Fallon on deaf ears?

Michael Fallon MP has been Minister of State for Energy since September 2012 – it’s a role in which people don’t seem to last a long time. Previous recent incumbents have been Charles Hendry and John Hayes.

Speaking at the first meeting of the new All Party Parliamentary Group for Unconventional Gas and Oil (APPG) in the House of Commons yesterday, Fallon said the government hopes to “accelerate shale gas development in a responsible way” by creating “the right framework“. He added that “robust regulation is now in place“.

Having researched specifically the issues of regulation and monitoring (at a UK and EU level) over the last three years, I can assure the Minister he is entirely incorrect – just as I had to assure his two predecessors.

They made very similar statements about regulation to Mr. Fallon’s until I met them and explained just how poor the regulatory framework was. They then changed the tone of their statements considerably and in the case of Mr. Hendry was promptly re-shuffled off to the back benches for his pains. Mr. Hayes clearly couldn’t get out fast enough, but, whilst he was in post, he assured me he would act on my findings. He did at least set up the Office for Unconventional Gas and Oil but, as expected, that has proven itself to be nothing but a talking shop with no action whatsoever coming out of it.

A senior civil servant at the DECC informed me only last week that there were to be absolutely no new regulations at all. It looks as though Mr. Fallon clearly needs better advice and needs to consult his Department, rather than his SPADs, more often. We have no new regulations and minimal monitoring – it’s business as usual for Cuadrilla and Co. That’s more than can be said for the Health and Safety Executive . The only regulator who understood anything about oil and gas (the OSD – Offshore Safety Division at the HSE) has been scrapped (“re-structured” in State Speak) and we are left with a HSE in disarray and an Environment Agency that is naïve when it comes to oil and gas exploration.

To add some meat to these bones, the OSD (when it existed) did not visit any of the wells in Lancashire even once to verify and inspect for well integrity. This is a simple statement but it means that any amount of leakage, methane migration, or chemicals leaking into formations and the aquifer could have happened, and we’d know nothing about it. That’s what monitoring and ensuring well integrity is all about preventing. The OSD relied on a fax every Friday from Cuadrilla telling then it was all just fine. As for the EA, they classify fracturing flow-back fluid as non-toxic when, according to their own records (as tested by them after the author insisted this was done back in Dec 2011), it contains lead at 1,438 times drinking water, arsenic at 20 times, cadmium 150 times, chromium at 636 times and radiation at 90 times the EA’s own limit. They fail to grasp the fact that this fluid is subject to the risk of leakage 3 miles below the surface where the EA cannot inspect and have neither the resources nor the expertise to do so.

With no new regulations and minimal inspections I can reliably inform Mr. Fallon he is wrong in stating that “robust regulation is now in place“. I would happily meet him to explain, but I fear he would be in danger of being re-shuffled shortly after. Listening to and acting on the truth seems to be more dangerous to a political career than burying your head deep in the sand.

Let’s be clear here – without adequate regulation fracking must not happen – but it is happening and we are not protected!

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