Oil and gas extraction
To date, we have not received any planning applications for oil and gas development - there is no fracking taking place in Somerset.
Fracking is a term commonly used to refer to the process of hydraulic fracturing, where a mixture of water, sand and chemicals are pumped at high pressure through boreholes into gas bearing rocks. The water opens up cracks in the rock, and the sand grains lodge into the spaces allowing gas to be released and travel back along the borehole. In the UK this technique is most commonly associated with shale gas extraction.
Licenced areas in Somerset
The UK Government is responsible for issuing Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences (PEDLs), through the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
There are currently eight Petroleum and Exploration Development Licences (PEDLs) blocks in Somerset, signed on 15 September 2016, as a result of the Government’s 14th oil and gas licensing round. All eight are held by South Western Energy Ltd (in three PEDL agreements) and you can view them on an interactive map.
You can find further information on the PEDL agreements in Somerset on the Oil and Gas Authority website:
- PEDL320 – covers blocks ST25a, ST35a and ST36*;
- PEDL321 – covers blocks ST25b, ST34 and St35b; and
- PEDL344 – covers blocks ST04, ST14 and ST24
* ST36 falls within the boundaries of North Somerset
While PEDLs give licence holders exclusive rights to pursue proposals for oil and gas development within the licenced areas, the licence holder will be required to follow existing planning and regulatory processes, including: applying for planning permission; applying for relevant environment permits; and gaining consent to drill from the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA). The licensee’s proposals will also be subject to scrutiny by the Health and Safety Executive.
Somerset County Council’s role
We are the minerals and waste planning authority for the county, with the exception of Exmoor National Park. Exmoor National Park is a separate authority, and you can find details about their planning work on the Exmoor National Park website.
As mineral planning authority (MPA) for Somerset, we are responsible for determining planning applications for oil and gas development (technically referred to as onshore hydrocarbon extraction). We have to work within the planning system which governs the development and use of land in the public interest. The MPA may not address any emissions, control processes, or health and safety issues that are matters to be addressed under other regulatory regimes.
The document below provides answers to questions with regards to hydrocarbon extraction and fracking, as well as outlining the planning and regulatory processes.
Oil and Gas – Frequently Asked Questions
More about the Regulatory process
A formal regulatory process is in place that has to be followed before any exploration or development of oil and gas can proceed. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has published a Regulatory Roadmap which explains this in more detail.
There are three main phases to the planning process for oil and gas development:
Planning permission for exploration/appraisal of oil and gas does not imply that long-term production will be permitted. In England, this regulatory process involves a number of different regulatory bodies. Before exploration can begin, the relevant Minerals Planning Authority (Somerset County Council) must grant planning permission and the Environment Agency must grant relevant abstraction/discharge permits. The Health and Safety Executive must also be notified.
On checking this has been satisfactorily completed, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is then in a position to issue overall consent to proceed.
The Environment Agency are also a consultee to the relevant Minerals Planning Authority and will provide responses for the proposed planning applications including their views on any potential risks, such as adverse impacts on water resources/quality and air quality. Any planning applications received will also be examined in relation to national and local policy and guidance.
Local planning policy on oil and gas development is contained in the Somerset Mineral Plan. The County Council has prepared an Energy Minerals topic paper (see 'Information and Resources') to inform its Minerals Plan, working in co-operation with North Somerset Council, Bath and North East Somerset Council and the Environment Agency.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has produced a guide to shale gas and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) available on the GOV.UK website.
More information is available from BEIS, the Oil and Gas Authority, the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive by following the links in the Information and Resources section of this page.
Last update: 7 June 2017