Session 2010-12
Publications on the internet

CORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 795-iii

HOUSE OF COMMONS

ORAL EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE THE

Energy and Climate Change Committee

Shale Gas

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Tony Grayling and Tony Marsland

Evidence heard in Public Questions 207 - 269

USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT

1.

This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee

This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee

2.

The transcript is an approved formal record of these proceedings. It will be printed in due course .

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Energy and Climate Change Committee

on Tuesday 29 March 2011

Members present:

Mr Tim Yeo (Chair)

Dr Phillip Lee

Albert Owen

Laura Sandys

Sir Robert Smith

Dr Alan Whitehead

________________

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Tony Grayling, Head of Climate Change and Sustainable Development, Environment Agency, and Tony Marsland, Groundwater Manager, Environment Agency, gave evidence.

Q207 Chair: Good morning. Sorry to have kept you waiting a bit. There is a lot of interest in this subject and it seems to be growing as we go along with our inquiry, so we are very glad to have you here this morning. You may be aware that the Minister is not available today so we don’t have quite the time constraint that we thought we were up against. Thank you for coming in.

Your written evidence to us said that you believe the current regulatory regime is sufficiently robust to deal with unconventional gas. Do you envisage that position might change if the shale gas industry develops in the way that now appears possible and could become quite a significant element in UK energy resources?

Tony Grayling: As it stands, we think the regulatory regime in the UK will continue to be sufficiently robust as it is to manage and minimise the environmental risks from this activity. We will, of course, keep that under review in partnership with Government and with our fellow regulators, but I think it is important to understand that we do have a robust regulatory regime that works on a site-by-site assessment basis. If we judge at any particular site there are significant risks to the environment, we will require an environmental permit that will limit pollution and keep environmental risks to a minimum and if necessary, of course, we will stop the activity altogether. The regulatory regime enables us to do that.

Q208 Chair: Have you had discussions with DEFRA and DECC specifically about the adequacy of the regime in relation to shale gas?

Tony Grayling: Yes, we have had discussions. We have set up a co-ordination group, which includes DECC and DEFRA, ourselves, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Health and Safety Executive. We have a fairly regular dialogue on this subject, not least because it has drawn so much attention recently, and we have discussed the adequacy of the regulatory regime with them.

Q209 Chair: We went up to see Cuadrilla’s work near Blackpool. That did not require, as I understand it, a permit under the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2010.

Tony Grayling: That is correct. Cuadrilla has planning permission for five exploratory sites. We have so far assessed three of those sites and in each case judged that there was not a significant risk to the environment from the activity and that therefore environmental permitting was not required. It is very important from our perspective that we take a proportionate and risk-based approach and that we don’t stand in the way of legitimate activity if it isn’t an environmental risk. Nevertheless, we understand that this is a relatively new activity in this country and so we are putting in place some extra monitoring. For example, we know now that the first fracking was carried out on the first site at Preese Hall yesterday by Cuadrilla and we will be sampling the waste waters that are produced and the emissions just to double check that our judgment was correct.

Q210 Chair: Speaking personally, I very much support your stance about not wanting to create unjustified obstacles to legitimate exploration activity. At the same time it seems to me-this is even a little bit true in America, which the Committee visited earlier this month, where they tend to be rather more cavalier about these things than here-public confidence in what is something rather new can be quite fragile and easily damaged. Therefore, at the outset it would be understood, I think, by most people if you were leaning over on the side of extra caution while we try to understand this and, as I have said, public confidence may then gradually build up.

Tony Grayling: I think that is a reasonable comment and it is why we are going to do some monitoring, perhaps beyond what we normally do at what we consider to be a relatively low environmental risk activity. We have been very careful in our site-by-site assessment. Our colleagues in the relevant region have frequently been on site to inspect and have been in close touch with Cuadrilla about their plans. I am glad to say that Cuadrilla have been open with us about the sort of chemicals that they are going to be using and about the sort of procedures they are going to be going through. We have interventions at various points in the process. We are consulted by the local authority when planning permission is sought. We get information from the company and make an assessment about the activity.

The reason we haven’t required environmental permitting in this case is because there is no groundwater at risk and because there is no nearby surface water or subsurface aquifer that is at risk. Indeed, the nearest use of groundwater for drinking water supplies is about 13 km from the site. So we have made a proportionate and risk-based judgment.

Q211 Chair: Have you had any discussions with the United States Environmental Protection Agency or any of the state-level environmental agencies in the US?

Tony Grayling: I have had informal contact with my colleagues in the US Environmental Protection Agency, and we are keeping an eye on what is going on over there. We have also reviewed some of the evidence that has come out of the United States and my colleague Malcolm Fergusson, who is head of Climate Change, participated in a seminar in Brussels last week that included speakers from the US Environmental Protection Agency. So, yes, we have been keeping in dialogue with them and understanding what they are up to and what the evidence coming out of the United States is.

Q212 Chair: In terms of the Agency’s own resources, and given the constraints that you and other public bodies are under, if there were to be a rapid expansion of shale gas development in this country, are you satisfied that you would have the resources that are needed to monitor that?

Tony Grayling: I don’t think it is an immediate concern, because even if the activity does take off at scale, it is going to take some years. For example, I would not expect that to be a major issue for the current spending review period. However, if in the majority of cases we don’t deem that an environmental permit is required, it means that we will not be getting any charge income that will cover the costs of our site-by-site assessments to see whether permitting is necessary. I guess that if that takes off on a large scale, we would need to have a discussion with our sponsoring Department, DEFRA, and colleagues in the Department of Energy and Climate Change about that, having made a proper assessment of what our resource needs will be going forward.

Q213 Albert Owen: Can I move on to hydraulic fracturing and the chemical composition of fracturing fluid, and you have just mentioned something on this. Are companies who use hydraulic fracturing in the UK required to declare to you the ingredients and indeed the composition of the fluids?

Tony Marsland: Yes. We expect all the companies to disclose all the chemicals that they are using prior to our assessing whether a permit is needed. If they don’t supply that information, we have powers under the Water Resources Act to require that information and we can serve a notice on them to require that data. If we decide that a permit is needed-if it is, say, a groundwater activity and there is a discharge into groundwater-all the chemicals that are discharged that present a risk to groundwater would have to be specified on the permit, which would, of course, be on the public register.

Q214 Albert Owen: From the experience in America, many of the companies say they have a trade secret. That gives them an advantage by using a certain mixture of chemicals, and only 100 out of some 260 that are used there are declared and monitored by the EPA. Would there be circumstances here then when ones that are not monitored could be used?

Tony Marsland: No. We would expect them to declare everything and certainly when it comes to environmental safety we wouldn’t regard that as a good reason for not disclosing that information.

Q215 Albert Owen: They would have to disclose everything to you. Okay, I am clear on that. If they said there were some trade reasons for not doing it, how would you deal with that?

Tony Marsland: We would have to see whether that was a reasonable request. They could always come forward and ask for that but, as I have said, we don’t think, in terms of environmental safety, that is a legitimate reason if there is a risk to the environment.

Q216 Albert Owen: Cuadrilla is the only company that you have been involved with thus far in the UK, and it says that it uses a different method from what is used in America. I am concerned about other companies coming on site, using different methods and saying that they have a proven track record. How vigilant would you be to ensure that all those chemicals are declared, and how would you monitor the matter?

Tony Marsland: We would still request from each operator what chemicals it was using, and we would need to have that determined and to assess whether a permit is needed in the first place. If an operator were to operate without a permit and it needed one, we could serve a notice requiring a permit. It would be an offence under the Environmental Permitting Regulations.

Q217 Albert Owen: Would you always take samples before exploration activity and then would you monitor that further on for comparative reasons?

Tony Marsland: We wouldn’t routinely sample everything. We would expect disclosure beforehand, and if we assessed that there was no risk, then clearly there would be no reason to sample. So it depends on the risk; we have to be proportionate and risk-based in what we do.

Q218 Albert Owen: I am no expert in this field and I am probing you. There are some chemicals that are banned in certain dosages, but certain amounts could be used. Would that be allowed?

Tony Marsland: We would clearly want to assess the quantities and concentrations to assess whether there was a risk, and if we felt that that was unacceptable, then we wouldn’t allow it to happen.

Q219 Albert Owen: But you have a criterion now-it is a certain chemical percentage per litre.

Tony Marsland: We can only assess what operators say they are proposing to use. Certainly, the chemicals that Cuadrilla has come forward and said that it is using are not a concern to us given the situation in which they are being used and the particular activity that is going on. Clearly, if somebody else came forward, we would have to do that on a case-by-case assessment.

Q220 Dr Lee: Can I just clarify what you are saying? You are depending on them to tell you what is in the fracking fluid.

Tony Marsland: Yes, we need to know.

Q221 Dr Lee: If you are depending on them to tell you, how do you know what to check for?

Tony Marsland: It would be a requirement that they disclose to us the chemicals.

Q222 Dr Lee: But if they are using something that you are not checking for you wouldn’t know.

Tony Marsland: If we felt there was a concern, we would take check samples.

Q223 Dr Lee: But, with respect, the concern would only show itself if there was an environmental pollutant that then led to something that was tangible, such as illness, so you wouldn’t know, would you?

Tony Marsland: If we felt there was a risk for the environmental situation from the activity, then we would undertake monitoring.

Q224 Dr Lee: But how would you know that there was a risk when you were not being told what was in it?

Tony Marsland: There would be an inherent risk in terms of the type of activity and environmental setting. Clearly, if there was a low risk in terms of the setting, we wouldn’t have to go into too much detail with respect to the chemicals being used. If there is a high risk then we would obviously expect a higher degree of scrutiny of the chemicals. We would expect full disclosure in that case.

Q225 Dr Lee: I don’t know how I assess the risk of something without knowing what is in it.

Tony Grayling: We would expect full disclosure of what is in it, and if we weren’t getting full disclosure we would use our powers under the-

Q226 Dr Lee: You won’t know though, will you? You wouldn’t know whether you were getting full disclosure.

Tony Grayling: I think on the whole we will know, because on the whole we will be dealing with bona fide, respectable companies. I agree there is the possibility that a company would seek to hide something from us, and we do do random checks to ensure that that is not a widespread occurrence.

Q227 Dr Lee: Do you check the fracking fluid?

Tony Grayling: Well, in this case, for example, with Cuadrilla we will be checking the fracking fluid. But the other side of it is the risk to the environment depends on whether there is a receptor in the environment, in this case groundwater, which could be polluted in a way that could be harmful to people or the environment, so there is more than one component to the assessment.

Q228 Dr Lee: Sure, of course. You need the potential for the pollutant to get into the system, I understand that. We are going to discuss the various ways where that might happen, depending on how the drilling goes, but I just wanted to pare down to the nitty gritty. The reality is that there is trust in the system.

Tony Marsland: There has to be an element of trust. There is another check, though, in that when they come to dispose of the liquids, if they are disposing back to the environment that would have to be sampled and assessed and the impact on the environment assessed before a permit was granted if it was going back to the environment. If it is going to a waste carrier or a waste treatment facility they would require analysis of the fracking fluid and obviously they would have to find out what chemicals were in that water. So there are checks in the system.

Q229 Sir Robert Smith: I remind the Committee of my entry in the Register of Members’ Interests related to oil and gas as a shareholder in Shell.

What I wanted to pursue was the other side of the equation of where the water comes from and the volumes potentially involved. The DECC Strategic Environmental Assessment of the forthcoming 14th Onshore Oil and Gas Licensing Round states that it feels that the amount of water used will not be expected to be significant for most operations, although large quantities of water may be expected to be used for hydro-fracking operations in relation to shale gas. Do you share that analysis?

Tony Grayling: I think that we share that analysis. Indeed, we are a statutory consultee on strategic environmental assessments and we inputted into the development of the SEA, the final version of which has not yet been published by the Department. But it depends on what you mean by large volumes, of course. We don’t, on the other hand, assess that there is likely to be a significant risk to water resources on a larger scale-the country’s water resources. Again, the important thing to understand there is that in terms of large scale usage of water from the environment, an abstraction licence is required from the Environment Agency and we wouldn’t license unsustainable abstraction of water from the environment. Of course there are some cases where that licence is held by the company that is supplying water, and that is true in the case of United Utilities, which is supplying Cuadrilla, but we would not license United Utilities to make unsustainable abstractions of water from the environment.

Q230 Sir Robert Smith: Out of interest, are you monitoring the actual amount of water used by Cuadrilla then, or is that really an issue between it and its supplier?

Tony Grayling: That is an issue between it and its supplier. It has provided us with some information about the volume of water that it is using, and my understanding is that it is a very small fraction of the total supply that United Utilities delivers in its area.

Q231 Sir Robert Smith: In that area, it is mainly surface water. I think there is a concern that if other sites were moved to it, there would be groundwater where large abstraction might be more problematic.

Tony Grayling: Again, I think we would make a site-by-site assessment, and we would only grant an abstraction licence if we thought that the amount of water being abstracted was sustainable, and we are quite clear about that.

Q232 Sir Robert Smith: Is it just like any other industrial water process?

Tony Grayling: Yes.

Q233 Laura Sandys: Having spoken to other parts of the Environment Agency about water issues, and particularly in the southern region, where groundwater is absolutely essential. Certain parts of the southern region are in crisis-they really have some serious issues. Do you not feel that this form of activity, and particularly if it spread around the country, could create even more of a problem when it comes to abstraction, and do you not feel that there are certain areas that really should be identified as being too much at risk at the moment to allow for any more industrial abstraction?

Tony Grayling: Site-by-site assessment is the name of the game, so we would certainly have a different view depending on where the activity was in the country and whether it was in a water-stressed area or not, although this activity would have to be treated like any other industrial activity that requires water use. When I have looked at the British Geological Survey maps of where shale gas resources may be in the British Isles, it does not look to me as though it involves the most water-stressed areas of the country, but we will have to wait and see. They are mostly in the northern parts of Britain rather than in the south-east1.

Q234 Laura Sandys: But looking into the future, where we are going to possibly have, through climate change, even more stresses and water might need to be transported round the county, do you feel that the overall water resource that we have can sustain this form of industrial activity?

Tony Grayling: You have raised a serious point about the long-term management of our country’s water resources. We do a lot of analysis on what the impacts of climate change are likely to be. For example, we have translated what the UK climate projections might mean for river flows, and if we look to the middle of this century then in many rivers we might see late summer flows cut by half or more as a result of climate change. So we are going to have some very serious challenges to the management of our water resources, particularly in areas that are already water stressed, such as south-east England. But on the other hand, I don’t think you can single out this activity among all the other water-use activities for special treatment, if you like. I think it has to be treated on a level playing field, and we would make a site-by-site assessment. Our assessment of whether that water use is sustainable now in 2011 might well be different from whether our assessment in 2050, if we are still around, is sustainable, and it will change over time. But I think in the immediate term we don’t think that this potentially new industrial activity, if it takes off, is likely to be a major factor in the management of the country’s water resources.

Q235 Dr Lee: Do you have any concerns about the actual fracking process itself?

Tony Marsland: In terms of the chemicals or the interference?

Dr Lee: Just the whole process. Well, in terms of drilling down; the actual whole process of fracking.

Tony Marsland: From what we understand of the actual fracking process, it has quite a limited impact on the sub-surface environment. Certainly where it is taking place at the moment, it is unlikely to impact on groundwater resources, because it is so deep and there are capping layers over the target formation. In terms of the chemicals that are being used and the return fluids, we have assessed the range of chemicals that Cuadrilla has indicated that it may use, and we are satisfied that there is not a particular risk to the environment from those, particularly in the sense that at the moment they are tankering the liquid off site to a treatment facility. The liquid is not going to be disposed of to the environment. If Cuadrilla were to wish to discharge that back to the environment, then clearly it would need an environmental permit and most likely it would need treatment before final disposal, if indeed it was acceptable to be disposed to the surface environment.

Q236 Dr Lee: There was a recent article in The New York Times about radioactive salts that have been flushed out of the shale. Do you have any concerns along those lines and do you intend to test for their presence?

Tony Grayling: Again, it is a site-by-site assessment. We don’t anticipate problems with the current site but nevertheless, partly again for public confidence, we will be doing some sampling and measuring radioactive substances if there are any in the waste waters that come out of the fracking process, just to be doubly sure. We don’t think the rock formations in question at the moment are likely to cause problems in relation to radioactivity.

Q237 Dr Lee: In terms of the actual fracking, seeing the size of these things and how they go down, it is like a series of sort of concentric circles and you drill in between and get down to where the shale is. It was suggested to us-I forget which agency it was; it was one of the environment agencies in Texas-that there was potentially a problem with the pipe’s integrity having drilled down. Do you check the integrity before extracting, allowing the water to be pumped in the same way, for instance, that when pipes corrode you send a pig-that is what it is called, isn’t it-that goes through to check, and it X-rays the integrity of the pipe to make sure there aren’t any cracks that have formed during the process of drilling down? Is there any of that going on? It struck me that that was the weak point in terms of the potential for aquifer pollution, because you are drilling through the water table. Once you are down below then, fine, because there is no danger of pollution, or very little, from below. The problem is that the pipe itself may have some cracks in it from the process of being sited.

Tony Grayling: We have to be satisfied about the design and construction of the well site. Again, in this case, we are. We expect the operator to do those kinds of checks on its own drilling works. It is not something that we would do directly, but we are satisfied.

Q238 Dr Lee: Would you prefer to check before the well goes into operation?

Tony Grayling: I think again you have to take a proportionate approach, and I think that it is the producer’s responsibility to demonstrate that it has constructed the well correctly. In this case, I believe that it has put a concrete lining in down to a considerable depth, which helped to satisfy-

Tony Marsland: It is not just the agency that is interested in the integrity of that, because the Health and Safety Executive would also be concerned with respect to any risk from failure of casing and risk to human health.

Q239 Dr Lee: But at present we are back to the trust the company situation, are we?

Tony Marsland: We would expect good well design in the first place. We would expect to see those designs at planning application stage to ensure that the basic design was such that it wouldn’t fail, and we would expect the company to test the construction and the operation of the site so that it didn’t fail. But certainly from reports we have had from the States, well integrity is a greater issue than the hydraulic fracturing itself, so it is something that we would emphasise.

Q240 Dr Lee: Finally, they have a moratorium in place in New York State and they are waiting for the Environmental Protection Agency, the US EPA, to report next year, I think it is. Do you think that we should wait until then?

Tony Grayling: First, whether there is a moratorium or not is a policy matter, so that is not a decision for the Environment Agency but one for Government, but I don’t think we would advise that a moratorium is necessary on the grounds of environmental risks as we understand them at the moment. We do think that the existing regulatory regime is robust enough to manage and minimise the risks.

Q241 Chair: Does that imply that you think the regime operated by the Americans is insufficiently robust or that there are special factors, particularly I think in relation to the water supply for New York, that justify a more cautious approach in Pennsylvania?

Tony Grayling: I don’t know the exact circumstances of New York, and obviously the legislative framework is different in the United States with some federal legislation and then some specific state-by-state regulation. I don’t know the reasons why New York might have wanted to put in place a moratorium. I believe there are one or two others in place, for example in Quebec, but I think nevertheless we don’t think that it is necessary with the robust regulatory regime we have in the United Kingdom.

Q242 Albert Owen: You mentioned about the disposal of waste water treatment and Cuadrilla. Could I just clarify this, because I didn’t quite catch it? Is it taking it to a municipal plant to get it treated?

Tony Marsland: No, it is going to a specialist waste treatment plant in East Yorkshire-a specialist water and gas waste plant-for specific treatment and disposal.

Q243 Albert Owen: So Cuadrilla takes it straight there, or does it do some work on it before?

Tony Marsland: I believe Cuadrilla take it straight there for disposal.

Q244 Albert Owen: You will have to forgive me for my ignorance in this, but is the waste injected into land or does it go into the sea?

Tony Marsland: I’m not sure what the disposal route is for that particular plant but it would be operating under an environmental permit and would have its own conditions.

Q245 Albert Owen: But those are the two options.

Tony Marsland: Yes.

Q246 Albert Owen: Are you confident that the current water treatment plants are capable of detecting these chemicals, dealing with them and filtering them?

Tony Marsland: It is up to the waste treatment facility to determine whether it has the capacity and can treat that particular waste stream. It is a contractual arrangement between the waste carrier, the waste treater and the operator. So they have to make sure they can meet their own permits before they can discharge.

Q247 Albert Owen: I understand that. If Cuadrilla has some fluid that they have taken them and this specialist treatment plant is not certain there are certain chemicals in it and refuses to treat it then what happens?

Tony Marsland: It is up to the operator to find an authorised disposal route.

Q248 Albert Owen: But you are confident in general that the water treatment plants in the United Kingdom, the specialist ones, can treat it up to a very high standard of chemicals? They deal with industrial waste now?

Tony Marsland: They deal with industrial waste all the time, yes.

Q249 Albert Owen: And you don’t think this is anything specific to be concerned about with the shale gas?

Tony Marsland: Not from what we have seen so far. Clearly we are going to be taking baseline samples and data from the Cuadrilla operation to get some UK-specific information, but based on what we know so far we think it is no different to any other waste stream.

Q250 Albert Owen: I understand your relaxed approach now, because there is a small amount of drilling in a specific area. But if this industry were to develop across the United Kingdom-we have talked about different water tables in different areas and about different treatment-isn’t it practical now to look at waste disposal areas for an industry that could develop and could have a significant volume of water waste?

Tony Marsland: It is difficult to second-guess what developers are going to come forward with at this stage, but clearly it will be assessed on a case-by-case basis and each waste treatment stream and method of disposal would have to be assessed, based on the merits of that particular instance.

Q251 Albert Owen: Some people have said that in certain areas we don’t have the number of treatment plants. Would that then be a barrier to its developing? I am talking about joined-up thinking.

Tony Marsland: If there isn’t sufficient waste treatment capacity that clearly could be a barrier to development, just as if there wasn’t water availability that could be a constraint on development, but it clearly is up to the operator to determine and sort this out when they are proposing their development in the first place.

Q252 Albert Owen: Even contained in the north-west, as Cuadrilla is now, are you aware of different waste treatment plants working together for expansion in that area?

Tony Marsland: I have no specific knowledge of that at the moment.

Q253 Albert Owen: Because there are just one or two drilled.

Tony Marsland: There is just one. Two boreholes have drilled but there is only one waste stream occurring at the present time, and it is going to East Yorkshire.

Q254 Albert Owen: So there is no plan that you are aware of, either the DECC or yourselves, for the expansion of the industry?

Tony Marsland: Not at this stage.

Q255 Chair: Just going back to the amount of water that is used in this whole process and the extent to which the water resources that are needed could be limited by recycling water in the process, should you be regulating the amount that is recycled, given that there are some difficulties, because of what has happened to the water in the process you can’t recycle it all? Is that something that you should be regulating?

Tony Marsland: We would certainly encourage them to recycle, where that is feasible, but clearly we have to have regard to the fact that there could be complexities in recycling in terms of the concentration of pollutants increasing, and there would probably have to be some final disposal of that liquid, which could complicate the disposal routes. But we would encourage them to try and recycle water, encourage efficient water use, and of course in some parts of the country water availability may be a driver for recycling.

Q256 Chair: I appreciate all that, and it is good that they should be encouraged to recycle, but given that there are risks involved in recycling water that has already been contaminated in certain ways, is that an aspect that you would be regulating just to make sure that they are not recycling water that should not be recycled?

Tony Marsland: It depends what they are doing with the recycled water, of course. If they are putting it back down into the hole from where it came-in Cuadrilla’s case, it is going back into a formation where there is no groundwater-then the risks are fairly low. In a different environmental setting the risks may be higher, and we would have to judge that on a case-specific basis.

Q257 Laura Sandys: There are obviously treatment possibilities, but there is also in the US injection of waste water back into the geological formations. Do you feel comfortable about how that can be regulated? We were also told by some environmental organisations that this could promote greater seismic activity. Is that something that you feel the Environment Agency has the competency to manage and to assess?

Tony Marsland: In terms of the waste water going back into the ground, as long as they are not taking liquid waste from elsewhere, then there is no bar in law for them to put the recycled water back into the ground, but they may require a permit. Certainly if they are discharging back into groundwater they would require a groundwater activity permit under the Environmental Permitting Regulations, so that would have to be controlled by ourselves with conditions on it. They may not require a permit if they are just taking water from the hole and putting it back down the same hole. That becomes mining waste.

Q258 Laura Sandys: There are some questions about whether there is seismic activity potentially associated with underground injection wells.

Tony Marsland: Yes. We have no knowledge of that in terms of experience of that being caused in this country. I am aware of some instances in Arkansas where there have been some reports about seismic activity, but we have no details of that.

Q259 Laura Sandys: Do you feel that we have the expertise in the UK, whether it is the Environment Agency or DECC, to look at some of the wider risks and assess that, or do you think that maybe the Environment Agency and DECC need to do a little bit more research?

Tony Grayling: We have some of our own geologists, for a start, so we do have some expertise, but we also work with others like the British Geological Survey, which has a lot of expertise in that area.

Tony Marsland: We would expect the Survey to get involved. The Survey has been involved in advising DECC on shale gas and coal bed methane. Certainly with something like this, the risk of seismic activity, we would expect them to engage.

Q260 Laura Sandys: As a group I don’t know whether we have received any evidence from the British Geological Survey. So from that point of view, do you feel that the partnership works and that it has expertise to assist you and work closely with you?

Tony Marsland: The BGS certainly has, yes.

Q261 Dr Whitehead: My understanding of the practice in certain parts of the United States-certainly in Texas-is that the aim of disposing of some of the fracking water, but also the water arising from the extraction of gas itself, is to re-inject it into aquifer levels below that where the fracturing has taken place, not back into the fracturing zone itself. Were such a practice to come to the UK, would that, in your view, require any additional regulation or investigation, or would it raise any concerns about the extent to which that injection would have integrity?

Tony Marsland: We certainly don’t need any more regulation. The Environmental Permitting Regulations would cope with this. If they were injected back into groundwater, as I said earlier, they would require an environmental permit and that would have to be subject to conditions so that they did not cause pollution to either the environment or to drinking water. When you said discharged back into an aquifer, I would be quite concerned if it was going back into an aquifer that was used for drinking water purposes or other purposes to support the environment or man’s activities.

Q262 Dr Whitehead: The claim is that these would be very deep aquifers, well under the level of groundwater or drinking water.

Tony Marsland: If they are very deep and isolated from the rest of the environment then that is something that could be permitted, but it would be subject to controls to make sure that it was a safe activity.

Q263 Sir Robert Smith: One of the other concerns, certainly from the States, is the emissions to the air. People think that you drill down to get gas but of course you don’t just get pure, ready-to-burn gas coming at the right volumes, and especially in the early stages of completing the well. What is your understanding of DECC’s assessment of the air quality implications of venting or flaring?

Tony Grayling: At the moment, we are not expecting big air quality implications. You are right that the Government have oversight of the implementation of the Air Quality Directive and its daughter directives, and there is a system, as you will know, of local air quality management where local authorities are in the lead. But the Environment Agency has to have regard to the National Air Quality Strategy, and if we felt that emissions from the activity were likely to breach air quality standards then we are in a position to regulate that through, I believe, environmental permitting. The gas is likely to be a mixture, as you have suggested, but it is also quite likely to be very predominantly methane, from experience elsewhere, with rather smaller quantities of other pollutants potentially.

Q264 Sir Robert Smith: In the early stages, is that vented or flared?

Tony Grayling: That is a good question and I don’t have a direct answer. I don’t know whether you do, Tony. I do know that we don’t regulate the flaring and venting. That is in the Health and Safety Executive’s territory rather than ours.

Q265 Sir Robert Smith: Although there is an environmental impact, obviously, because methane is far more of a greenhouse gas than-

Tony Grayling: Yes. We would prefer that if methane is being discharged that it was flared, because obviously that converts it to carbon dioxide, which is a much less potent greenhouse gas on a molecule-to-molecule basis, but we would respect the Health and Safety Executive’s judgment about what it is safe to do in those circumstances.

Q266 Sir Robert Smith: If condensates were captured, do you regulate whether those are properly stored and any leakage concerns?

Tony Grayling: We have the power to regulate emissions to air.

Tony Marsland: Under the Environmental Permitting Regulations, there are powers. The local authorities and ourselves share these responsibilities, so it depends precisely what they are doing.

Q267 Sir Robert Smith: Is it clear that there is no-

Tony Marsland: It is clear in the regulations. I’m afraid I’m not an expert on air emissions, so I couldn’t give you chapter and verse. We would have to come back to you.

Q268 Sir Robert Smith: Maybe someone could write to us with a bit more-

Tony Marsland: Yes, we could come back to you with details on that.

Sir Robert Smith: That would be helpful. Thanks.

Q269 Dr Whitehead: A practice in some wells in the United States, so I understand, is that at the point of completion-that is after the fracturing is complete and before production begins-a process of flushing out the system, cleaning it up and getting it ready for production is undertaken, which among things leads to the vent of considerable amounts of methane into the atmosphere, which may be dealt with by flaring. But also there are processes under way called green completion that captures the gas and also disposes of material prior to production. Has the Agency investigated those arrangements and would the Agency consider whether that might be practice or best practice as far as what should happen upon completion in the UK?

Tony Marsland: I am not clear precisely what you are talking about. Is it air emissions, water or a combination of the two?

Dr Whitehead: A combination.

Tony Marsland: A combination. On the water side, I have already indicated that it depends on the proposed disposal route. It should be permitted one way and another. We would have come back to you on the detail of the air side. So far, I am not aware that we have had detailed proposals for that from Cuadrilla.

Chair: Do any of my colleagues have any other questions that they want to ask? Thank you very much for coming in. I am sure we shall want to keep in touch on this issue.


[1] Note from the witness: “Factually this is not correct. The BGS Report indicates that the Weald basin (Kent/Sussex/Surrey) is the second largest shale gas prospect and this underlies an area of water stress”