Thank you for contacting me about Cuadrilla’s work at the Preston New Road shale gas site. The Environment Agency’s job is to protect the environment and promote sustainable development. We work with others to ensure that exploration for shale gas using hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) can only go ahead if it is safe, both for people and the environment.

 

There are strict regulations for shale gas exploration in England. In addition to the permissions required from other regulatory bodies, a company must apply to us for environmental permits. These set out the requirements companies must meet to protect groundwater, surface water and air quality and to ensure the safe storage, management and disposal of wastes.

 

We carry out a rigorous assessment and public consultation on permit applications for shale gas operations. We will not issue permits unless a company can demonstrate that it will provide a high level of protection to people and the environment. If we issue permits, the company must comply with the strict conditions we attach, and we assess their compliance by inspecting the site regularly and monitoring environmental data.

 

If a company does not comply, we have a range of enforcement measures available to us, including if necessary, stopping onsite activities. Once all the onsite operations are over, the permits will remain in place until we are satisfied that there is no further risk to the environment and the site has been returned to its original condition.

 

The hydraulic fracturing process requires water. We are responsible for protecting water in rivers, streams and groundwater. We will not allow any drilling that could pollute drinking water; allow a company to take water if it could affect the public water supply or harm the local environment; or allow companies to use any substances in their hydraulic fracturing fluids which could be harmful to groundwater.

 

The environmental permit we issued to Cuadrilla requires the monitoring of a wide range of factors before, during and after operations. The new provisions of the Infrastructure Act require the company to carry out 12 months’ monitoring of methane in groundwater before they can undertake hydraulic fracturing.

 

Baseline monitoring commenced in July 2016. The company will therefore not be able to start hydraulic fracturing until August 2017 at the earliest. The permit does not need to be changed to ensure this. Drilling the borehole is a low risk activity and it is possible that Cuadrilla will be allowed to do this before August 2017 providing they have satisfied all the other regulatory requirements.

 

We are confident that drilling the borehole will have no material impact on the baseline monitoring results. Our staff are inspecting the site now that work has started and will enforce the requirements of the permits.

 

If you would like to keep up to date on our monitoring and regulation of the site, please visit our webpage on Citizen Space. If you would like more information about how we regulate the shale gas industry, you can find it on YouTube.

 

James Bevan Chief Executive, Environment Agency