PEDL Licence consultation – how to respond

PEDL Licences 14th Round - 20th AugustOn 18th August, the Government announced a new round of PEDL licences, which allow companies to explore for conventional and unconventional oil and gas deposits – which would include fracking.

27 new licences have already been offered to companies (shown in light green), and a second group of 132 further blocks is subject to detailed assessment under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010. These are shown in dark green on the map above. You can see the map of the whole country by clicking here, or by visiting an interactive version of the map provided by the Oil and Gas Authority. This map shows the status of each PEDL licences block and who owns it (if already allocated).

How can I tell if my town or village is in a new PEDL Licence block area?

SE79-North-York-Moors-North-of-Cropton[1]An excellent place to start is the Drill or Drop 14th Licensing Round Portal. This includes a clickable map of the UK, by region. Click on a block on the map at the top of the page, and you will be taken to a regional map. Click on a particular block, and you will see the PEDL licence map for that block and all other relevant information. The bright red boundary on the map is the area of the licence, and the dark red boundary is the 10km ‘zone of impact’.

Alternatively, you can go straight to this excellent interactive list of Towns and Villages Licensed in the 14th Round, and then you can search by region. If you find the town or village you are looking for, you can then click through to the information on the relevant licence block on the Drill or Drop site.

For a round-up of the licences in North Yorkshire, please visit on our PEDL Licences 14th Round page.

What is the consultation about?

The Government is required to consult if any licence area contains areas that are protected under EU wildlife legislation. A Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) is required to be carried out under EU law in relation to activities which are “likely to have a significant effect” on species and habitats of “community interest”. This include the following:

  • Ramsar Sites (these are Wetlands of National Importance)
  • Special Protection Areas (SPAs, which are protected under the Wild Birds Directive)
  • Special Areas of Conservation (SACs, protected under the Habitats Directive)

The Government have assessed each of the sites and have made recommendations on the level of protection each one should be given. These range from ‘no conditions proposed’ to not allowing any activity on or near the protected EU sites. Note, however, these restrictions would only apply to the protected sites, not the whole block, and may allow companies to set up near the site and drill horizontally underneath them.

For further information on how the assessment works, please visit the excellent Friends of the Earth briefing on the consultation.

You can also read the Government’s guidelines on how they assessed the various PEDL Licence sites by going to their Consultation Document.

What about other areas protected for nature that are protected under UK law?

Unfortunately these are not included in the consultation and the Government has not indicated that they will be consulting on any sites that have UK protection only. They are only consulting on the EU sites as that is required by EU law.

Typical. When’s the deadline for responses?

Responses need to be in by Tuesday 29th September, at 11.45 pm.

How can I respond to the consultation?

You can find the consultation itself on the DECC Consultation Hub.

As you’ll see, the consultation is very limited in scope and is related to the HRA process. The first four questions in the consultation shouldn’t be too taxing (if you are responding as an individual, not from an organisation, just put ‘None’ for Q3).

Question 5 reads: Do you have any comments on the Habitats Regulations Assessment carried out for the 14th onshore oil and gas licensing round?

Here are some possible responses, which you can cut and paste from here straight onto the consultation (or put in your own words if you have time). You don’t have to include them all, pick the ones that you feel most strongly about.

– The government has only allowed six weeks for organisations and individuals to respond to the consultations, and some of that time fell within the holiday period. The Government’s own guidelines say that complex consultations such as this should have a minimum of 12 weeks consultation period. Why have these guidelines not been adhered to in this case, and will the government extend the consultation for another six weeks to redress this error?

– This consultation has been framed in such a way that it is very difficult for people without specialist ecological experience or knowledge to respond. For example, there there is no easily accessible link to allow the average person to check if all SPAs and SACs are included in the Government’s consultation. This feels an inappropriate way to conduct a public consultation and designed specifically to discourage the average person to respond.

– This consultation is very limited in scope and only refers to protected areas that are protected under EU law. Why is the UK Government not also conducting a Habitats Regulations Assessment of wildlife sites protected under UK law, such as National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), Areas of Special Protection (AoSPs), Local Nature Reserves (LNRs), Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINCs) and Sites of Nature Conservation Interest (SNCIs)?

– The very limited scope of assessment is based on the assumption that designated areas are the only significant habitat worth protecting from oil and gas development. The Habitat regulations themselves are ambiguous and convoluted and difficult to understand for most people.

– The differing levels of protection and buffer zones suggested is based on the assumption that fracking is little different from conventional oil and gas. Site numbers, well numbers, water use, emissions, infrastructure, etc. for fracking far exceeds that for conventional gas, and should be taken into account when deciding if this is appropriate for the area.

– Although the exclusion of oil and gas development on the EU protected sites listed in this consultation is welcomed, this is already enshrined in EU law, and as such drilling in these areas is already forbidden. What, therefore, is the purpose of this consultation?

– Given that the EU protected sites in this consultation are already protected by EU law, it is inappropriate for fracking to be allowed underneath these sites by establishing wells just outside the buffer zone. This banning of fracking under any and all protected areas should be included in the results of the consultation and enshrined in law.

– This consultation appears to only be concerned with land use, and what activity may be permitted on or beneath the ground. However, many protected species, such as bats and many species of birds, need protection from the noise and light pollution that inevitably accompanies oil and gas production, particularly fracking. This can carry many miles and can be damaging and disorientating to these species.

– EU law enshrines the principle of the precautionary approach, which means that where there is doubt about impacts on the environment, this should not prevent action being taken to ensure environmental protection. Given the precautionary nature of the legal protection these sites have, and given the widely reported environmental problems that fracking has caused elsewhere in the world, surely the only safe thing would be to ban fracking anywhere near any protected site.

– The allocation of a 1km buffer zone is arbitrary and not adequate for many protected sites. The size of the buffer zone to give protection for a protected bird or bat species in the protected site should be far greater than 1km, for example. Ramsar sites, for example, should have a minimum of 10km buffer areas, to allow the wildfowl that live there space to roam and feed. While this is currently suggested in the consultation, this is merely a recommendation, not a statutory requirement, and a 10 km buffer zone should be made compulsory for all sites which contain protected bird and bat species.

– A protected species that lives in the EU protected sites is still protected under EU law when it leaves the site. What safeguards and monitoring procedures are in place to conserve these protected species when they roam beyond the boundaries of the sites, and how much field assessment will take place to ascertain this?

– The consultation takes no account of cumulative impact, for example if the licence area already contains onshore oil and gas wells, other related infrastructure (for example, power stations), or other industry. This should be taken into account when issuing licences that could result in widespread fracking in the area.

– This consultation appears to be simply a ‘desktop study’ that has undergone no on-site field work or assessment. This is inappropriate for such an important consultation and there should be a further round of on-the-ground study before any more licence blocks are sold off.

– There are a number of assumptions underpinning the conclusions of this survey, for example that fracking would not affect any area more than 10km away from a fracking site. This has not been verified, and does not take into account the amount of noise, traffic and light pollution a fracking site – particularly a multi-well pad – could have on the surrounding area. Given that this appears to be an arbitrary figure, the precautionary principle should apply until there is more convincing evidence that this is the case.

– On 15th January, Amber Rudd told the House of Commons that fracking would be banned in SSSIs, only to break that promise when guidelines were issued via secondary legislation in July. The government must announce that fracking will be prohibited in SSSIs, not only on the surface, but also underneath and within a buffer zone surrounding the area.

Of course, feel free to add your own points too. Try to make the relevant to habitat and wildlife consultation, not just about fracking in general.

10407318_103762793306898_7906153390909481145_n[1]I’d like to go into this a bit deeper. How would I go about that?

If you have any experience of environmental law and nature protection, or are just of an enquiring mind, you might like to have a look at the Final Report on the Government’s consultation. This document includes a lot of background on how the consultation has been established and how they came to their conclusions.

We suggest you look at sections 3 and 4 of this report, which outlines the way the consultation has been assessed, and then comment on the way this has been done.

And if you really want to get stuck into it, please visit the Habitat Regulations Consultation landing page, which includes links to the Technical Report and Appendix A, and Appendices B-D. These give all the detail related to the Final Report.

OK, what about the question 6? How do I respond to that?

Question 6 is as follows: Do you have any comments on the assessments carried out for individual licence Blocks? (you may wish to comment on more than one Block). Please provide the reference for the Block you are commenting on (e.g. SD26a).

This one is a bit trickier, and you can either make some general points about particular licence blocks or – if you’re something of an armchair ecologist or have some experience in the field of nature protection – you can take some time digging around in the lists of protected species and come up with a more detailed set of comments.

The best way to begin this is to find a particular block that you are interested in, perhaps because it’s where you live, or maybe you live in the 10 km impact zone surrounding it.

If you are in North Yorkshire, you can go to our 14th Round PEDL licence page and look at the maps there.

Alternatively, you can find the map via Drill or Drop 14th Licensing Round Portal or via the Towns and Villages Licensed in the 14th Round document.

You can also go to the site to access the complete set of maps.

You can make comments on the following things:

Are there any protected areas in the block that are not marked? Although this is a consultation only on the EU protected areas, it perhaps wouldn’t hurt to point out all the other protected areas that you know of in the block, or nearby.

Any protected species that you know of that also live in the area, e.g. bat colonies, otters, hares, barn owls, etc., but are not in the designated areas.

Although the consultation doesn’t ask for your personal comments, you may feel the need to explain how fracking in this area would affect wildlife in general, and your opposition to allowing the fracking industry to drill in your back yard.

You can also add a comment about the complete lack of clear guidelines for the average person to comment on this section of the consultation, effectively making it inaccessible to all but professional ecologists, and that this is not a fair and reasonable consultation.

You can repeat your demand that there is a full consultation on ALL protected areas in the licence, not just EU designated sites.

Then, just send it in!

Actually, I’m a bit of a wildlife boffin (or an ecologist). How can I get further involved in this and make more specific comments?

Check to see if they have missed out any protected SAC, SPA or Ramsar sites from your licence block(s). You can find a full list of SACs and SPAs on the Natural England site, and the Ramsar sites . Another useful site is the Joint Nature Conservation Committee site and use the drop-down menus on the right.

Find the SACs, SPAs and Ramsar Sites in the area(s) you are concerned about using the Joint Nature Conservation Committee site. At the bottom of each page is a list of protected species that are of specific interest in this area. If you can comment on these species (e.g. rarity, spread, , or include any information on other protected species in the area, and how fracking would affect them, that would be help.

If you have any comments, or other suggestions of how to respond to this consultation, please use the comments box below. And thanks for reading this far!

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