To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what proportion of onshore oil and gas (a) licence blocks and (b) wells with permission to be drilled are in areas with high or medium flood risk; what the Government's policy is on permitting fracking in areas of flood risk; what assessment she has made of the effect of flooding on the risks of water contamination associated with shale gas extraction; and if she will make a statement.
13 January 2016
Prior to the launch of the 14th Onshore Oil and Gas Licensing Round, a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) was undertaken for all areas offered for licensing applications, which addressed flood risk. The award of a Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence (PEDL) does not itself give any permission for operations to begin. Before a licensee can commence any operations they must apply for and be granted a number of further permissions and consents for each specific site within a PEDL area. These include planning permission and environmental permits from the Environment Agency.
Flood risk will be considered on a case by case basis where relevant as part of the consideration through the planning system of proposals for onshore oil and gas development, including development involving hydraulic fracturing. National planning policy is clearthat inappropriate development in areas at risk of flooding shouldbe avoided by directing development away from areas at highest risk. Where development is necessary, it should be made safe without increasing flood risk elsewhere. The policy is also clear that development should not contribute to, or be adversely affected by, unacceptable levels of water pollution.
Flood risk is also taken into account by the Environment Agency before any environmental permits are issued to drill for oil and gas. If a company wishes to carry out works in, over, under or near a main river, flood defence or a sea defence, they must apply to the Environment Agency for consent. To carry out work on watercourses which are not regulated by the Agency, a company will need to apply to the relevant regulatory body responsible for that particular watercourse.