New fracking regulator needed, report says

There has been local opposition to shale gas test wells Image copyright Christopher Furlong/Getty
Image caption There has been local opposition to shale gas test wells in the UK

The UK fracking industry needs a new regulator to give the public more confidence in the fledgling sector, an industry-backed body has concluded.

Current regulation, involving a number of government departments, is "complex and relatively unapproachable", says a report by the Task Force on Shale Gas.

It said a new regulator should independently monitor fracking sites.

"Britain has one of the most robust set of regulations in the world for shale gas," a government spokesperson said.

"Both the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency have full authority and responsibility to monitor all shale sites - independent of the industry," the spokesperson, from the Department of Energy and Climate Change, added.

But the taskforce, which is funded by shale companies, said it operates independently, and urged the new government in May to legislate to create a regulator as soon as possible after the general election.

"Speaking to local communities, we have been struck by how complex the regulatory framework appears, and how this leads to a lack of confidence in the system," said Chris Smith, chairman of the Task Force on Shale Gas.

'Public confidence'

"If the industry develops and the number of applications rises, there will be a need for a single, simplified system," Lord Smith added.

He said the new regulator would also involve the local community in the monitoring process and assess the integrity of wells to make sure any problems that could lead to leaks are discovered and remedied.

Ken Cronin, chief executive of industry body UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG), said the industry was already addressing many of the areas highlighted in the report.

"Public confidence in our regulatory system is vital, we will look in detail at this report and discuss with the Task Force how to take their interim recommendations to the next stage after further research," he added.

Analysis by BBC industry correspondent John Moylan

There's often concern and suspicion in communities close to shale gas sites. This report says that the complex regulatory regime - which involves the Environment Agency, the Health & Safety Executive and the Department of Energy - doesn't help.

So it wants a new bespoke regulator which would pull together those responsibilities. The task force - led by Lord Smith, the former head of the environment agency - also wants more monitoring of fracking sites - with local people involved.

And it wants firms to engage with communities long before a drilling proposal is submitted.

What is fracking?

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing to give it its proper name, is a way to extract natural methane gas trapped inside layers of densely-packed shale rock a mile or so underground.

Engineers drill down, line the well with metal and cement casings, and then pump down millions of gallons of water at high pressure, along with sand and chemicals, to open up the fractures so the gas can escape.

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