The Government must protect the countryside and reassure the public over the exploration and development of shale oil and gas. Funding, oversight and research are needed to ensure that shale gas extraction does not cause irrevocable damage to the countryside and rural communities, says the Countryside Alliance. The Alliance has today (25 November) released an independent report into the potential impact of the exploitation of hydrocarbons from shale in the UK and has come up with five recommendations as to how the Government can ensure that operators maintain best practices and that environmentally sensitive areas are not exposed to unnecessary risk.
Sarah Lee, head of campaigns for the Alliance said: “The Government believes shale gas has the potential to provide the UK with greater energy security, growth and jobs. There are very many strong views on the issue, both for and against. This is why we are highlighting the potential impact on the environment of a shale operation in the UK and suggesting ways the Government could not only protect the countryside but ensure communities where exploration takes place feel reassured.”
Our recommendations are:
• National and local planning policies must be updated to address the issue of shale operations. Where appropriate this may include the introduction of buffer zones between shale developments and local communities similar to those proposed in Scotland.
• The industry should be encouraged to invest in the development of technology that promotes efficient use of land and minimises the number of surface locations for large scale shale gas operations.
• Land that is least susceptible to environmental damage, such as brown field or existing well sites, should be targeted in the early stages of shale gas development. Shale gas operations within protected areas of the countryside must be avoided. The protection currently awarded to national parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and nature reserves must not be undermined in order to establish a UK shale industry.
• Adequate resources need to be made available to ensure that those areas that have been licensed to the UK shale oil and gas industry can be closely supervised by Government and local authorities. For example, the environmental regulator will need sufficient resources and capacity to ensure that operators carry out robust and long term monitoring programs on air and groundwater quality as well as adequately protecting environmentally sensitive areas.
• Prior to awarding a licence, the Department of Energy and Climate Change must carry out an assessment as to whether the company has sufficient resources to cover any potential environmental liabilities and remediation if any damage were to occur during shale operations.