Regulating onshore oil and gas
Find out about Natural Resources Wales's key role in onshore oil and gas activities and how these activities are regulated
Our role in onshore oil and gas activities
We are the environmental regulator for onshore oil and gas operations in Wales. We will help ensure that onshore oil and gas operations are conducted in a way that protects people and the environment. We do this by issuing permits, enforcing the permit conditions, and providing advice and guidance. We will not allow companies to start work unless they can demonstrate how they will provide a high level of protection to people and the environment.
We regulate emissions, the use of water, the protection of groundwater and the management of wastes such as drilling muds, flow back fluid (hydraulic fracturing fluid that is returned to the surface), gases and any naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM). We have the authority to stop an operation if a significant hazard becomes apparent.
Our role has a number of aspects, which are summarised below:
- We assess individual onshore oil and gas proposals according to a number of different legislative requirements
- We issue permits, licences and consents to determine the potential impact of a proposal on European protected sites)
Monitoring and compliance
- We carry out site inspections, spot checks and audits and review operators' records and procedures
- We are a statutory consultee for planning authorities with regard to planning permission applications for surface operations at specific sites
- We provide guidance to developers on potential environmental and landscape impacts at specific sites
- We provide advice on activities close to protected and sensitive sites which may have an impact on those sites (for example Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas)
- We respond to pollution events and act to minimise potential impacts on people and the local environment
Landownership and managerial role
- We manage the Welsh Government Woodland Estate, which may fall within the boundaries of Petroleum Exploration and Development licences (PEDL) (a license which gives a company exclusive rights to explore for and develop oil or gas in a particular area)
- We act to ensure a clear separation of duties, clarity of roles and transparency in the way permissions for land managed or owned by us is determined
Permits, licences and consents
Oil and gas operators may require up to twelve permits, licences and consents from Natural Resources Wales before any exploratory activities can commence. These are required to ensure exploratory activities are managed in a way that protects people’s health and the environment.
The nature of the permits will depend on the activities proposed by the operator, the geology of the sites and local environmental features. The permits cover a range of activities, which manage groundwater, radioactive substances, mining waste, water abstraction, flaring, water discharge and flood defence.
Regulation in Wales
We work closely with the following bodies to regulate onshore oil and gas activities. Through effective joint working, we ensure that onshore oil and gas activities in Wales are managed in ways that protect the environment and people.
- The Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) licenses each drilling and development activity in EnglandFrom the 1st of October 2018 the Welsh Ministers assumed responsibility for the licensing of onshore petroleum extraction in Wales. Welsh Ministers are responsible for maintaining existing Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence (PEDL), which gives an operator exclusive rights to prospect for conventional and unconventional oil and gas in a licensed areaNo exploration or production activity can start without a PEDL, planning and permitting permission
- Local planning authorities are responsible for granting planning permission (under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990) for surface-related developments
- The Coal Authority is responsible for granting consent for activity which cuts across, disturbs or enters coal seams
- The British Geological Society requires information on any borehole that is intended to penetrate to a depth greater than 100 feet as well as information about the deepening of an existing well
- The Health and Safety Executive is responsible for ensuring safe practices in well design, integrity and construction work, and for safety with regard to drilling work
- The Crown Estate covers some 115,500 hectares in the land area of Great Britain. Ownership of oil and gas within that area is vested in the Crown
BEIS Regulatory Roadmap
Natural Resources Wales worked with the BEIS and the Welsh Government to produce a Regulatory Roadmap. The map provides a useful overview of the permitting and permissions process for shale gas and coal bed methane exploration, highlights key regulatory and advisory bodies, related legislation and regulation, and also identifies required actions and best practices at various stages.
Underground coal gasification is subject to a different regulatory regime to shale gas and coal bed methane (as the processes and associated hazards are different).
The Infrastructure Act 2015 and Hydraulic Fracturing Safeguards
The Infrastructure Act 2015 contains specific provisions relating to energy exploitation, including a number of safeguards that must be completed before the Oil and Gas Authority will issue operators with consent to undertake hydraulic fracturing. Operators must meet twelve safeguard conditions to obtain the consent. Many of the safeguard conditions relate to environmental protection, for example twelve month’s groundwater methane monitoring, fugitive emissions monitoring, and assessment and disclosure of chemicals.
These safeguard are only applicable where an operator is seeking consent to undertake hydraulic fracturing (as defined within the Act), and do not apply to the drilling of exploratory boreholes or coal bed methane activities. The safeguards are also additional to the requirement to obtain the relevant planning and environmental permitting consents.