Drilling was carried out at Brockham in Surrey without planning permission.

Regulation of onshore oil and gas sites across the country is “woefully inadequate” and “far from gold standard” according to recent reports on it.

Communities around the South of England have been reporting problems at sites near them for years – yet effective action from those tasked with regulating the sites is rarely forthcoming. The Government claims we can rely on “gold standard regulation” of sites but lack of resources, lack of knowledge and conflicts of interest blight what should be an effective system for environmental protection.

Problems include:

  • Too much reliance on self regulation by the oil and gas companies
  • Definitions which aren’t fit for purpose – so that much extreme oil and gas extraction passes as “conventional”
  • A blind spot when it comes to what goes on underground
  • Repeated extension of licences even when they blatantly fail the test of “drill or drop” the licence
  • Poor liaison between regulators, allowing shoddy practice to  fall through the cracks
  • Lack of effective community engagement – papered over by greenwash PR
Traffic breach at Lidsey in West Sussex

It’s hardly surprising these problems exist when at the core of the regulatory system is a Secretary of State whose job is both to promote maximum economic recovery of fossil fuels, and regulate their extraction. This conflict of interest permeates through the regulators – the Oil and Gas Authority has failed repeatedly to act on licence extensions – handing them out like confetti and blighting local communities.

Earthquakes have been a particularly thorny regulatory issue – you can read more about it on the dedicated earthquakes page.

Two recent reports have examined the regulatory failings in more detail.

The former MEP Keith Taylor looked at case studies from around England and came up with a number of recommendations for Government and other decision makers. His report was published in March 2019: “Far From Gold-Standard: the Flawed Regulatory System for Onshore Oil and Gas”.

Professor David Smythe found that a lack of geological expertise amongst regulators was risking “unsound decisions and environmental damage”. Planning authorities are making decisions without adequate geological knowledge and relying on what the applicant tells them. His paper was published in the International Journal of  Environmental Research and Public Health in September 2020: “Inadequate Regulation of the Geological Aspects of Shale Exploitation in the UK“.

Alerting the regulator

For planning related concerns (for example breaches of conditions like operating outside permitted hours or traffic not sticking to the permitted plan) you need to contact your local Mineral Planning Authority – this could be your county council, National Park Authority or unitary authority (eg the Isle of Wight Council).

The Environment Agency aims to ensure that oil and gas operations are carried out in a way that is safe for the environment and people. For issues like emissions to air, soil or water or noise you are best off contacting the Environment Agency in your local area. Start here to report an incident.

The Oil and Gas Authority regulates, influences and promotes the oil and gas industry in the UK. Licensing issues and earthquakes fall into its remit. You can contact them by email or phone.