Achieving timely permit surrender
Once an operator has decided to cease operation on a site regulated under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016 (EPR) or the Pollution Prevention and Control (England and Wales) Regulations 2000 (PPC), permit surrender is required to enable site sale, redevelopment or lease return. Permit surrender can be a complex and lengthy process. RSK has a proven track record of achieving permit surrenders by working closely with operators and regulators to meet all the regulatory requirements.
In 2017, we were hired to prepare a site condition report (SCR) for a solvent recovery plant in England to support the surrender of the operator’s environmental permit. The site had operated under a PPC/EPR permit since 2007 but had a longer history of operation. As required under the conditions of an environmental permit, an SCR records the condition of the land and groundwater at a site at several points in time. To achieve permit surrender, the site operator must demonstrate to the regulator’s satisfaction that the land is in a “satisfactory state” without the risk of pollution occurring. This means no deterioration in land quality from releases to soil or groundwater throughout the site’s operation, otherwise site remediation will be required.
The first stage in the surrender process is to collate and review the detailed records regarding site operations over the lifetime of the permit. We reviewed the activities at permit issue; permit variations and site changes; incidents, inspections and monitoring over the lifetime of the permit; details of regulatory compliance; and the site’s history and environmental setting. Concurrently, we documented how the client had decommissioned the site. This informed an assessment of the risk of releases to soil and groundwater from the permitted activities, as opposed to other sources, for example, predating the permit or migration from off-site sources.
Except for low-impact surrender applications, the regulator usually requires an intrusive site investigation to quantify the final condition and enable comparison with a baseline from when the permit was first issued. This assessment can be complicated because many sites regulated under the PPC regime from the early 2000s did not obtain baseline data.
We met with the Environment Agency (the regulator for the site’s environmental permit) to agree the scope of our desk-based review and a detailed programme of intrusive investigation. This ensured that all the potential areas of concern were targeted and that an agreed scope of contaminants of potential concern relating to the permitted activities was scheduled for testing.
The intrusive work involved concrete coring followed by drive-in window sampling, which one of RSK’s in-house drilling contractors completed. We obtained soil data for chemical testing and installed 11 groundwater monitoring wells in 17 exploratory holes.
The data from the intrusive investigation and groundwater monitoring were analysed and compared against the available baseline data using statistical methods. Through this detailed process, RSK was able to demonstrate to the regulator that the site met was in a “satisfactory state” at the time of permit surrender. The regulator then accepted surrender application in a timely fashion to the satisfaction of RSK’s client.