Legal Information regarding Liability and Advice to Landowners.

Ryedale Farmers Against Fracking has learnt a little about long term liability today – and I thought it would be a good idea to share this with everyone immediately….

“You should be aware of your long-term liability if you allow fracking on your land and should check this with  your legal advisers.

“According to our advice, the rule of Rylands v Fletcher will apply. This rule makes the landowner responsible for damage caused by  substances which escape from his land. A substance does not have to be toxic to be ‘dangerous’: the Rylands v Fletcher Case was all about water escaping from a reservoir.

“The Rylands v Fletcher rule imposes strict liability. It does not matter how careful you are, how diligently you comply with regulations, absence of negligence is no defence: if the substance escapes, the landowner is responsible and no excuses are accepted by the law.

“The landowner can pass on this responsibility to the fracking company, if the  escape results from their operations. However, once the fracking company ceases to exist or gets wound up or goes bankrupt, there is nowhere else the landowner can go, and he must take full responsibility.

“One way out of this is to require the fracking company to give a guaranty backed by a surety such as a bank or insurance company. However, Third Energy refused to give such a surety to the County Council in respect of KM8; there is no prospect of such sureties being required by planning authorities and, in the case of insurance companies, it is well known they will not insure against risks which arise from fracking operations.

“Landowners are also advised to ascertain the potential risks of  well failure. Fracking involves the use of explosive charges underground and the pumping of fluids with silica at extreme pressures to force and hold open cracks in the rock so as to allow gas to escape. This will inevitably cause vibration and stress through all the underground equipment, and it is understood that fracking wells dlo fail – sometimes within a period of five years. The landowner will therefore be primarily responsible for the escape of all polluting liquids and gases from an abandoned well and this liability may occur sooner than he expects.

“Landowners who are approached by fracking companies should also consult their valuers and determine how the value of their land might be affected in the circumstances outlined above.”

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