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Regulators and Permits

A number of regulators are responsible for assessing the different risks from shale gas extraction operations, and deciding whether to grant the permits that operators need. This page gives an overview of the main regulators and permits that relate to the environment. You'll find full details of all the permits and regulators involved in the Regulatory Roadmaps produced by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (DBEIS).

To find out about how to have your say on applications for environmental permits and planning permission, check out the Related Links box on this web page.

Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (DBEIS)
The process of obtaining consent to drill for oil or gas under the Petroleum Act 1998 is the same whether offshore or onshore, conventional or unconventional. The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (DBEIS) produces Licensing Plans that identify the areas of land that operators can bid for exclusive rights to drill in competitive licensing rounds. DBEIS must first carry out a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of a draft Licensing Plan. This process includes producing and consulting publicly on an Environmental Statement. The Environmental Statement will identify, amongst other things, the potentially significant environmental effects of the draft Licensing Plan.
DBEIS's Secretary of State is responsible for deciding whether to grant a petroleum exploration and development licence (PEDL) and to which bidder. A PEDL is required to search and drill for and extract shale gas or CBM (or indeed conventional oil or gas). The Department expects developers wishing to frack to produce an Environmental Risk Assessment (ERA) early on, as a matter of good practice. This is a first-stage risk assessment. The Department expects operators to engage with local communities when preparing risk assessments.
Following the Scottish independence referendum, the Smith Commission recommended that the petroleum licensing regime under the 1998 Act be devolved to the Scottish Ministers: this is likely to happen during 2016 under a new Scotland Bill.
Coal Authority
Underground coal gasification projects do not require a PEDL because no natural gas is being extracted, but instead they require a coal mining licence under the Coal Industry Act 1994. There are no plans to devolve this licensing regime to the Scottish Ministers, so it is likely to remain a reserved matter.
Mineral Planning Authorities
Mineral planning authorities are responsible for deciding whether to grant planning permission for unconventional gas extraction operations. Planning permission is required for each stage of the process (exploration, appraisal and production). In England, the role of mineral planning authority is carried out by unitary councils (ie unitary authorities in shire areas, London boroughs and metropolitan boroughs) or by county councils. In Scotland and Wales, the planning authorities (ie local councils) have the role of mineral planning authority.
The mineral planning authority must follow the correct procedure when considering applications for planning permission. This involves, amongst other things, taking into account representations from local people. There are links with more information about this in the Related Links box.
Some proposals for planning permission may have to be subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). This will depend on things like the amount of gas being extracted and the area of land covered by fracking operations. The EIA process includes, amongst other things, producing and consulting on an Environmental Statement. The Environmental Statement is a more detailed document than the early-stage Environmental Risk Assessment. It has to cover a number of issues including a description of the likely significant environmental effects of the project and measures to address significant adverse effects.
Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG)
Government department responsible for planning policy. The Department’s Secretary of State has powers to decide planning applications instead of local authorities, in some situations. This is known as ‘calling-in’ applications. If an application is called-in, a Planning Inspector may then hold a local inquiry to consider the application. Local people can attend the inquiry and may be able to make representations. There are special procedures for this. You'll find more information in the Related Links on this web page.
Environment Agency
Responsible for granting environmental permits in England. Operators wishing to extract unconventional gas may need permits for several aspects of their operations, including disposing of the fluid (which is regarded as mining waste), making discharges to surface water and flaring (burning off) excess gases. The Environment Agency will consider risks to water and air when deciding whether to grant an environmental permit. It will need to be satisfied that proposals meets the requirements of the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2010.
Also responsible for granting water abstraction licences under Part 2 of the Water Resources Act 1991. These licences may be needed for certain stages of a fracking project.
The Environment Agency is also a statutory consultee to the mineral planning authority on planning applications and Environmental Impact Assessments.
Natural Resources Wales (Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru)
Responsible for granting environmental permits for unconventional gas projects in Wales. Natural Resources Wales is also a statutory adviser to the mineral planning authority on applications for planning permission and Environmental Impact Assessments.
Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)
Responsible for granting the various environmental permits needed for unconventional gas projects in Scotland. These include CAR authorisations, waste management licences and PPC permits. SEPA is also a statutory adviser to the local authority on applications for planning permission and Environmental Impact Assessments.
Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
The main regulator responsible for ensuring wells are structurally sound, strong and stable (‘well integrity’), offshore and onshore, throughout the UK.

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