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Insfrastructure Bill [HL]

Written evidence submitted by Water UK (IB 07)

1. There is no statutory duty on local authorities to consult water companies on planning applications related to the exploration for and extraction of unconventional oil and gas. We are asking for an amendment to the Bill to place such a duty on local authorities. Water UK’s members are unanimous in their support for this proposal.

2. Water UK represents all major statutory water and wastewater service supply organisations in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Our submission relates to the section of the Bill on the recovery of onshore oil and gas. Our members have a strong interest in this part of the Bill, as water and wastewater treatment are both crucial aspects particularly of the hydraulic fracturing process.

3. The three key reasons for having water companies as statutory consultees are:

· To ensure that water companies are involved early in the planning process, so they can work with operators to develop solutions that will work for all stakeholders – and satisfy their regulatory duties;

· Statutory inclusion in the process would enhance public confidence by demonstrating that impacts on drinking water and drinking water sources will be fully taken into account;

· The Water UK and UK Onshore Operators Group (UKOOG) Memorandum of Understanding [1] , while a model of good practice, has no legal status and no real consequences if not complied with, and in any event only applies to current members of UKOOG.

The water industry's stance on fracking

4. Water UK and our members have consistently taken a neutral stance on the development of shale and other unconventional oil and gas reserves in the UK. We acknowledge the risks of the country's growing dependence on imported gas and recognise the arguments for government policy on the extraction of unconventional oil and gas.

5. We also acknowledge that there are inherent risks associated with any activity of this type and scale which need to be fully understood, regulated and mitigated. We are trusted by both sides of this highly-charged debate.

6. We are working constructively with Government and stakeholders, including research, development and community engagement, and we have a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with UKOOG.

7. We want to help the Government deliver its policy on shale gas, but we also have a duty to ensure the public water supply is protected and that there is public confidence in the process.

8. The fracking process will be heavily reliant on the water and wastewater services our members provide. It is essential to involve companies as much and as early as possible, so that companies can plan both for potential extra demand (in water-stressed areas such as the South East, this is crucial) and to consider solutions for removing untreated waste water safety. [2]

Why should water companies be statutory consultees on applications relating to fracking?

9. While the Environment Agency (EA) has an important role in protecting water sources, its resources are stretched. Also, the EA would not necessarily contact water companies in relation to important information we require, for example the data needed to carry out of drinking water safety plan risk assessments.

10. Early engagement in the planning process will enable companies to satisfy their regulatory duties and enable them to work with operators to develop solutions, such as integrated site water management plans, that will be of long-term benefit to all stakeholders.

11. The statutory inclusion of water companies in the process would enhance public confidence by demonstrating that impacts on drinking water and drinking water sources are fully taken into account.

12. Our MoU with UKOOG has been recognised nationally and internationally as a model of good practise in cross-sector cooperation. One of the many reasons we formed this agreement was to take a step towards reassuring the public that two key players in the process would work together in the public interest. 

13. One of the many reasons we formed this agreement was to reassure the public that two key players in the process would fully cooperate, and that it would help water companies ensure the necessary protections for the public water supply.

14. However, the MoU is dependent on the tone and culture of cooperation set by the existing oil and gas companies and water companies. The MoU has no legal status and no real consequences if not fulfilled.

15. Early engagement in the planning process will enable companies to satisfy their regulatory duties and enable them to work with operators to develop solutions, such as integrated site water management plans, that will be of long-term benefit to all stakeholders. The statutory inclusion of water companies in the process would enhance public confidence by demonstrating that impacts on drinking water and drinking water sources are fully taken into account.

About Water UK

16. Water UK represents all major statutory water and wastewater service supply organisations in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. We work at national and European level for a strong water industry on behalf of our members and the interests of all our stakeholders. Our aims are to promote the highest levels of drinking water quality, an environmentally sustainable industry and a stable regulatory regime able to attract the investment which the industry needs. On behalf of our members, we engage with Defra and with other government departments and with the principal UK regulatory bodies - including Ofwat, the Environment Agency, the Drinking Water Inspectorate and their equivalents in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

17. We have been taking an active role in the understanding the risks of the development of unconventional oil and gas in the UK since around 2012. We have spoken at conferences and contributed to research projects and investigations. In addition the water industry, through Water UK’s sister organisation UKWIR, has carried out a desktop research programme to investigate the impacts of the development of onshore oil and gas on water and waste water services. Copies of these reports can be made available to the Committee on request. The research has been used as the basis of Water UK’s public policy position.

December 2014


[1] http://water.wuk1.emsystem.co.uk/home/news/press-releases/mou-on-shale-gas/water-uk-ukoog-mou-26nov2013.pdf

[2] A more detailed briefing note on our position on the extraction of shale gas can be found here: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/299993612/News/Latest%20news/Environment/Water%20environment/water-uk-shale-gas-briefing-paper-update-nov-2013-1.pdf

Prepared 17th December 2014