A new regulator for UK shale gas?

United Kingdom

The Task Force on Shale Gas yesterday published its First Interim Report on Planning, Regulation and Local Engagement. The report called for an overhaul of the regulatory framework, finding the current system to be too complex and lacking the resources and transparency required to effectively command the confidence of the UK public. The Task Force recommends that a “new, bespoke regulator should be created for onshore underground energy”.

The current regulatory framework involves a multi-stage process. Companies wishing to explore for shale gas must first apply to the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) for a licence. In order to commence drilling, the licensee must then apply for local planning permission for the development of the site, during which planning authorities are obliged to hold public consultations. Parallel to this process, the licensee must also satisfy the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive that its operations will conform with regulations.

The new regulator proposed by the Task Force would work with local governments, DECC and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and would seek to work with the European Commission to develop bespoke regulations for the shale gas industry, which is currently regulated under Water, Mining Waste, Radioactive Substances and Industrial Emissions directives. It is also suggested that Environmental Impact Assessments would be replaced by standardised and publically available Risk Assessments, which would review social as well as environmental impacts.

The Task Force, comprising Lord Chris Smith, Professor Ernest Rutter, Professor Nigel Brandon, and Emma Duncan of The Economist, was established in December 2014 and aims to provide a “transparent, trusted, independent and impartial platform for public scrutiny, discussion and information about shale gas exploration and production in the UK”.

To read the Task Force on Shale Gas First Interim Report in its entirety, please click here.