Greenpeace on lifting of fracking moratorium

Last edited 13 December 2012 at 10:36am
13 December, 2012

Responding to the lifting of the fracking moratorium in the UK, Greenpeace Energy Campaigner Leila Deen said:

"George Osborne's dream of building Dallas in Lancashire is dangerous fantasy. He is not JR Ewing and this is not the US. Energy analysts agree the UK cannot replicate the American experience of fracking, and that shale gas will do little or nothing to lower bills.

“Pinning the UK’s energy hopes on an unsubstantiated, polluting fuel is a massive gamble and consumers and the climate will end up paying the price.”

Greenpeace Freedom of Information requests (FoIs) demonstrate the risks of fracking across England. They reveal the Environment Agency (the Government department responsible for regulating the fracking industry) has private fears, which it expressed to Number 10 - over threats to drinking water near proposed fracking sites in Sussex. (1)

The FoIs also:

  • show that the Environment Agency and DECC sought advice from oil and gas giant Exxon on fracking regulations (2)
  • suggest the Environment Agency was under pressure from the Government to find ways of making fracking more acceptable to the British public, even as ministers were publicly insisting no decisions had been made (3)

A full Greenpeace briefing on fracking can be found here:


For more information contact Greenpeace press officer Kathy Cumming on 07801212959

  1. Drinking water threat in West Sussex


In April this year concerns were raised in the Sussex Village of Balcombe over proposals by US firm Cuadrilla to drill for shale in the area.

Cuadrilla has planning permission for exploratory drilling at Balcombe but residents became alarmed after a study by Durham University suggested that fractures from drilling for shale gas could reach the water supply.

The documents show how the concerns reached the then energy minister Charles Hendry.

Mr Hendry was initially sent guidance given by the Environment Agency to the Prime Minister at a high level briefing on shale in the spring.

The guidance, over groundwater was unequivocal, and potentially limiting to shale gas extraction in the UK:

‘The Environment Agency would not allow hydraulic fracking to take place in an area where there are aquifers used to supply drinking water. If there were sensitive ground waters present in an area where a company wanted to carry out hydraulic fracturing, we would object during the company’s planning application and refuse to grant an environmental permit.’

But that was not released to the public. Instead the EA’s head of climate change suggested the wording be changed in order not to provide “too stark” a stance.

“I am a bit concerned that the two sentences we provided to.....provided a too stark view of our position of where we would or would not be happy with shale gas developments in relation to potable ground water aquifers. We take a risk based approach to permitting.... Can I ask that you do not use the two sentences from …..... while we finesse them.”

  1. The involvement of Exxon, and the major climate risk

Because methane gas when unburnt is 21 times worse for the climate than carbon dioxide any leakage of the gas from fracking could significantly increase the impact of shale gas on the climate. The argument was given further weight by the publication of atmospheric data in the respected journal, Nature but has been disputed by the oil and gas industry - especially Exxon.

The Environmental Protection Agency in the US is putting new regulations in place, so that wells will have to capture the methane.

These regulations would insist on so-called ‘green completions’ which oblige operators to capture water from fracking and ensure methane is not released into the environment.

But the documents we’ve obtained suggest UK regulators remain undecided on how to deal with the problem and are seeking advice from industry and especially Exxon on what should be done.

In one email an official at the Department of Energy and Climate change notes:

“I did raise this question at the UKOOG (Onshore Operators Group)”, said one email “they had not planned to integrate green completions into their guidance (which is a big challenge already with fracking and well integrity issues). But they will consider adding it to the guidelines if we insist.”

Officials turned to Exxon for guidance.

In an email noting the Nature study a DECC official wrote to the oil giant’s executives, “it would be very helpful if there were any sources of good data available of actual emissions from operators, is anyone working on this?”

Shockingly, through a series of further emails to arrange a meeting DECC officials also asked for help drafting the fracking guidelines.

“I’d also be interested in any views on what industry can do to develop best practice codes etc to help reassure the public.”

The documents also show that Exxon’s meeting with DECC in May followed an earlier meeting with the Environment Agency’s chief executive, Tony Grayling  and its climate advisor Martin Diaper also on the topic of shale in April.

The meeting allowed Exxon to present its case on the merits of fracking to the regulators. (”

  1. Pressure put onto the fracking regulator, the Environment Agency

The documents also reveal how the EA’s risk assessment on shale may have been driven as much by PR as scientific concerns.

A briefing on a proposed environmental risk assessment of fracking by the EA notes that the project must be completed quickly to allow the industry to develop noting, “development of the bowland shale gas field could start in 2013” and suggests the project is designed mainly to ‘clarify’ the agencies existing pro-fracking stance.

In his conclusion to the briefing document the EA’s advisor on climate change, Martin Diaper writes “Government policy is clear, it wants the industry to develop. However the main barrier to the development of the industry is the public perception of the risk it poses to the environment.”

“Our current understanding is that these risks can be controlled through effective regulation and the project aims to clarify that we have the controls necessary to protect the environment. It will show the Environment Agency as responsive to government policy and public perceptions whilst ensuring effective regulation of the new industry.”


Follow Greenpeace UK