SOME of the UKs biggest regulatory bodies gathered at Knutsford’s Curzon Cinema on Tuesday night to discuss fracking concerns with Cheshire residents.

The Environment Agency, Health and Safety Executive, Oil and Gas Authority and Public Health England staff hosted an ‘informal information’ session from 1pm to 8pm to explain how they regulate the oil and gas industry to protect people and the environment.

Around 50 people attended throughout the day, and there was a slow stream of guests throughout the evening.

George Kowalczyk, environmental public health specialist for Public Health England, said that the job of the independent authority is to advise governmental departments, local authorities and regulatory agencies, but that it itself cannot regulate.

“Because there is no fracking industry in this country,” he said. “We have we have to make assessments and predictions about what might happen.

“There will be leakages here and there. These leakages will be modelled to whatever is nearby and we make a judgement about what the potential health implications can be. It’s all done on a case by case basis.

“We look at the evidence and make sure that we protect people’s health.”

Amid the authorities were Health and Safety Executive, who regulate the safety on the drilling site to ensure well integrity, mainly for the protection of the employees.

Trevor Sexty, of HSE’s oil and gas policy team, added: “The greatest risk from one of these sites is an uncontrolled release of fuels that could cause an explosion. It is unlikely. If there was it would go upwards not outwards.

“It is very rare that that sort of thing occurs. The likelihood is low but the consequences are high. They are very closely regulated.”

Gordon Whittaker, environment manager for the EA in Greater Manchester, explained that the agency has the most regulatory powers.

He said: “We want people to understand our role, our responsibility and our powers. We have stronger regulatory powers. We give advice and guidance, we can suspend the operation and we can revoke the permit, essentially putting the company out of business.

“We can also go to court and request an injunction against them.”

Finally, Mark Quint, geoscientist for the Oil and Gas Authority explained its role in granting licenses for onshore gas exploration.

“Our role starts at the beginning of the process,” he said. “Every licence we receive we are looking at the operators, their background and their financial viability. We see which companies do not pass our tests. We also look at the area and their proposed work plan for a license.”

However, some residents felt that operators should have been represented at the meeting and have been left concerned that too much ‘reliance’ is on the operating companies to report back to the regulators.

Mabs Taylor, a Knutsford resident, said: “While I found speaking to the representatives of the Health and Safety Executive and The Environment Agency interesting, I came away with the feeling that fracking is a relatively new industry in the UK and that some of what we were told was speculative.”