This consultation is one of a series of Environment Agency consultations on onshore oil and gas rules and regulations. The general aim of these rule changes are to allow oil and gas companies to apply for Standard Permits for particular parts of the operation, rather than have to apply for a Bespoke Permit every time, which is what they currently have to do.
Check out the Independent article that broke the news in the mainstream press.
This particular consultation is regarding a change in the rules that would allow oil and gas companies to apply for a Standard Permit for what they call ‘leak off tests’ (otherwise known as fall off tests or test-fracs). According to the Consultation Document, p9: “Leak off testing is the testing of a rock formation is to establish reservoir engineering data and to establish if and at what pressure the formation becomes permeable. This test involves short duration, small volume fracturing operations to gather data/evidence.”
The Environment Agency is also proposing to allow oil and gas companies to use acid washes or acidization of oil and gas wells via a Standard Permit. According to the Consultation document, acid washing “is used to restore the natural porosity of rock – often reduced in the drilling process – to improve the flow of oil or gas.”
The consultation asks for the opinions of all interested parties on the proposals, and can be found at this link. The key document to look at, if you want to go digging, is the (not-too-hard-to-understand) Consultation Document, which you can download by clicking on the link at the top of the Consulation page of the EA website.
This consultation was apparently posted in March, but has only recently come to our attention. The deadline for commenting is 23.45 on Monday 15th June.
As with most of these types of consultation, there’s quite a lot of technical detail, particularly when you get into the Draft Standard Rules documents on the above link. However, you do not need to have intimate knowledge of the Oil and Gas industry to respond to the consultation, and responses are encouraged from the public, community groups and non-governmental organisations with an interest in environmental issues.
The EA asks people to answer 7 questions regarding the consultation. You can respond in two ways.
1 Go to the Consultation page and click on the ‘Add Comments’ tab. You don’t need to register or log in to do this, and seems the easiest option.
Please make sure you say whether you are responding as an individual or on behalf of an organisation. (Note that we have already responded on behalf of Frack Free Ryedale, so don’t do that!).
2 Alternatively, write your own version and email it to the EA at email@example.com.
WHAT YOU CAN SAY
The EA asks people to answer seven questions regarding the consultation (further comments on this rather odd approach below). Here are some suggested points you can make. You can cut’n’paste the sections you’re in a rush. However, please try to use your own words if possible, as personalised comments are more effective. These suggested points are also available on this Word Document if that’s easier for you:
EA Standard Rules Consultation No 11 – guidelines
1 Do you agree with our approach to use standard rules for these onshore oil and gas activities?
No. (tick box)
Here are some issues we found with this section. I’m sure you can add your own too!
Standard Permits should only be considered for techniques that have been used in different parts of the UK for a number of years, when there is enough documented evidence that they completely safe. Lead off testing and acid washing are both very new techniques to the UK and are certainly not considered to be risk-free.
Each potential well-site has its own unique conditions of geology, water courses, population, weather, ecology, etc. so needs to be assessed on its own merits, with on-site inspections and bespoke permits a bare minimum.
Currently, as oil and gas companies have to apply for bespoke permits for these activities, the local community can comment and provide input into the permit procedure. Standard Permits would remove the right of local communities to be involved in the process.
Standard Rules are being proposed for these techniques simply to make it easier and cheaper for oil and gas companies to drill and conduct testing without having to be involved in public consultation.
In section 2 of the Consultation Document it says the EA has ‘a policy of increased consultation and engagement on permit applications where we consider there is, or is likely to be a high degree of public interest.’ What would the local community have to do to persuade the EA that a particular well requires ‘increased consultation and engagement’? Surely all these applications will fall into this category at the current time, when opposition to unconventional gas production is so strong?
2 Do you agree with the proposed new rules that we have set out in section 3 of this consultation?
No. (tick box)
We felt that the key overall point to make in this section is about self-regulation and lack of monitoring- please use your own wording:
In the rules for a Standard Permit, the onus for monitoring leak off testing, acid washing and related activities is almost entirely the responsibility of the operator – essentially making the industry self-regulating. There appears to be no provision for site visits by the Environment Agency, essentially leaving the industry self-regulated.
We would urge the EA to inforce a rigorous – and random – inspection regime, which involves a weekly visit to each site. Simply asking the operator to send in documents at the end of each month that they have written themselves, based on machines they calibrate themselves, will do nothing to convince the general public that this industry is monitored safely – or indeed being monitored at all. A self-regulating industry is a self-serving industry, one where environmental protection takes second place to the needs of the company’s shareholders.
Here a some specific rules that we were unhappy about. (feel free to pick and choose, changing the wording if possible). This is based on the SR120215 No 1 – Mining waste activity document on the Consultation page, if you want to get into it further – we’re sure you can find other things that you’re not happy with!
You can also add some further comments on the following rules, which are some that we had problems with.
Section 1.1 General Management. Well management records should be a matter of public record and available to all.
1.2.1 (c) – This definition of waste disposal ‘in a manner which minimises the effect on the environment’ is far too vague. Waste disposal, should be a bespoke activity, and individually managed by the EA.
Table 2.1 – the definitions in this table contain no reference to quantity, time of storage or method of disposal. It appears to effectively give operators a free rein to dispose of waste almost as it wishes.
The second activity, well decommissioning, is not one of the activities that the Standard Permit is designed for, so should be excluded from the table.
A stronger and more accurate definition of ‘temporary storage’ for extractive waste should be included citing specific time limits.
2.2.2 (a) “10 metres of any watercourse” is too close for such activities as acid washing and lead off testing.
2.2.2 (b) Groundwater Protection Zone 3 should be included in the provision.
2.2.2 (d) 200m from an SSSI cannot be given as a blanket condition, as this depends on the nature of the SSSI, the ecology protected by this area, the wildlife that inhabits it, etc.
2.2.2 (e) There is no definition of “sensitive receptor”, which makes this hard to comment on. However, if this means that a well-site can be close to a school, or a hospital, or a housing estate, this would again be far too close.
Section 3.1.1. states “There shall be no point source emissions to air, water or land.” How is this to be monitored and enforced?
Section 3.2.1 states that “Emissions of substances not controlled by emission limits (excluding odour) shall not cause pollution.” I would agree with this. However, the clause goes on to say that “The operator shall not be taken to have breached this rule if appropriate measures … have been taken to prevent or where that is not practicable, to minimise, those emissions.”
This seems to allow operators to pollute as much as they wish, as long as they can claim that they tried to stop it in the first place.
Sections 3.3.2 and 3.4.1 state that “Emissions from the activities shall be free from odour / noise and vibration at levels likely to cause pollution outside the site, as perceived by an authorised officer of the Environment Agency.” Given that this is the text for a Standard Permit, which would be issued without visits by the EA staff, how can these clauses be enforced?
The section goes on to say “…unless the operator has used appropriate measures, including, but not limited to, those specified in the waste management plan, to prevent or where that is not practicable, to minimise, the odour / noise and vibration.” This again seems to give the operator permission to produce as much odour noise and vibration as it wishes, provided that it can say that it has tried to minimise it.
These clauses relating to the environment provide no protection whatsoever for the public and communities near the site.
Section 3.5.2 states ‘If required by the Environment Agency, the operator shall take such samples and conduct such measurements, tests, surveys, analyses and calculations, including environmental measurements and assessments, at such times and using such methods and equipment as the Environment Agency may specify.”
Monitoring of these activities should always be compulsory, not optional. If there is to be no site visit by the EA, how are they to decide if this is required? Also, samples should be taken by the EA, not the operator, as this allows the operator to effectively self-regulate its own operations.
Clause 3.5.4 should specify how frequently calibration should be undertaken – weekly, as a minimum – and should be conducted by the EA, not by the operator.
Records and reporting – Simply asking the operator to send their own documents, written by their own employees, to the EA once a month counts as adequate regulation or monitoring. Or count as monitoring at all …
3 Have we correctly identified all the risks for each activity, as described in the generic risk assessments associated with the consultation?
No, (tick box)
Again, I’m sure you can say a lot of different things here based on your own knowledge and experience, here are some ideas:
This Consultation and the Standard Permit rules do not go into enough detail about many of the environmental and health risks of lead off testing and acid washing, and sets inadequate and unmonitored guidelines for air, noise, odour and water monitoring.
As discussed in section 2, this will result in a self-monitoring, self-regulating industry, and the EA should be identify the risks more clearly.
The documents discusses using Hydrochloric Acid and (in the Minerals and Waste document) hydrofluoric acid for acid treatments. The use of hydrofluoric acid in particular is very worrying. Hydrofluoric Acid is in the top ten most toxic chemicals in the oil and gas industry, and there are calls for it to be banned in the US by the USW Steel Workers Union. The acid manufacturer, Honeywell, says that hydrofluoric Acid irritates the nose and throat at three parts per million, and concentrations of 9.5% cause pain, blistering and swelling. This chemical should be banned completely on health and environmental grounds, and the general point of pouring acid into the ground is something that remains highly questionable, particular with no monitoring by outside agencies.
You can read more about hydrofluoric acid on the Drill or Drop site.
There is also no mention of the dangers of storing and transporting Hydrochloric Acid and Hydrofluoric Acid, which is a major concern.
4 Are there any barriers to complying with the standard rules?
It starts to get a bit weird here, as it sounds like the next three questions are aimed solely at the oil and gas industry … here’s a possible response, you may have other ideas.
The industry would probably be extremely happy if Standard Permits were introduced, as they would allow the industry to effectively monitor itself, there is very little compulsory regulation, and there appears to be no site visits by the EA or independent oversight once the permit has been issued. However, as a (concerned resident), I am very concerned about … etc. etc.
5 Do you think that the introduction of standard rules for these activities will have a significant financial impact overall on your operation? If you agree or disagree, please explain why, and provide evidence to support your view of the likely impacts.
Hmmm… I thought this was a consultation aimed at everyone, not just the oil and gas companies. You could say something like this:
This question is clearly directed at the oil and gas industry – as shown by the reference to ‘your operation – and is inappropriate to ask this in a general consultation, to which the public, community groups and environmental protection groups are also invited to respond.
If proof is needed that these rule changes are being made solely to assist the oil and gas industry, at the expense of community involvement and environmental protection, people need only to look at the wording of this question.
6 Are there any other activities that you think would benefit from the standard permitting approach or future revisions?
Again, this appears to be asking the industry ‘What else would you like the EA to relax the rules on?’ We would therefore answer – nothing!
7 Please tell us if you have any other views or comments on these proposed revisions that have not been covered by previous questions.
In this final section, you can add anything else you like about the consultation, or any other issues that you want to include., and perhaps add some comments about fracking in general. Such as …
The aim of this consultation appears to be to simply reduce the complex and unique aspects of environmental protection to a series of tick-boxes, which will allow the industry to be essentially self-regulating. I strongly oppose Standard Permits.
It is clear that the rules are being rewritten at the behest of the oil and gas industry to enable the ‘dash for gas’ to begin, with little or no consideration for local democracy, environmental protection, human health or the precautionary principle.
To finish off, we went for something on ‘cardboard-standard’ regulations…
Even if the UK used to have ‘gold-standard’ regulations for the oil and gas industry – which is a point many people would strongly disagree with – after the changes in the law over the last twelve months, and industry-led consultations such as these, it is clear that onshore oil and gas regulations in the UK can only be described as ‘cardboard-standard’, at best.
Well done, guys, thanks for getting to the end. And don’t forget to click ‘send’ on the consultation! Deadline is Monday 23.45 (although if you’ve missed it, I’d still send it by email – see above – as they often take late submissions).
Frack Free Ryedale’s official response is shown below: