Oil and gas firms are regularly breaching the planning and environmental conditions placed on them with little consequence, despite repeated reassurances that 'gold standard' regulations govern the industry.
That is according to a new report by senior Green Party politician and MEP for the South East, Keith Taylor. The 'Far From Gold Standard: The Flawed Regulatory System for Onshore Oil and Gas' report sets out to test claims from Greg Clark the Conservative Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy's claim that the oil and gas regulations in the UK are "among the most robust and stringent in the world."
The publication of the report comes as UK Oil and Gas, a firm which operates a number of oil and gas sites across the South East, is facing regulatory questions about the use of a 'matrix acidisation' process for which it did not have permission, at its Broadford Bridge site in Surrey.
The 36-page report focuses on a range of breaches at sites from Angus Energy drilling a sidetrack without permission at Brockham in Surrey to faulty air monitoring equipment at Cuadrilla's fracking site in Lancashire.
Read the Executive Summary below
The report concludes:
"This research has catalogued an extensive set of problems relating to the regulation of the extreme onshore oil and gas industry which begs the question of whether it can be effectively regulated. The regulators cannot be on the ground 24/7 to monitor operations, and the reliance on self-regulation and form filling is failing local communities and environmental protection."
The report also makes a series of recommendations, from community engagement to earthquake monitoring, but acknowledges they "would be costly and complex to implement."
"The industry operates piecemeal and small scale and is, by its nature, difficult to monitor. But there is a real danger in the Government promoting an industry where standards are not good enough, and possibly cannot be made good enough to protect our communities and environment. There should be no expansion of this industry – the focus should be on properly regulating our historic wells."
Commenting on the report, Mr Taylor said:
"This report reveals what campaigners have been saying for a long time; that the claims about 'gold standard regulations' are a joke. A joke shared by the Conservative government and oil and gas industry to the detriment of our climate and environment and the communities blighted by drilling."
"When the fracking and oil and gas drilling is governed robustly it is a climate and environmentally destructive industry that has no place in a world standing on the precipice of a catastrophic climate breakdown. Even the costly and time-consuming fix to the regulations recommended in the report won't change that inescapable truth."
Ann Stewart of the Sussex and Surrey anti-drilling organisation Weald Action Group said:
"The government boasts about our "gold standard" regulations to promote industrial drilling in the green belt and in rural communities. These communities find that the reality is different. Regulations are frequently breached and the systems to deal with this are flawed and inadequate. We are grateful to Keith Taylor for collecting evidence and documenting the many weaknesses in our regulatory system."
Sarah Finch from Frack Free Surrey added:
"Keith Taylor has compiled a shocking catalogue of failings and breaches, which begs the question of whether this dirty and dangerous industry could ever be effectively regulated."
"Whether it's fracking in the north of England or acidisation in the south-east, it's deeply unpopular with local people. And it's not even needed! We already have five times more fossil fuels in known reserves than we can safely burn. So there's no need at all for risky new methods to get at the hard-to-extract dregs under our homes and countryside."
"I hope Keith's report will help persuade the authorities to stop flogging this dead dinosaur so we can focus our energies on the transition to safer, cleaner ways of meeting our energy needs."
Mr Taylor has sent copies of the report to government Ministers, including Greg Clark and Michael Gove, and regulatory bodies, including the Environment Agency, Oil and Gas Authority and Health and Safety Executive.