By Will Cottrell
BBC Newsnight last night revealed that UK fracking regulators failed to visit sites they were supposed to be regulating.
The Health and Safety Executive – in charge of the integrity of fracked wells – neglected to perform independent analysis of US frackers Cuadrilla, who have designs on Lancashire, Sussex, Kent and Surrey. Instead they relied on the company’s own reports. (see 8.04 of video below).
This lack of oversight is in line with government policy. In July the government said “It is the operator’s responsibility to ensure the integrity of the well, not the regulator.” (See point 15).
According to the same document, the HSE “proactively regulates activities” of the drillers.
Indeed: proactively reading company reports would surely raise a sweat on the brow. Not that we are able to find out – the HSE have denied Freedom of Information requests for the Cuadrilla drilling reports that they are allegedly overseeing.
In July 2011 the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee took issue with this lackadaisical approach, advising that the HSE ‘test the integrity of wells before allowing the licensing of drilling activity.‘ (point 15 again).
The government slapped them down, with Minister of State Charles Hendry MP insisting ‘we have a strong safety and environmental regime in place, administered by the HSE,the relevant environmental agencies and my Department (DECC)’.
MPs – spurred to action by concerned residents – have taken to repeating Hendry’s platitudes, with Mid Sussex MP Nicholas Soames recently assuring that fracking will be ‘adequately regulated’.
Reticence to increase industry oversight is revealed by the government’s real objective. In his submission to the CCC, Charles Hendry notes: “the government is committed to ensuring that we maximise economic recovery of hydrocarbon resources, both offshore and onshore“.
Not all agree. 48 MPs have signed an Early Day Motion calling for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing while the impacts and regulatory framework of this high-tech and fast developing industry are assessed.