Frack free families

Doe Green, Warrington IGAS Coal Bed Methane Site, where is the EA?

Back in April four brave folk locked themselves to equipment at an iGAS site in Warrington. They were raising awareness of unconventional gas extraction occuring in the UK right now, at the Doe Green coal bed methane production site. Several wells have been drilled, fracked (not HVHP fracking) and gas is now flowing from the coal seams and being used to generate electricity. The campaigners are in court today.

This site had gone mostly under the radar of the campaign in general and hadn’t received much scrutiny. When the EA were contacted, we discovered the site had not been subject to permitting and the EA couldn’t answer any of our questions. They didn’t know if any emissions monitoring had taken place, they didn’t know what chemicals were in use, what testing of water was happening etc. The only input I could find from the EA was from the planning application back in 2011, where they approved plans for fracking as long as only water and slurry were used. Since then, there does not appear to be any regulation of the Doe Green site by the EA whatsoever.

When the first FOIR was sent (21st April) I was informed that the EA was in the process of asking existing onshore oil and gas facilities to apply for permits, with a review happening in 2015/2016. There seemed to be a distinct lack of urgency.  I sent a second FOIR asking for more detailed information (sent 29th April) since I wanted to know if the EA were playing a regulatory role outside of the permitting system. They merely re-iterated that the site does not have a permit. However, a rocket did appear to have made contact with a backside, since they stated: “In April we served notices on all operators of existing onshore oil and gas production that we can determine which permits the operator may now be required to apply for”.

Protectors lock themselves to equipment at an unpermitted production site at the beginning of April, and notice is served on operators to get their permits sorted later in the month? Co-incidence, or evidence of effective direct action?

EA permitting only became a requirement in October 2013, so IGAS have not been breaking any laws. It has been perfectly legal for them to operate a coal bed methane production facility, albeit a test pilot, for several years now with no regulation from the Environment Agency. Warrington has been a guinea pig for the coal bed methane industry and our so called ‘gold standard’ regulators have had little to no involvement. I’d recommend watching Ian Cranes film ‘Voices from the Gasfield’ to see what this industry is capable of.

The campaigners were able to enter the Doe Green site with ease, since it was unmanned. I’m certain determined children could do the same. The HSE had this to say on the matter: “It is not unusual for a borehole site to be unmanned and operated remotely. Emergency shut down systems are in place and alarm systems are remotely monitored. During daylight hours the Borehole Site is visited on a regular basis for maintenance and monitoring purposes.” Unfortunately they failed to define ‘regular’.

Doe Green is a good example of how unfit for purpose our regulators are. Attempts to pull up socks are quite pitiful when you consider some of the glaring inadequacies we see in permits that have been awarded recently, including but not limited to: lack of emissions monitoring at exploratory drills, total failure to acknowledge radon release and no limit on the amount of VOCs that could be released from flaring etc.etc.

It was only in October 2013 after the Balcombe protests that permitting became a requirement. Pressure from campaigners seems to be the only force driving our regulators to action. Politicians repeat the ‘gold standard regulation’ mantra like saying it often enough will make it true. It couldn’t be further from the truth. At least some states in the USA have a regulation to ensure minimum distance from a school, we don’t have that in the UK! Why are we the ones that have to police this industry? How are we going to cope when there are thousands of wells? We won a great battle this week in Lancashire but we have many more to come. We have a big task on our hands calling out the politicians on their lies and pointing out the insurmountable flaws in the regulation of this industry.