7. Proposals for mitigation and monitoring (Q4)
7.1 The Environmental Report summarised the findings of the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). It addressed the questions of (i) what would happen to the environment without the preferred policy position, and (ii) what the environmental implications of the preferred policy position would be. It also discussed the range of measures that could be put in place to avoid, reduce or manage the environmental effects of the two 'reasonable alternatives' to the preferred policy position. (The assessment concluded that the preferred policy position would not result in significant negative effects on the environment, and therefore no mitigation procedures were necessary in relation to this.) Finally, the report set out the proposals for monitoring the implementation of the preferred policy position, and for addressing any unforeseen environmental effects.
7.2 Respondents were asked for their views on these different aspects of the SEA – i.e. the findings of the SEA, and the proposals for mitigation and monitoring.
Question 4: What are your views on the findings of the SEA and the proposals for mitigation and monitoring of the environmental effects set out in the Environmental Report?
7.3 Altogether, 163 respondents (33 organisations and 133 individuals) commented at Question 4.
7.4 With regards to the findings of the SEA, there was substantial overlap in the views expressed at Question 4, with those expressed at Questions 1 and 2. The analysis of these views has been presented already in Chapters 4 and 5 and is not repeated here. This chapter therefore focuses on the views expressed in relation to the proposals for mitigation and monitoring.
7.5 There were three main messages in the comments offered in relation to mitigation and monitoring as follows:
- The predominant view (expressed by community councils and other community groups, third sector organisations, and most individual respondents) was that the mitigation and / or monitoring measures suggested in relation to the 'reasonable alternatives' would not be sufficient to reduce the environmental effects to acceptable levels. These respondents thought the only acceptable way forward was to adopt the Scottish Government's preferred policy position and to not support any (further) development of the unconventional oil and gas industry.
- Business / industry respondents and a handful of individuals believed that the mitigation and / or monitoring arrangements should be based on existing best practice. In particular, they thought the arrangements which were already in place elsewhere in the UK (and more specifically in England) were adequate to deal with any potential hazards linked to unconventional oil and gas extraction.
- Regulatory bodies were generally content with the mitigation and monitoring arrangements proposed. However, they requested more details of how aspects of these arrangements would be applied in practice, to be set out in the SEA Post-Adoption Statement.
7.6 Each of these three perspectives are discussed in more detail below.
7.7 As set out above, the Environmental Report explained that because the preferred policy position would not result in any potentially significant negative effects, mitigation measures were only identified for the 'reasonable alternatives', while the monitoring arrangements would be applied in relation to the policy position as adopted. However, it was common for respondents (both organisations and individuals) not to make these distinctions, and simply to talk about 'mitigation and monitoring' in general. The analysis below therefore discusses mitigation and monitoring together. Where distinctions were made by respondents, these have been highlighted.
Proposals for mitigation and / or monitoring are insufficient
7.8 Respondents who concurred with the predominant view (that the proposals for mitigation and / or monitoring of the 'reasonable alternatives' set out in the Environmental Report are inadequate) made a range of points in support of their view. They thought that:
- Monitoring can identify problems but cannot solve them. It can give recourse to legal action or compensation, but it cannot address the environmental harms themselves which are likely to be irreversible. Prevention is critical, and anything which requires mitigation should not go ahead.
- The regulatory authorities are under-resourced and do not have sufficient capacity, or sufficient powers to enforce regulations. The challenge of securing regular site inspections by an adequately resourced, trained and independent workforce should not be underestimated. Moreover, the proposals were seen as 'piecemeal' with different mitigation and monitoring measures proposed for each site; this would make the task of regulatory enforcement particularly challenging.
- The development of protocols and mandatory practices would require a significant upgrade / update of relevant environmental legislation. This would be a resource intensive and costly exercise.
- Many of the mitigation measures proposed rely on immature / experimental technologies. Respondents thought the assessment of what could be achieved was over-optimistic, and they were sceptical that these technologies would deliver what is required.
- There would need to be a substantial effort to monitor wells following decommissioning, to avoid the impacts of leakage. Respondents suggested that there have been problems in the past in relation to information disclosure following the decommissioning of wells, and these have not been successfully addressed through existing monitoring arrangements.
- Given all the uncertainties, and the fact that this is a relatively new industrial process, it is not possible to identify in advance the nature and quality of the mitigation and monitoring required.
7.9 Respondents who expressed the predominant view also noted concerns about a range of the specific mitigation measures proposed. In particular, respondents thought that (i) it was not appropriate to re-inject waste water into an empty gas field as this is a major cause of seismic activity; (ii) using pipelines would not reduce vehicle movements given the increased traffic required to install them; and (iii) planning regulations cannot prevent small sites being acquired without the requirement for an Environmental Impact Assessment, but then being amalgamated to form a larger site.
Mitigation and monitoring arrangements should be based on existing best practice
7.10 Oil and gas business and industry respondents and a small number of individuals argued that the Environmental Report should have assumed that the regulatory controls currently in place in England would be applied in Scotland. Therefore, these respondents argued that the assessments presented in the SEA (which are based on the regulatory system currently in place in Scotland) were 'incorrect', as they did not take into account the mitigation and monitoring arrangements that have been widely adopted elsewhere in the UK. This group of respondents thought that if the assessment had assumed the application of the regulatory controls currently in place in England, then the risks / predicted environmental impacts associated with unconventional oil and gas would have been assessed as negligible.
7.11 These respondents discussed in detail the range of regulatory controls which were in place in England with regard to each of the (nine) SEA topics under consideration. (See also Chapter 5, paragraph 5.11.) They went on to quote the statement put out by the UK Government Department of Energy and Climate Change that 'existing regulatory requirements, provided they are followed, will ensure that effects at the project level will be identified, assessed and mitigated to an acceptable level', and they asked why the Scottish Government does not concur with this view.
7.12 Finally, these respondents thought that the SEA had not made clear what improvements to current unconventional oil and gas operational practices were required in order to satisfy the Scottish Government.
Request for further clarification
7.13 Regulatory bodies were generally content with the mitigation and monitoring arrangements proposed. However, they requested more clarification in the Post-Adoption Statement in relation to (i) the mechanism for implementation of the mitigation arrangements; (ii) the mitigation measures set out in the six research projects into unconventional oil and gas commissioned by the Scottish Government which examined specific issues; (iii) the plans for considering issues which fall outside the scope of existing regulation; and (iv) the arrangements for monitoring the effects of importing oil and gas products (under any scenario).
7.14 A range of respondents, with differing views on the adequacy (or not) of the proposed mitigation and monitoring arrangements, commented on the potential costs of any (new or improved) regulatory system. These respondents emphasised the importance of ensuring that any system was cost-effective.