MYTH #5: DEBUNKED “The UK has gold standard fracking regulations.”

Link to FFR

It is difficult to take seriously the claims of people who have no experience of drilling, and no experience of the UK drilling regulatory system. These are after all serious and complex engineering issues that takes years of study and experience to gain any meaningful understanding. Anti frack websites are full of poorly understood claims that show how little they comprehend. However, let’s look at this evidence free claim.


The Mythbuster states

the regulations that would govern fracking were created for the conventional oil and gas industry.’

So, that would be the regulatory regime that has created a world standard safe industry (post Piper Alpha) in one of the world’s most extreme environments in the North Sea, would it?


In spite of that long term success, the HSE have reviewed their tried and tested drilling standards, and have set up a reviewed set of standards, specific to onshore shale gas, as can be seen in this link. These include the requirements to seal wells back to the surface, as well as many other thorough procedures. Those experienced in drilling think these are excellent. The DECC has produced this public guide to the regulatory regime here and the more detailed requirements in this link


There are a host of regulations, based on ‘best practice’. This is how any industry works. As new techniques arrive, they can be adopted, rather than sticking to some outdated standard that will be considered as ‘acceptable’, as can be seen in this link. The regime is explained by the industry body UKOOG here.


The ‘Mythbuster’ then relies on a paper from recent a 26 year old  law graduate who I understand has no experience in drilling or regulation. Bless!


The British Geological Survey has produced their view of the regulatory system in this link


The next ‘expert’ to be quoted is Mike Hill. He has been shown to have made several false claims, including that of being an ‘EU adviser’. Perhaps people should know that he stood as an anti frack candidate in the Fylde in the General Election.

One of his claims was that only one of the 10 recommendations from the Royal Academy of Engineering report 2012, has been put in place. Please see UKOOG’s detailed and publicly verifiable response. Six are in place and the others (which are long term plans) are in progress. Sadly he repeated this false claim in a Ryedale District Council meeting in 2015, providing no evidence at all.


Where is the evidence that the RAE report is ‘out of date’? It has been praised for its integrity, and has been followed by many other similar reports that make the same conclusions. If drilling is done properly, it is low risk.


The next target is the Environment Agency. Yes they have suffered cuts to middle management, but they have set up a dedicated shale gas team of experts, and are happy that they have the staff to be able to provide a thorough and rigorous oversight of the regulatory process.

To suggest that they are responsible in some way for recent flooding is ridiculous. They are scientists doing the best they can within the budgets they are given.


There then follow a series of claims about supposed incidents, which in fact show how any industry works. It also shows the lack of engineering knowledge of the self proclaimed ‘Mythbuster’.  


All industries work on self regulation, and they always have.


When a farmer spreads fertiliser on a field, does he/she have a DEFRA inspector watching? That would be ridiculous I hear you say, but that is what the anti groups are proposing for fracking. The farmers paperwork on chemical usage had better make sense, if any pollution occurs. (Nitrate pollution is a major problem BTW). Its the same with drilling.


In any other industry if something happens, and the regulations have been ignored or not applied, then heads will roll, and fines or sanctions will be applied. There may well be visits to frack sites, and in drilling any well, there has always been  a ‘witness’ on critical operations, such as cementing, and perforation. Thats because these operations involve a lot of money, and engineers need accurate information when deciding what to do. That has always been the case, anywhere in the world. The bulk of drilling is pretty dull however, and its difficult to see what someone with a clipboard would do all day long.


The supposed  ‘problems’ cited by the Myths writer turn out to be non existent.


The Preese Hall minor seismic events lead to a change in regulations. That’s how engineering works. Low level seismicity is and was a known and extremely rare and minor hazard of shale fracking. Shale cannot generate large earthquakes as it is a soft rock.


The West Newton incidents were minor, and involved a low gas flow that meant a flare blew out. There were also some minor paperwork problems, in a new regulatory regime. Maybe that's why they received new permits.


The Coal Bed Methane site at Doe Green was operating without an environmental  licence as at that time it was not required. Now it is required. What’s the problem?  The regulations have been tightened, to the ‘gold standard’ that is supposed not to exist!


The supposed Barton Moss pollution incident was dismissed as baseless.



Fugitive methane leaks not permitted and are a breach of regulations. See page 3 of this link.


Does anyone seriously think that that explosive methane and its containment is beyond the experience of the DECC and the HSE? It’s not a difficult thing to make gas tight connections, and it is a crucial safety issue, especially in the North Sea.


The leaking abandoned wells involved minor leaks from a small number of wells drilled decades ago. The reference given indicates that this is a very minor issue. The headline in this link states that the amounts are less than farming.


...and what relevance is a picture of a dead hare in a chemical proof enclosure? That bunding is there to PREVENT any spills getting into the environment, and is required by regulations!

The claims here all fall down when looked at closely. This has been subject to review from all relevant bodies, and they have put together a new set of regulations that are world standard.


Click here for next debunking 'House Prices'

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