Last month the
Infrastructure Bill was given Royal Assent by the House of Lords after passing
tumultuously through Parliament. The Act includes a wide variety of provisions
across the infrastructure brief, including policy on hydraulic fracturing which
has largely been the cause for the Act’s rollercoaster ride to publication.
The Act has
attracted interest from anti-fracking groups and politicians who have attempted
to include a number of amendments designed at restricting hydraulic fracturing
in the UK. A vote for a moratorium on hydraulic
fracturing in England was unsuccessful though an outright ban on hydraulic
fracturing in national parks, sites of special scientific interest and areas of
outstanding natural beauty was introduced.
Although a number
of stringent regulatory measures have been introduced into the Act, UKOOG – the
representative body for the UK onshore oil and gas industry – has maintained
that most of the amendments are in line with best practice and codify the
principles of regulators which govern the industry.
There is still some work to do on the Infrastructure Act, with several
key clauses and definitions remaining incomplete and as such requiring
clarification and definition in secondary legislation. These next steps will be
in the hands of the new government by the end of July 2015.
Specific clarifications include the definition of groundwater source protection
zones – so called SPZs. Whether secondary legislation prohibits shale gas
developments on all defined categories of SPZs or just the most critical SPZ1
remains to be seen. Similarly, whereas the
Infrastructure Act prohibits shale gas developments within national
parks and other protected areas, it is not yet clear if horizontal wells may be
drilled from outside to inside such prohibited areas.
Other issues addressed within the Infrastructure Act include;
The prohibition of high volume hydraulic
fracturing at less than 1000 metres from the surface.
The need for baseline monitoring for
methane in groundwater for a minimum of 12 months prior to hydraulic
Independent inspection to determine the
integrity of wells.
Environment Agency approval for all
chemicals used in the fracture fluid.
year is panning out to be a critical one for the UK shale gas industry. With a
general election in May it is looking increasingly likely that the 14th
round announcement will take place under a new Government. With so much uncertainty over the new
Government , the detail and
implementation of secondary legislation remains unclear.