As Scotland's environmental regulator, SEPA fielded a number of experts to provide information to the Scottish Government Reporters who are conducting the ongoing planning inquiry into the Dart Energy proposals for coal bed methane extraction near Airth.
SEPA had no objection to the planning applications and has attended the inquiry at the request of the Department for Planning and Environmental Appeals (DPEA) to provide context of our statutory roles in planning consultation and environmental regulation. The regulatory framework for this type of activity is complex, therefore the inquiry provides an opportunity to assist the Reporters and nearby communities in understanding the roles and responsibilities of regulatory bodies.
SEPA attended a hearing session as part of the inquiry on Monday 31 March in order to provide clarification, as required, on any regulatory tools which might be relevant for the proposal. SEPA will also be attending a further hearing on Wednesday 2 April at which planning conditions and the waste management plans will be discussed.
SEPA is just one of a number of organisations involved in regulating unconventional gas extraction in Scotland, along with the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), local authorities, the Health and Safety Executive and the Coal Authority.
As a responsible environmental regulator, we are continually reviewing our regulatory framework. In particular, we are working with Scottish Government to review the current legislative framework concerning the control and monitoring of fugitive emissions from unconventional oil & gas operations to ensure that there is a high level of protection for the environment and human health.
While there are currently a wide range of regulatory controls that can be used effectively to control and mitigate against the environmental impacts that may result from unconventional gas activities, we consider that there would be benefits in having greater clarity in how these are delivered, to ensure the regulatory process is as robust as possible. It will also provide clarity to both regulated business as to what they need to do as well as to stakeholders such as communities, who will benefit from increased confidence regarding the environmental protection they are receiving.
The primary tools at SEPA's disposal include the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations (commonly known as CAR) and the Pollution Prevention and Control (Scotland) Regulations 2012 (PPC 2012). To comply with CAR the operator will require an appropriate authorisation for specific activities such as the construction of boreholes, the discharges of drilling fluid to ground or surface water, and abstractions, with the aim of preventing significant adverse impacts on the water environment.
Through the Pollution Prevention and Control (Scotland) Regulations 2012 (PPC 2012) the operator will require a PPC permit for a central processing unit as a refining activity (Schedule 1, Section 1.2Part ,A, paragraph (a) of PPC 2012). This will require the operator to effectively manage risks to air quality, land and surface and groundwater resources arising from the activities carried on within the permit boundary. Any flaring and venting being proposed within the PPC permit boundary will be regulated as being directly associated with the refining activity.
For more information regarding SEPA's regulation of unconventional gas, check out the SEPA webpage: