A number of constituents have been in touch to raise their concerns about reports that the shale gas industry wishes to review the regulations regarding earthquakes caused by fracking.
The safe development of shale gas will be good for jobs, good for our energy security, and help the UK to decarbonise its economy. I believe that we need a diverse energy mix, and that shale gas can play a part in that.
There is a very low risk that shale gas extraction could cause any noticeable tremor at the surface. Operators must now use all available geological information to assess the location of faults before wells are drilled and monitor seismic activity before during and after operations.
The Oil & Gas Authority regulates on-site micro seismicity using a traffic light system. If activity passes a very low, precautionary threshold, it is immediately paused. This threshold, a 'red light' in the traffic light system, is set at 0.5 on the Richter scale, equivalent to less ground movement than you would feel from a passing car. For context, according to the British Geological Survey, we have on average 166 naturally occurring events of magnitude 2.9 or below each year in the UK, most of which go unnoticed. Despite reports in the press, I am assured that there are no plans to review this traffic light system.
In addition, regarding concerns about the licencing system for shale development, safety is of paramount importance when considering sites from which to extract shale gas. Even when a Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence is granted, a drilling operation cannot just begin. A number of further permissions and consents must also be given. These include planning permission from the Minerals Planning Authority, environmental permits from the Environment Agency, and scrutiny by the Health and Safety Executive. The regulatory regime is robust and provides clear, strong protection for the environment.
The UK has world leading environmental regulations and with these safeguards in place, I think it is right that we explore and make use of shale gas and oil. The opportunity to extract this energy, as well as to secure jobs and investment, cannot be ignored.