Shale Gas Extraction - Hydraulic Fracturing (fracking) / Coal Bed Methane
Hydraulic fracturing or fracking is the process whereby deep boreholes (wells) are drilled into a shale rock bed and water, sand and some additional chemicals are injected at very high pressure to induce fractures in the rock to allow methane gas to escape. This gas is then collected at the surface and eventually fed into the mains gas supply. Coal bed methane is a similar process whereby boreholes are drilled into coal seams and then the water in these seams is pumped out to allow the methane to flow to the surface to be collected. This is a subject which has received a lot of attention in the media and could potentially affect the B&NES district. This page provides information and links to further reading for people who are interested in or concerned about the subject.
In 2008 the Government through the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) issued licences known as Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences (PEDL) to give exclusive rights to the licence holders to explore for and potentially extract shale gas or coal bed methane. These were known as the 13th round licences and covered some areas within and just outside B&NES. The map of the 13th round PEDL licences can be found on this link.
In July 2014 3 of the PEDL licences in this area were relinquished by the licence holders. There were no.s 225,226 & 228. PEDL no. 227 was extended for a further year until July 2015 but has since been rescinded.
DECC subsequently released a further licence offer known as the 14th round licences https://www.gov.uk/oil-and-gas-licensing-rounds#th-landward-licensing-round Companies wishing to take up a licence had until the 28th October 2014 to make an application to DECC for a licence. The initial release of 14th round licences was made in August 2015. Further licence blocks have been requested but these areas are subject to a Habitats Regulations Assessment consultation - www.gov.uk/government/news/new-onshore-oil-and-gas-blocks-to-be-offered Some of these blocks are located to the South East of Bath in Wiltshire whilst others are to the West on the coast around Weston Super Mare. The link to the UK Onshore Geophysical library to the right of this page shows the location of these blocks.
The Council's current position on unconventional gas extraction in the region is best summed up by the resolution the full Council passed on the 11th July 2013. This was updated on 10th September 2015 by a further Council resolution and another Council resolution on 13th Sept 2018. The Council is concerned that hydraulic fracturing could have a potential impact on the Hot Springs of Bath. To this end expert advice was sought from the British Geological Survey (BGS) who produced a report for the Council entitled 'Potential problems in the Bath and North East Somerset Council and surrounding area with respect to hydrocarbon and other exploration and production'. A link to this report can be found to the right of this page. This report gives an expert and balanced view on the potential threats to the hot springs from unconventional gas extraction in the region.
The Council also works in co-operation with other local authorities and agencies in the region to excange information and produce guidance on this subject. An Energy Minerals Topic Paper has been produced by this group which gives further information and guidance. A link to this report can be found to the right of this page.
The picture above is from a document issued by DECC titled The Unconventional Hydrocarbon Resources of Britain's On-shore Basins - Shale Gas
Planning Policy context
Bath & North East Somerset Council adopted its Placemaking Plan on 13 July 2017. This Plan complements the Council’s Core Strategy (2014) by setting out the planning requirements for the delivery of key development sites within the District and forms part of the Development Plan for Bath & North East Somerset. It includes a suite of planning policies used in the determination of planning applications. Policy M5 ‘Conventional and Unconventional Hydrocarbons’ sets out policy framework for considering planning applications for each of the phases of development relating to the extraction of shale gas and coal bed methane (unconventional gas resources). Further information on the Placemaking Plan can be found on our dedicated webpage www.bathnes.gov.uk/placemakingplan
Other useful links for additional information and reading are given in the panel to the right of this page.