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HSE responds to New Statesman article on fracking

"The new gold rush" - New Statesman, 15 March 2013
Response date:
20 March 2013

HSE has written to the New Statesman's letters page in response to an article which criticised our regulatory role in the gas extraction technique 'fracking'.

The piece claimed HSE lacked onshore expertise and resource, as well as saying there is insufficient regulation and a lack of inspection.

To the Editor

I would like to clarify a number of points made in Michael Brooks' article "The new gold rush".

It's wrong to claim that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) does not have the expertise to carry out fracking inspections. The expertise required for the assessment of onshore well integrity is exactly the same as for offshore wells, which our specialists have been doing for years.

It is also nonsense to suggest that HSE has no funds to carry out onshore visits. We have, and we do - when it is useful to do so. Wells are deep underground and complex in their construction, most of which is not accessible to visual inspection. The key to well integrity inspection is to ensure the operator is managing risks effectively from design to decommissioning, which we do for every well by reviewing plans and monitoring well drilling and construction. When fracking re-starts in Lancashire, HSE is committed to undertake joint inspections with the Environment Agency and will check key operations such as cementing the wells.

The Government concluded, after considering the Royal Society/Royal Academy of Engineering review of shale gas extraction in the UK, that the established and proven regulatory regime is sufficiently robust.

Very little fracking has taken place in the UK to date. As the industry develops HSE will of course keep its approach under review and continue to work closely with the Environment Agency and DECC to ensure an effective and proportionate system of regulation remains in place.

Steve Walker
Health and Safety Executive Energy Division

Updated 2013-03-20