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DECC SEA Environmental Report for Further Onshore Oil and Gas Licensing

The Department for Energy and Climate Change has launched a consultation on the Environmental Report for Further Onshore Oil and Gas Licensing. Details of the inquiry along with the Terms of Reference can be found on the Department website.

The response was submitted in the form of an online survey which can be found below.

Submitted 28 March 2014

 1. Do you think that the Environmental Report has identified the significant environmental effects of the activities that follow the licensing round? If not, what other significant effects do you think we have missed, and why?

The report realistically identifies and assesses the potential environmental effects of onshore oil and gas licensing and we support plans for key monitoring and mitigation activities detailed in the report.

It is important that geoscientists are involved at several stages of the regulation design. Geoscientific advice is crucial with regard both to exploration and to the formulation of effective environmental regulation. If insufficient attention is paid to the contribution of the geosphere, its processes and interaction with other elements of the environment when regulating onshore oil and gas, this may significantly diminish the efficacy of the proposed mitigation and monitoring activities.

Much of the background research up to now and the proposed mitigation and monitoring measures and activities detailed in the report are underpinned by the work of the British Geological Survey (BGS). In light of the NERC review of the ownership and governance of its research centres it is important that essential functions performed by BGS, as they relate to the development of shale gas and oil, are not jeopardised. BGS holds crucial expertise, experience and data and it is its unique position as a body independent of industry that engenders public confidence in its work. BGS will be needed to provide expertise and credibility as this process continues but will also contribute to public confidence in the process and to gaining social licence to operate. Any revised ownership and governance model for BGS should be designed with such needs in mind.

2. Do you agree with the conclusions of the report and the recommendations for avoiding, reducing or off-setting significant effects of the activities that follow the licensing round? If not, what do you think should be the key recommendations and why?

We welcome the conclusions of the report. These highlight the key areas that need to be addressed and are balanced. A possible concern is persistent reference to the ‘high activity scenario’ in areas such as job creation, income raised, production of gas, water consumption and climate change impact. The ‘high activity scenario’ is likely to produce more favourable results in areas such as job creation and volumes of gas found and developed, but also to result in higher estimates of water use and other potential environmental impacts.

It might be more useful to describe a range of low to high activity scenarios and to use median or mid-case values as the main figures. This would present a more balanced view of possible benefits and impacts.