The regulation of onshore unconventional oil and gas exploration (shale gas)

This page outlines the regulation of emerging unconventional oil and gas developments.

Unconventional gas is a term that includes natural gas produced from underground shale rock (shale gas). This gas is extracted from the rock using a technique called hydraulic fracturing (known as 'fracking'), which is also used for coal bed methanes and in other more conventional oil and gas wells.

The Environment Agency (EA) in England and Wales, and Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) are the environmental regulators who monitor the environmental aspects of shale gas fracking. The key regulation that governs how shale gas fracking operators comply with environmental laws is the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2010.

HSE monitors shale gas operations from a well integrity and site safety perspective. We oversee that safe working practices are adopted by onshore operators as required under the Health and Safety at Work Etc Act 1974, and regulations made under the Act. These specifically are:

The Borehole Site and Operations Regulations 1995 (BSOR) applies to shale gas operations.

(These regulations are primarily concerned with the health and safety management of the site).

The Offshore Installations and Wells (Design and Construction, etc) Regulations 1996 (DCR) apply to all wells drilled with a view to the extraction of petroleum regardless of whether they are onshore or offshore.

(These regulations are primarily concerned with well integrity).

HSE works closely with the Environment Agency (EA) and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to share relevant information on such activities and to ensure that there are no material gaps between the safety, environmental protection and planning authorisation considerations, and that all material concerns are addressed.

The Environment Agency and HSE have a 'Working together agreement' that explains the joint approach to the regulation of unconventional oil and gas developments.

The Shale Environmental Regulator Group (SERG) has been set up to better coordinate the regulation of shale gas well sites. It brings together the regulatory activity of the:

  • Environment Agency
  • Health and Safety Executive
  • Oil and Gas Authority

You can contact the Shale Environmental Regulator Group at this address: [email protected].

You can find out how shale gas exploration and production will be jointly regulated in this working together agreement.

Planning authorities have an important role in how shale gas operations develop. HSE have produced a guide to the health and safety regulatory regime to help those involved in deciding planning applications understand the role of HSE and links to the planning process.

Further information about shale gas and its regulation is available on the DECC website.

Updated 2021-12-14