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UK needs fracking regulatory supremo

Words: Laura Edgar

There should be a dedicated regulator for onshore underground energy to address the UK’s current planning and regulatory system, says a new report.

UK Planning, Regulation and Local Engagement is the Task Force on Shale Gas’s first interim report since its launch in September 2014.

The group aims to “provide an impartial, transparent and evidence-based assessment of the potential benefits and risks of shale gas extraction to the United Kingdom”.

The onshore underground regulator, says the report, should take on the responsibilities of the Environment Agency (EA), Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the regulatory activities of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). The regulator would also have joint accountability to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the DECC.

Before the establishment of this regulator, the report adds, the existing system, which it described as “complex”, should continue to operate because it does work.

But, the task force explains, if the industry develops and the number of applications increases, a simpler system would be required. Therefore, “a new government after 7 May 2015 should legislate as soon as possible” for a new regulator.

Lord Chris Smith, chair of the Task Force on Shale Gas, said: “Speaking to local communities, we have been struck by how complex the regulatory framework appears, and how this leads to a lack of confidence in the system.

“We believe the creation of a new, bespoke regulator for onshore underground energy would command more public confidence for ensuring proper monitoring and regulation of any proposed shale gas industry.”

The task force also recommends that:

  •  Proactive, independent monitoring must be undertaken by the new regulator to ensure that all sites are compliant with permits so that, the task force explains, “the public can be assured that any examples of poor implementation are being identified and remedied”.
  •  The risk assessment should be readily understandable.
  •  Local authorities should have a statutory duty to consult the new regulator when assessing an application.
  • Consultation and community engagement must begin before a proposal is formally submitted to the new regulator or planning authority.