House of Commons Library

Shale gas and fracking

Published Tuesday, November 6, 2018

A House of Commons Library Briefing Paper providing an overview of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for shale in the UK, including the UK Government support and proposals, opposition in the devolved Administrations, the regulatory regime (petroleum exploration and development licences, environmental, planning, health and safety), and wider potential implications of fracking on communities and mitigation of these.

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What is fracking?

Hydraulic fracturing (known as fracking) is a technique used to extract gas or oil from subterranean rock by injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals (known as ‘fracturing fluid’) at high pressure into horizontally drilled boreholes.  Hydraulic fracturing is not a new technique and has been carried out both offshore and onshore in the UK for many years. However, fracking for shale gas in the UK is in the very early stages (exploration).

Political support and opposition for fracking

The UK Government is encouraging shale gas exploration to determine its potential to provide the UK with greater energy security, growth and jobs. The Government has introduced, or plans to introduce, a number of measure to support such exploration, including:

  • Sharing the proceeds of the wealth generated with communities affected;
  • Legislating to change planning law and policy;
  • Setting up a new Shale Environmental Regulator.

However, all the main opposition parties (Labour, Scottish National Party, Liberal Democrats and the Green Party) are opposed to fracking and have committed to stop or ban the practice. Similarly, each of the devolved Administrations have planning measures in place which prevent or create a presumption against unconventional oil and gas development (which includes shale gas). The licensing of onshore oil and gas has recently been devolved to Scotland and Wales and both governments are carrying out assessments or consultation on final policy positions on onshore oil and gas exploration (including fracking).

Regulatory regime

Before commencing drilling operations for onshore oil and gas development (including shale gas) an operator must attain several permissions, including a petroleum exploration and development licence (PEDL), planning permission (unless permitted development rights apply) and environmental permits. For hydraulic fracturing for shale the last of these permissions is a Hydraulic Fracturing Consent issued by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy which is only issued once a list of pre-conditions are satisfied. To date, only two such consents have been issued: both to Cuadrilla Bowland Ltd for two separate wells on its Preston New Road Site in Lancashire. Cuadrilla commenced fracking at this site in October 2018.

Community engagement

Results from the Government’s Energy and Climate Change Public Attitudes Tracker (March 2018) found that 47% polled neither supported nor opposed fracking; 17% supported or strongly supported fracking; and 32% opposed or strongly opposed fracking. Shale gas extraction and fracking has received significant Parliamentary attention, community and media interest. Like most industrial processes there are identifiable risks, including geological risks like potential induced seismicity; and environmental risks like water contamination. There is a detailed regulatory framework in place to reduce these risks to a level deemed acceptable by the regulators. A number of independent reports and analysis are available which examine including economic, environmental, seismic events, greenhouse gas emissions and health and safety. In addition, the industry has committed to a Community Engagement Charter to try to address some concerns and provide benefits to local communities including:

  • At exploration stage, £100,000 in community benefits per well-site where fracking takes place
  • 1% of revenues at production will be paid out to communities.
  • Operators will publish evidence each year of how they have met these commitments.

Commons Briefing papers SN06073

Authors: Sara Priestley; Suzanna Hinson

Topics: Climate change, Energy, Environmental protection, Oil, petrol and natural gas, Planning, Pollution

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