14th Round – HRA Assessment

What is the Habitats Regulations Assessment?

Please note that the consultation on the 14th Licensing Round has now closed.

Map of PEDL licences in the UK.

14th Licensing round: Issued and pending PEDL Licences in the UK. (Click to enlarge.)

On 18th August 2015, the Government issued a new set of Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences (PEDL) to companies, allowing them to explore for conventional and unconventional oil and gas deposits – including fracking.

27 new licences have already been offered to companies (shown in light green), and a second group of 132 further blocks is subject to detailed assessment under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010. These are shown in dark green on the map to the right. You can see the map of the whole country by clicking here, or by visiting an interactive version of the map provided by the Oil and Gas Authority. This map shows the status of each PEDL licences block and who owns it (if already allocated).

Is York within a PEDL Licence block area?

Yes. York is within and surrounded by several PEDL blocks: SE57, SE66, SE65, SE76, SE75. These blocks contain or are located within the buffer zones of Strensall Common SAC, North York Moors SAC, River Derwent SAC, and Lower Derwent Valley SAC, SPA and Ramsar.

To find out more about licences in your area, please see the Drill or Drop 14th Licensing Round Portal. This contains an interactive map of the UK, by region.
For a list of all licences, you can also see the Government’s published maps of all licence blocks

What is the point of the consultation?

The Government is required to consult with the public if any licence block contains or will contain areas that are protected under EU wildlife legislation. A Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) is required to be carried out under EU law in relation to activities which are “likely to have a significant effect” on species and habitats of “community interest”. This include the following:

  • Ramsar Sites (these are Wetlands of National Importance)
  • Special Protection Areas (SPAs, which are protected under the Wild Birds Directive)
  • Special Areas of Conservation (SACs, protected under the Habitats Directive)

The Government have assessed each of the sites and have made recommendations on the level of protection each one should be given. These range from ‘no conditions proposed’ to not allowing any activity on or near the protected EU sites. Note, however, these restrictions would only apply to the protected sites, not the whole block, and may allow companies to set up near the site and drill horizontally underneath them.

For further information on how the assessment works, please visit the excellent Friends of the Earth briefing on the consultation.

You can also read the Government’s guidelines on how they assessed the various PEDL Licence sites by going to their Consultation Document.

How do I respond?

The consultation can be accessed by going to the DECC Consultation Hub. Responses can be submitted online using the webform provided (preferred method), or by mail at the following address: oilandgaslicensing@oga.gsi.gov.uk

However you choose to respond, please be sure to include the full consultation reference: URN 15D/401 – Habitats Regulations Assessments of 14th Onshore Oil and Gas Licensing Round.

What can I mention in my response?

The Consultation in comprised of six questions. We have provided some point that you may wish to mention for the first two questions. For assistance with the remaining questions, please see the excellent guides from Frack Free Ryedale and Friends of the Earth.

Question 1: Do you have any comments on the Habitats Regulations Assessment carried out for the 14th onshore oil and gas licensing round?

  • The assessment considers the need to protect European designated sites as required by the Habitats Regulations and the European Habitat Directive, but it does not consider the need to protect nationally designated sites such as SSSIs and protected species as required by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. For this reason the scope of the assessment is too narrow. All license blocks available in the 14th Onshore Oil and Gas Licensing Round should have been considered in the assessment, not only those containing, or close to, European sites.
  • The assessment makes a number of assumptions regarding the compliance and good practice of organisations taking part in oil and gas operations. These include the assumption that they will comply with pollution prevention guidelines and that oil and gas installations will be designed, constructed and maintained to a high standard. These assumptions are not consistent with the known history of the oil and gas industry in the UK and abroad. In the case of Preese Hall, the well casing was damaged and hazardous produced water was discharged into the Manchester Ship Canal. In the case of West Newton A the Environment Agency recorded odour and air pollution coming from the site, as well as citing a number of breaches of environmental permit conditions.
  • The assessment considers each oil and gas operation separately. It also treats unconventional oil and gas operations as being broadly similar to conventional oil and gas operations. This is not appropriate as unconventional oil and gas production requires thousands of wells, as has been seen where this industry has been developed abroad. For this reason impacts on wildlife associated with land use change and habitat fragmentation, air pollution, water pollution, light pollution, noise, vibration and road traffic will be more widespread and severe than suggested by the report. Wildlife and habitats will be affected by the cumulative impact of multiple oil and gas wells located around them, but this type of impact is not considered in the assessment.
  • The assessment does not consider the impact of climate change, which will be exacerbated by new oil and gas operations and the consumption of the fossil fuels that they produce. Existing global fossil fuel reserves are already sufficiently large to cause dangerous climate change. Adding new sources of unconventional fossil fuels will worsen the impacts of climate change on wildlife and habitats.
  • The assessment excludes the impact of below ground operations, and for this reason proposes that drilling should be allowed under all protected sites. However this assumption is not justified, because in the case of coal bed methane, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing may take place at depths of less than 1km. The assessment does conclude that vibration from drilling may have an impact at distances up to 1km, but appears to only have considered the horizontal distance and not the vertical distance between drilling operations and protected habitats.
  • The assessment does not consider the impact of pollution of surface water and the effect that this would have on wildlife and habitats. This is despite the risks posed by the handling and transportation of produced and flowback waters at the surface and the difficulty of disposing of this contaminated water. In the case of Preese Hall contaminated water has already been deliberately discharged into the Manchester Ship Canal, as no suitable form of water treatment was available.
  • As part of the assumptions regarding good practice and compliance, the assessment assumes that all necessary consents regarding water abstraction and discharge will be obtained and adhered to. However the assessment does not take into account the fact that 18% of catchments in the UK are already over licensed for abstraction. This means that habitats could be harmed by abstraction of water even if no additional consents for abstraction of water are granted. The high demand for water caused by unconventional oil and gas production is likely to place stress on rivers vulnerable to over abstraction.
  • The assessment does consider the issue of air pollution and its affect on wildlife. However this appraisal is limited to pollution from vehicles, diesel generators and particulates from construction work. This is despite the fact that wellheads, condensate tanks, produced/flowback water tanks, dehydrators, methanol tanks, separators, venting, flaring, glycol heating for reuse, pneumatic devices and water treatment plants for produced/flowback water have all been identified as significant sources of air pollution. in the USA these sources of pollution have caused widespread areas of harmful air pollution. For example in North East Colorado a region including several major cities has been declared a non-attainment area for summertime ozone levels due to these sources of pollution, which are linked to unconventional gas and oil production. Such widespread pollution will have harmful affects on life beyond the 200 metre limit states in the assessment.
  • Although the assessment does consider the impact of air pollution from vehicles, it does not consider other impacts of road traffic, such as collisions with wild animals. The thousands of lorry movements needed for hydraulic fracturing will exacerbate these impacts. It should be noted that a number of protected sites, including European sites have roads passing through them that will bring the risk of increased traffic passing through the protected site.
  • The assessment does not give detailed consideration to the impacts of stages E and F because it considers these impacts to be less significant than the impacts of stages A to D. However this does not take into account the risk of oil and gas companies falling into insolvency, causing oil and gas wells to be abandoned without proper decommissioning taking place.
  • The assessment gives a justification for the use of 1km and 10km buffer zones around protected sites, but then undermines this case by stating that these buffer zones will not be license conditions and will only be advice that may be considered by planning authorities. Because of recent changes to planning regulations and the prospect of planning decisions regarding oil and gas being called in by the central government, there is a significant risk that planning authorities will not give due consideration to this advice. Any buffer zones that are required for the protection of wildlife should be made license conditions to avoid ambiguity and the erosion of wildlife protection.
  • In some European sites, seismic surveys will be allowed to take place. This is not a suitable activity for a protected site.

Question 2: Do you have any comments on the assessments carried out for individual licence Blocks? (You may wish to comment on more than one Block.) Please provide the reference for the Block you are commenting on (e.g. SD26a ).

  • Blocks in and around York are SE57, SE66, SE65, SE76, SE75. These blocks contain or are located within the buffer zones of Strensall Common SAC, North York Moors SAC, River Derwent SAC, and Lower Derwent Valley SAC, SPA and Ramsar.
  • The assessment proposes that seismic surveys should be allowed to take place in Strensall Common SAC. This is not a suitable activity for a protected site.
  • North York Moors SAC, Strensall Common SAC, River Derwent SAC, Lower Derwent Vallay SPA, SAC and Ramsar are all crossed by roads or bridges and vulnerable to increases in road traffic associated with oil and gas activity and to the risk of road traffic accidents causing leaks of fracking fluid, or produced or flowback water.

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