Legislation, Permitting, Planning consent, Pollution prevention & control, Public safety

“Dear Aunty, is it really the case that proposed amendments to the Infrastructure Bill are intended to pave the way for depleted shale gas wells to be used as disposal facilities?”

No, of course not poppets, but that is exactly how it’s been portrayed by the groups that will do anything to try and derail shale – including deliberately overplaying risks in order to frighten communities into joining their cause.

So, what exactly are the proposed amendments that have enabled Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and others to whip up so much hysteria?

You can find the text here http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/2014-2015/0002/amend/ml002-VII.htm and it’s this proposal from Baroness Kramer that has got everyone so exercised dears:

95ZBF
Insert the following new Clause—
“Further provision about the right of use
(1) The ways in which the right of use may be exercised include—

(a) drilling, boring, fracturing or otherwise altering deep-level land;

(b) installing infrastructure in deep-level land;

(c) keeping, using or removing any infrastructure installed in deep-level land;

(d) passing any substance through, or putting any substance into, deep-level land or infrastructure installed in deep-level land;

(e) keeping, using or removing any substance put into deep-level land or into infrastructure installed in deep-level land.

(2) The purposes for which the right of use may be exercised include—

(a) searching for petroleum or deep geothermal energy;

(b) assessing the feasibility of exploiting petroleum or deep geothermal energy;

(c) preparing for exploiting petroleum or deep geothermal energy;

(d) decommissioning, and other activity which falls to be continued or undertaken, in consequence of activities undertaken for the
purposes of exploiting petroleum or deep geothermal energy.

(3) The right of use includes the right to leave deep-level land in a different condition from the condition it was in before an exercise of the right of use (including by leaving any infrastructure or substance in the land).

The first thing to note, cherubs, is that Baroness Kramer is a Liberal Democrat – a political party that is well known for adopting policies that are designed to protect the environment and that wouldn’t propose something like this lightly.

It seems it’s these references that have caused the furore: passing any substance through, or putting any substance into, deep-level land or infrastructure installed in deep-level land; and keeping, using or removing any substance put into deep-level land or into infrastructure installed in deep-level land.

“Any substance” is so vague, that shale gas opponents have been able to exploit this and use it to imply that depleted shale gas wells will one day be used for the disposal of high level radioactive waste from the nuclear industry, for example.

But if you actually read the legal text, it sets out very clearly the activities that qualify for this right of land use – which are expressly limited to the extraction of hydrocarbons and geothermal energy.

And the right is further qualified by these provisions:

(4) The right of use—
(a) does not give a person (“R”) any power which is greater than, or different from, the power which R would have had if the right had been granted by a person legally entitled to grant it; and

(b) does not relieve a person (“R”) from any obligation or liability to which R would have been subject if the right had been granted by a person legally entitled to grant it.

Which, my loves, essentially means that fracking companies and developers of geothermal energy proposals will still need to obtain all the usual consents and permissions from regulators such as the Environment Agency.

So, what is the amendment there for, you might well wonder?

Well, as I have explained previously on Twitter, I believe it is simply a sensible mechanism for avoiding constant legal challenges that are a wasteful drain on our public purse at a time when crucial public services are being cut due to funding shortfalls.

Legislators could, instead, specify a prescriptive range of substances that could be passed through or put into land, but in the event that an operator had to substitute them from time-to-time, it’s inevitable that they and the government would be left wide open to legal challenge from NGOs sweeties. This amendment obviates that risk, but in a way that ensures continued environmental and public protection by expressly still requiring operators to obtain all the necessary regulatory approvals.

It also facilitates the use of wireline logging tools, and other similar substances and devices, that are ‘passed through’ the land but which aren’t part of the planning or environmental permitting regime (except insofar as wireline logging tools are regulated as a mobile radioactive source under the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2010 and the Ionising Radiation Regulations 1999).

And then there’s the question of the sand grains that are introduced into shale gas and geothermal energy wells as part of the fracturing fluid – some of the sand will be carried back to the surface as the well is flowed, but the rest will necessarily remain trapped in the shale or granite where it props open the tiny hairline fractures that are created. This provision in the Infrastructure Bill allows this sand to be put into and “kept” in deep-level land – something that wouldn’t necessarily be covered by other existing laws.

Water, used to fracture both shale and deep geothermal wells, is also a “substance” that isn’t regulated under other laws because its use for this purpose in deep-level land hasn’t previously been considered and because it poses no environmental hazard.

All of which means there isn’t a nefarious intention to pave the way for depleted shale gas wells to be repurposed as disposal wells in the future, dears. The proposed amendments simply remove another opportunity for well-funded groups like Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace to bring expensive Judicial Reviews against local and central government who are forced to defend them using the contributions of ordinary taxpayers – monies that would be better spent improving public transport, supporting renewables subsidies and paying for nurses, for example.

As for the use of these depleted shale gas wells for the disposal of high level radioactive waste: it’s simply laughable as anyone with a connection to the UK nuclear industry will tell you. I’d very much like to hear just how the canisters of vitrified high level radioactive waste would be introduced into a well bore with a diameter of less than 8 inches and then forced into fractures that have the diameter of a water molecule.

Until next time xxx

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2 thoughts on ““Dear Aunty, is it really the case that proposed amendments to the Infrastructure Bill are intended to pave the way for depleted shale gas wells to be used as disposal facilities?”

  1. “Water, used to fracture both shale and deep geothermal wells, is also a “substance” that isn’t regulated under other laws because its use for this purpose in deep-level land hasn’t previously been considered and because it poses no environmental hazard.”

    It’s not water though is it? It’s a solution of various chemicals and sand. Currently I think only three chemicals are allowed in the UK, but the drilling companies will inevitably want to use the chemicals they’ve proven in the US (where illegally, they’ve even been caught injecting diesel!).

    Obviously the infrastructure law does not prohibit the injection of fracking fluid under our homes. It also does not prohibit leaving it under our homes (as it is only possible to retrieve a percentage of it). So, what puzzles me is how the infrastructure bill differentiates between the fracking fluid and say, re-injection of (radio-active, heavy metal ridden) flowback fluid or the injection of any other waste materials (including radioactive liquids) into the earth beneath our properties.

    I’d be grateful if you’d point our the relevant texts that clearly define and differentiate between the substances as it’s not clear to me. Thanks.

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