Frequently Asked Questions
What is 'fracking'?
'Fracking' refers to hydraulic fracturing and is a process used to extract hydrocarbons from low permeability oil/gas reservoirs. The process involves pumping a mixture of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to create fractures in the shale rock. Oil and gas can then be extracted more easily.
Shale gas reservoirs are often found far deeper than conventional oil and gas reservoirs, usally many thousands of metres below the surface. Therefore they require deeper wells and, in some cases, horizontal lateral well extensions into the shale rock. The gas is trapped in tiny pores in the dense shale rock and therefore requires a more intensive use of fracking.
What is the difference between the exploration phase and the production phase?
Oil and gas operators usually carry out an exploration phase to determine the level of hydrocarbons, the geology type and flow rates at a particular wellsite. This phase can last a number of years as it may also include further appraisal of the well. Should the wellsite prove to be unsuccessful, then the operator will be required to seal the well and restore the site by way of planning condition. If the wellsite is capable of producing oil and gas, it will move into a production phase. Separate planning applications are required for each phase and each application is considered on its own merits.
How is fracking regulated?
There are four regulatory bodies involved with both conventional and unconventional oil and gas sites:
- Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) - responsible for issuing a Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences known as PEDLs. This licence conveys no permissions for operations on land, but gives exclusivity for exploration operations against other oil and gas exploration companies, within a defined area.
- The Mineral Planning Authority (MPA) - responsible for assessing oil and gas planning applications and monitoring of planning conditions. B&NES is the MPA is this district. In Somerset it is Somerset County Council. Planning permission will be required before any exploration for shale gas/coal bed methane is commenced.
- The Environment Agency (EA) - Responsible for protecting water resources, including groundwater (aquifers) as well as assessing and approving the use of chemicals which form part of the hydraulic fracturing fluid. The EA are also responsible for the monitoring of appropriate treatment and disposal of any mining waste produced during the borehole drilling and hydraulic fracturing process. Any potential operator will require an EA permit in addition to planning permission before exploration or production can begin.
- The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) - monitors shale gas operations from a well integrity and site safety perspective.
What is happening locally?
As of the beginning of 2014 there has only been one planning application for exploration for Coal Bed Methane is the B&NES area. The application, made in September 2012 was subsequently withdrawn by the applicant UK Methane Ltd before it was determined. The reference number for this application is 12/04304/FUL.