I have had a number of copies of a standard email and a few variants from constituents worried that oil and gas companies may be able to drill beneath their homes without needing permission from the land owner, and go on to frack where this is needed to produce gas.
With other MPs I will of course consider the proposed legislation very carefully. I have no wish to see people’s homes damaged by seismic movements beneath their properties, nor to see chemicals leach into water courses, nor has the government. The proposal only allows new rights to drill more than 300 metres down. There will be compensation to local communities where drilling takes place.
More importantly, gas and oil companies have no wish to damage homes or contaminate water. They will be well aware of how much damage that would do to their reputations and bank balances. I do not expect the new law to be any more lenient on ensuring a prohibition on the pollution of water, nor to suddenly allow companies to damage people’s property.
Much of the possible drilling will be way below the surface level, so it should not in anyway disturb foundations and gardens. People who live in London have had many more large holes and tunnels drilled close to the surface to contain large water pipes, cables, tube trains and other underground services without damage. The extraction of any gas found may be less harmful than water extraction licences which people accept water companies should enjoy, which can take water away from near the surface with more potential impact on structures.
We can learn from the problems coal mining created in the past. There a whole layer of rock was hewn out, and in some cases the rocks and soil above were allowed to collapse behind the miners. In other cases pillars of coal were left supporting the strata above, but these too were subject to collapse. Taking gas out of a reservoir rock at great depth will not have anything like the same impact as removing a whole stratum of rock.
Water companies will continue to have a duty to supply potable water to every household. They will continue to measure and monitor the water they put into their supply pipes in great detail to ensure there are not adverse chemicals or dangerous bacteria in it. They will have every interest in working with oil and gas companies to ensure the water courses remain clean, or to ensure proper treatment of the water before supply. The issues are not as difficult as the water company’s current task of cleaning up everyone’s foul water before returning it to the river and sea. Handling all that foul water is a problem. People just expect the companies and authorities to be able to take it away and process it without harm.
I do think we need to produce some of the gas and oil we are now finding. It is not particularly friendly to say oil and gas should be extracted from under the homes of foreigners in their countries, but never here at home. It also leaves us worse off if we import more and produce less here. We do need to get our oil and gas from somewhere to heat our homes, drive our cars and fuel our factories.