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Environment Agency to tighten up UK onshore drilling regulation

28 June 2013

David Forster, strategy manager at the Environment Agency (EA), told a shale gas conference in Manchester on June 25 it was currently reviewing its regulatory position over onshore oil and gas wells. Operators will soon require permits for mining waste and flaring, which could delay drilling as it will require companies to conduct extra public consultation.

This follows a challenge by Friends of the Earth, which argued a proposed Cuadrilla well at Balcombe in West Sussex required permits under European regulations introduced two years ago.Up until now, onshore drilling has avoided regulatory oversight. 

The EA concluded the campaigners were right and Cuadrilla has now said it will apply for permits, delaying its work in Balcombe by several months. Although Cuadrilla is best known for fracking for shale gas in Lancashire, the Balcombe well is targeting oil and will not involve fracking at this stage..

The decision creates a precedent that will now be applied to all onshore exploratory drilling. The permits were designed for mining and quarrying but were “being applied by the European Commission to oil and gas exploration, particularly shale gas”, Forster said.

Operators have already complained that gaining planning permission - a separate process approved by councils - is becoming more difficult for conventional oil and gas wells.

However, the EA will also soon announce plans to significantly streamline and speed up the permitting process.

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