The government and the industry speak often and loudly about 'gold standard regulations' regarding fossil fuel extraction in the UK.

However regulations for new extreme conventional and unconventional extraction are in their infancy in the UK  and are only guidelines and not law.

Below is the leading statement from the (now extinct) DECC (Department  of Energy and Climate Change) advisory document 2015  for ' Regulation and Best Practice' for extraction of Oil and Gas in the UK.

"It (the document) is intended to offer an introduction to and guidance on planning and permitting.  Its content should not be considered as definitive policy statement.

The roadmap is intended as a general guide only and will be revised as legislation develops, new regulations are introduced; or when best practice evolves."

It continues,


"What is the UK’s approach to regulation?

​The UK has a goal-setting approach to regulation that requires operators to ensure and demonstrate to regulators that the risks of an incident relating to oil and gas operations are reduced to ‘as low as reasonably practicable’.

This encourages operators to move beyond minimum standards in a continuous effort for improvement."

So essentially, once permissions and plans have been reviewed and accepted by the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive, then the industry is responsible to self regulate and define reduced risk, during the entire extraction period for the life of the licence. Also what is most alarming, is that the operators are simply 'encouraged' to improve their standards beyond current minimum performance. Hardly gold standard.

What's more budget cuts at the HSE and EA over the past 6 years will continue until 2020. This has a real potential impact on the accuracy and quality of regulatory permits due to overburdened staff,   strict time limits and government pressure to accelerate the process. Some unions and protestors in the past have called the cuts "A Licence to Pollute"

The Health and Safety Executive rely upon their infrequent inspections  and incident reports sent to them by the industry if things go wrong.  However records show that this regulatory scrutiny has been impacted and negated by;


  • Lack of compliance to regulations

  • Permit breaches

  • Human error and poor standards of work

  • Complacency

  • Economic short cutting

  • Lack of sufficient resources for long term monitoring into the future

  • Lack of sufficient department resources to monitor multi-contractors over large scale projects

We can also judge the robustness of self regulation to prevent serious incidents by reviewing incidents on existing sites in the offshore industry.        

Read this article about offshore incidents which appeared in the Guardian in 2012

Since 2013 to June 2016 offshore  there have been

  • 1,768 reported spills, leaks and unintended releases of oil, gas and chemicals. Of those incidents where the volumes of releases were recorded, 465 were oil spills, 444 were chemical spills and 379 were spillages of both substances. 

  • at least three recorded rig fires

  • a further 14 incidents that were assessed as having been at risk of fire and/or explosion

  • the Health and Safety Executive also issued 124 notices to offshore drilling companies in the same period

  • more than a fifth of incidents involved a release of half a tonne or more

Due to data privacy restrictions, neither the UK Government nor the regulatory authorities publish a publicly available database of onshore incidents. It is, therefore, difficult to ascertain the true scale of incidents at onshore oil and gas wells. Other sources have had to be used where available and often involve cases where the operators have denied the incidents despite reliable photographic, film or documentary evidence to the contrary.

However evidence has been collated of 40 known incidents on 7 exploration onshore sites in UK since 2011. These include:

  • permit breaches,

  • chemical fluid spills,

  • illegal waste run-offs into agricultural ditches,

  • oil blow outs,

  • faulty equipment,

  • dumping of waste into canal

  • excessive methane emissions,

  • earthquakes and seismic shocks,

  • lack of safety monitoring,

  • use of illegal rigs and drilling equipment,

  • failure of the industry to report major incidents to the appropriate authority.

For further reading of regulation breaches and inadequate regulation click on the links below.


Illegal sidetrack well drilled at Brockham : 9/3/2017 BBC Report

Illegal Well drilled by Angus Energy . Drill or Drop

Council told Angus Energy Twice it had no planning permission for side track well.

Campaigners take minister to court over consent for Lancashire planning approval for Fracking.

Fracking Minding the Gaps