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UK regulations are unfit for purpose and will not protect us – a detailed examination.

Fracking - Minding The Gaps by Jo Hawkins

Fracking – Minding The Gaps by Jo Hawkins

We are ‘reassured’ by the mantra, ‘provided we have robust regulation’ ‘ we have world class regulation’ ‘the UK has the most robust regulation in the world’ and so on. The Department of This That and The Other tell us that out health, wildlife, water, air, house prices and so on will be safe because we have ‘world class regulation’. Until now this has never been systematically challenged. A PhD student with time and insight and the ability to read legal terms has worked through all the regulations in the UK looking at Fracking. What she finds is alarming. In ‘Fracking – Minding the Gaps’ she discovers there is almost no regulation specific to fracking. Most is borrowed direct from conventional gas extraction and from off-shore drilling. There are recommendations rather than demands and a lack of precision.
Jo Hawkins has dissected the regulations and found them severely inadequate. She advised the Environment Committee of the House of Commons who wrote a report that called for a moratorium but was ignored by the government. The industry PR spin doctor explained that all the gaps had been closed. In a personal communication from the author, this does not seem to be the case.
‘World class regulation’ – yes, the world-wide finding is of poor, leaky and disappointing regulation, ‘robust regulation’ – sorry try again.

At present, the framing of shale gas and fracking activities as low risk is based on the assumption that a robust regulatory system is in place.76 This article has shown that this is not the case and that regulatory change is needed. Such a change requires recognition of the fact that the current regulation does not fit the technology and processes it is trying to control. Until this fact is acknowledged and addressed, the regula- tion governing fracking will continue to be inadequate.


One Response to UK regulations are unfit for purpose and will not protect us – a detailed examination.

  1. Jeremy Deedes 13th November 2015 at 12:35 pm #

    We need of course to consider the effectiveness of regulation in general. Unfortunately recent history is full of regulatory failures where businesses have resorted to subterfuge or camouflage to get round supervisory oversight in the pursuit of profit. Sometimes businesses simply treat the cost of non-compliance and the resulting fines as part of their project costs because this allows them still to make a profit which they would not generate by complying with regulations or by shelving the project outright. Often, methodical sub-regulatory radar activity has simply allowed a problem to build over time to the point where it results in catastrophic failure and the consequent environmental, human and financial damage.

    Recent examples of regulatory failure include:

    Pension miselling
    Sub-prime lending
    GSK unapproved drugs
    Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust and the Morecambe Bay NHS Trust
    The 2007 Financial Crisis and the spin of crises (LIBOR, FOREX etc)
    Deepwater Horizon (The BP Gulf Oil Spill)
    News International phone hacking

    And the alternative to regulation? It has to start at the top. A top down driven ethical culture that accepts that the bottom line is more than just profit is a start. Businesses that seek to be sustainable in the long term, particularly through the application of an Environment / Social / Governance (ESG) policy, will probably exceed regulatory standards, making regulation redundant.

    In a world where profit at any price and fossil fuels are absolutely against the spirit of the age, the frackers need to carry out a significant piece of self-exploration before they start to explore the gas fields of the UK.

    The Manchester University policy unit has some good stuff on this at

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