is the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2010.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) monitors shale gas operations from a well integrity and site safety perspective, ensuring that safe working practices are adopted by onshore operators as required under the Health and Safety at Work Etc Act 1974, and regulations made under the Act. These specifically are:
*The Borehole Site and Operations Regulations 1995 (BSOR) applies to shale gas operations.
(These regulations are primarily concerned with the health and safety management of the site).
*The Offshore Installations and Wells (Design and Construction, etc) Regulations 1996 (DCR) apply to all wells drilled with a view to the extraction of petroleum regardless of whether they are onshore or offshore. (These regulations are primarily concerned with well integrity).
HSE works closely with the Environment Agency (EA) and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to share relevant information on such activities and to ensure that there are no material gaps between the safety, environmental protection and planning authorisation considerations, and that all material concerns are addressed.
The Environment Agency and HSE have a ‘Working Together Agreement’ that explains the joint approach to the regulation of unconventional oil and gas developments.
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