Onshore oil and gas regulation handled by four separate bodies
UK is recognised as a leading example for oil and gas industry regulation
As well as UK regulations, the industry is governed by 14 pieces of European legislation
Who regulates the onshore oil and gas industry?
The industry is regulated by a number of statutory bodies including the Environment Agency (EA) in England, Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) in Scotland and Natural Resources Wales (NRW) in Wales, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Onshore oil and gas regulation in the UK has been recognised as an exemplar by the rest of the world. In addition the industry is governed by 14 separate pieces of European legislation.
Who is responsible for what?
1) Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC)
Under the Petroleum Act of 1998, the Crown has all ownership rights to hydrocarbon resources in the UK. Responsibility for administration on behalf of the Crown falls to the Secretary of State for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).
DECC issues a ‘Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence’ (PEDL), which gives a company or group of companies (a joint venture) exclusive rights to explore for, and develop, the resource in a particular defined area.
2) Environmental Regulator
The role of environment regulation is handled by the Environment Agency (EA) in England, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) in Wales and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) in Scotland.
In England & Wales, onshore oil and gas exploratory activities require environmental permits issued under the Environmental Permitting Regulations (EPR 2010) and other permissions from the Environmental regulator, depending on the methods used and the geology of the site. In Scotland, SEPA requires a construction licence for any borehole greater than 200 metres, under the Water Environment (Controlled Activity) (Scotland) Regulations 2011 and for a water features survey up to 1.2km from the well trajectory.
The Environmental regulator is also a statutory consultee during the planning application conducted by the MPA and also in the assessment of the Environmental Impact Assessment if this is required.
3) Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) monitors oil and gas operations from a well integrity and site safety perspective. It ensures 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.
HSE works closely with the Environment regulator and the Department of Energy and Climate Change 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.
4) Minerals Planning Authority
Minerals Planning Authorities (as part of local councils) grant planning permission for the location of any wells and well pads, and impose conditions to ensure that the impact on the use of the land is acceptable.
The planning system controls the development and use of land in the public interest. This includes ensuring that any new development is appropriate for its location. This takes into account the effects (including cumulative effects) of potential pollution on health, the natural environment or general amenity. In doing so the focus of the planning system is on whether the application is an acceptable use of the land, and the impacts of those uses. Any control processes, health and safety issues or emissions themselves are then subject to the approval of the other regulators mentioned above.
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)
An Environmental Impact Assessment is an assessment of the possible positive and/or negative impacts that a proposed project may have on the environment.
The MPA will carry out a screening exercise under European legislation to determine whether any proposal requires an EIA.