Fracking: Decommissioning

Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy written question – answered on 5th November 2019.

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Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat

To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to review the (1) requirements, (2) regulations, and (3) responsibilities, in connection with (a) the decommissioning of onshore fracking wells in particular where an operator is no longer able to carry out the necessary work, (b) monitoring of a well for any leakages or emissions, or other environmental damage following its closure and decommissioning, and (c) liabilities for any damage caused by the well after that time.

Photo of Lord Duncan of Springbank Lord Duncan of Springbank Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

When operations finish at shale gas sites, the licensees are responsible for safe decommissioning of their well(s) and for restoring the well-site to its previous state or a suitable condition for re-use. As set out, in the joint Written Ministerial Statement of 17 May 2018, as a matter of policy the financial resilience of all companies looking to hydraulically fracture is now assessed, including their ability to cover decommissioning costs.

Only three onshore wells have been hydraulically fractured in the UK and one of these, Cuadrilla’s site at Preese Hall, has been decommissioned and the site fully restored to its previous state. The groundwater at Preese Hall has been monitored post decommissioning in April 2015 and results have been supplied to the Environment Agency and the other regulatory bodies. There has been no evidence of environmental harm. The remaining two wells are at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site in Lancashire. As part of its application for Hydraulic Fracturing Consent, Cuadrilla was required to undergo a financial resilience check to ensure that it had sufficient funding to cover the full decommissioning of their site.

If, in the unlikely situation there was an issue with the well in the longer term, the Environment Agency would seek to identify the person(s) responsible for any pollution and has powers it can apply in specific circumstances, to remediate the issues.

The Department is considering whether any further mitigations might be appropriate.

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