EIAs for shale gas too complicated, taskforce says

26th March 2015

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Applications for shale gas developments should be accompanied by an environmental risk assessment (ERA) as well as an environmental impact assessment (EIA), a government taskforce has recommended.

The proposal is included in the first of a series of reports by an independent taskforce, established by the government and chaired by Chris Smith, the former head of the Environment Agency.

The report claims that EIAs are “not readily accessible nor easily understood” and describes ERAs as “more succinct and approachable”.

Speaking to the environmentalist, Smith explained that shale gas operators have pledged to provide ERAs voluntarily under a code of practice drawn up by industry body UKOOG. However, he would like to see them made mandatory, and cover social as well as environmental issues. They should also consider the cumulative effect of clusters of sites close to each other, he added.

He stressed that ERAs would not replace EIAs. “We absolutely do not want to do away with EIAs. Where it is appropriate and required at the moment for an EIA to be put together, that should continue as it does at the moment.”

ERAs would build on the non-technical summaries of EIAs developers already produce for communities, said Smith. “I would like to build on that and make it a more formal requirement, and make sure that it covers, where necessary, a number of sites which are in close proximity.”

However, he acknowledged that ERAs were untested at the moment because so far there have been very few applications for shale gas operations.

The taskforce’s report highlights the frustration that many local communities feel with the complexity of the current regulatory system, which is governed by Decc, the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

There is an absence of real confidence in the regulatory framework, the taskforce found. It recommends creating a bespoke regulator to govern shale gas, claiming that this would help win the public’s trust.

The report outlines how the dedicated shale gas regulator would eventually work with the European commission to develop bespoke regulations to replace those that currently governed the industry, but which the taskforce says were never designed for the purpose.

In response to the recommendation for a new regulatory body, a spokesperson for UKOOG said: “This is the taskforce’s first report and there needs to be a lot more discussion with those involved in shale gas before we get to that point.”

She added that, although UKOOG recognised that more could be done to help the public understand how the industry is strictly regulated, it is confident that this can be achieved.

“A number of operators and UKOOG members have public engagement programmes that already exceed recommendations,” she said.

Future reports from the task force will cover local environmental impacts, climate change and the economics of the shale gas industry. Its final report is due in April 2015.

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