The government has announced the preliminary results of the 14th Onshore Licensing Round for oil and gas licenses. There are two categories i) 27 blocks that will be offered licences without further assessment and ii) a further 132 blocks that first need to undergo Appropriate Assessment and consultation.
A block is an Ordnance Survey 10 x 10 km grid square. In Somerset all of the 10km blocks are in the ‘ST’ 100km block. The licenses don’t extend into the sea but they do extend onto the large foreshore areas, some of which are protected.
The ‘Appropriate Assessment’ refers to an assessment of the licence blocks in relation to the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010.
In Somerset the previous licences in the Bristol-Somerset coalfield have not been renewed, so those areas including the Chew Valley are not at risk of unconventional gas exploration and development in this licensing round. It is a good thing too because the Department of Energy and Climate Change has confirmed to us that the ‘safeguards’ in the Infrastructure Act (such as not fracking in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and not fracking at shallow depths) do not apply to coalbed methane.
Eleven of the licence blocks in the Appropriate Assessment category are either within Somerset or adjacent to Somerset and include 400 km2 to the east of Frome and a large area along the cost from Clevedon to Dunster. These licence blocks must go to consultation because they either contain or are in close proximity to designated protected areas protected by law and international treaty. DECC’s consultants have advised that with respect to the Habitats Regulations ALL of these blocks (with some caveats) can be licensed and that gas development will not have ‘Adverse Effects on Integrity’. This basically means that drilling for gas can be conducted up to the boundary of the designated areas and beneath the designated areas. The Government has a track record in ignoring the results of consultations.
This is the area and licence blocks in West Somerset with the Special Areas of Conservation, Special Protection Areas and RAMSAR wetland sites indicated. Click to download.
This is the area and licence blocks to the East of Somerset:
You can respond to the Government Consultation on the Habitats Regulations Assessment via the DECC web site – or here is the document you need to refer to: Consultation_OGA_branded_summary_document.
Here is a reduced size collated version of DECC’s Appendix D and maps – Block_ST_14th_Round_reduced_size.
NB These maps only contain information regarding the Habitats Regulations which are directly relevant to the consultation. That is not the whole story however and other maps will follow with AONBs, National Parks, and SSSI”s (now removed from the ‘safeguards’) etc.
This web page contains map information that is copyright 2015 Ordnance Survey and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee under the Open Government Licence.
See JNCC for information on the designated sites protection status.