What could possibly go wrong?

David Cameron is busily appointing new heads and ministers including those involved in energy, the environment, climate change, etc. We’ll take an in-depth look at these new appointments at a later date but initial research reveals that, without exception, they have all, at some time, promoted the advantages of shale gas.  Less than a week after the election, the Conservative Party has already made a statement about its plans for shale,  vowing to “support the shale gas and fracking industry in the UK, especially in the north of England”.

While we wait for Lancashire County Council to arrive at a decision over plans to frack Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood, it’s worth reminding ourselves of the litany of planning breaches and disastrous technical failures incurred by Cuadrilla in Lancashire so far.  Our thanks to Frack Off for collating this data.

Banks/Becconsall, Lancashire

1) Cuadrilla drilled beyond agreed 90 day time limit

Cuadrilla’s application 08/10/0973, approved Oct 2010 under delegated powers, included Condition 1 which required: “The drilling operations shall be completed within a period of three months from the date of their commencement”

In September 2012, Lancashire County Council’s planning officer, Stuart Perigo, gave evidence in a case at Preston Crown Court (ended Thursday 6th September) that Cuadrilla had drilled beyond the permitted 90-day limit. Guardian article

2) Cuadrilla drilled beyond agreed cut-off date to protect wintering birds

The same application (08/10/0973), included Condition 22 which required: “No site clearance, site preparation or development work shall take place until a method statement detailing the measures to be implemented to mitigate the impacts of the development on ecological interests (overwintering birds) of the Marsh Farm Fields BHS has been submitted to and approved in writing by the County Planning Authority. The method statement shall include provision for seasonal restrictions on site development works and measures to avoid impacts on ground nesting birds”.

In September 2012, Lancashire County Council’s planning officer, Stuart Perigo, gave evidence in a case at Preston Crown Court (ended Thursday 6th September) that Cuadrilla drilled beyond 30th September 2011 and so breached the planning condition designed to protect wintering birds at a nearby sanctuary. Guardian article

3) Cuadrilla failed to restore the site within 18 months of the start of development

The same application (08/10/0973 included Conditions 1 and 23 which required work and site restoration to be completed in 18 months of start of development. Development started 28th March 2011 so site to be restored by September 2012. But this has not happened.

4) Cuadrilla drilled a sidetrack to the wellbore even though planning permission was for one vertical well (Becconsall 1 & 1z)

A DECC Landwells spreadsheet and a map from the UK Onshore Geophysical Library shows that two wells were spudded at Becconsall, even though permission was granted for only one. Becconsall 1 was spudded 23rd August 2011 and Becconsall 2 was spudded on 13th October 2011. The HSE said: “The Becconshall well is vertical. Becconshall 1z was a side-track drilled to bypass equipment which had become stuck in the original borehole and could not be recovered. It was drilled to the original planned depth. A side-track is a planned deviation from a previously drilled section of the wellbore.”

5) Land set aside by Cuadrilla for over-wintering birds displaced from its Becconsall site had already been let to a local gun club

Link to the full report here…

Preese Hall, Lancashire

6) Cuadrilla seismic events, deformation and failure to report immediately to DECC

A report by Green and Styles report for DECC concluded a series of earthquakes in Spring 2011 in Lancashire were caused by fracking at Preese Hall. The first was on 1 April 2011, magnitude 2.3M. Well-bore deformation was discovered on 4th April 2011 when a caliper log run showed that deformation was greater than 0.5 inches over a depth range between 8,480-8640ft. There was another earthquake was on 27th May 2011, magnitude 1.5M. A total of 50 seismic events were detected from 31st March 2011-27th May 2011. Fracking was suspended on 30th May (Source: Independent)

The Guardian reported that the Energy Secretary, Charles Hendry, wrote to Lord Browne, on 11th May 2012: “My department is concerned Cuadrilla failed to recognise the significance of the casing deformation experienced in the earth tremor triggered by fracking operations on 1 April 2011. …. “So much so, that the company did not report it to my officials … as to the possible cause of the tremor and the possibility it might be linked to fracking. In the light of Cuadrilla’s responses to the department’s subsequent inquiries, I have formed the view that this failure discloses weaknesses in Cuadrilla’s performance as a licensee, which need to be addressed.”

7) Cuadrilla failed on four occasions to restore the site by the date set in the conditions

  1. Application 05/09/0572, approved October 2009, included Conditions 1 and 2 which required work to start no later than 3 years from date of permission (October 2012) and site to be restored within 18 months of start of development. A planners’ report said work started on 16th November 2009 so the site should have been restored by 15th May 2011.
  2. Application 05/11/0431, approved in January 2013, varied the condition of application 05/09/0572 on time limit for site restoration. Condition 1 of that application required “No works other than those associated with the plugging and abandonment of the borehole and for the restoration of the site shall be carried out on the site and the site shall be restored in accordance with condition 14 of this permission by not later than 31 December 2013”.
  3. Application 05/13/0800, approved in February 2014, again varied the condition in 05/11/0431 on time limit for site restoration. Condition 1 required: “No works other than those associated with the plugging and abandonment of the borehole and for the restoration of the site shall be carried out on the site. The site shall be restored in accordance with condition 16 of this permission by not later than 31 July 2014.”
  4. Application 2014/0123, approved September 2014, again varied the condition in 05/11/0431 on time limit for site restoration. Its Condition 1 required “No works other than those associated with the plugging and abandonment of the borehole and for the restoration of the site shall be carried out on the site. The site shall be restored in accordance with condition 15 of this permission by not later than 30th April 2015.” The site remains unrestored.

8) Well integrity problems

A VICE News report on December 2nd 2014 said emails between Cuadrilla and the Health and Safety Executive, released following a Freedom of Information request, showed a leak of gas within the well. There was no evidence of any leaks outside the production casing and into the surrounding environment. But three engineers told VICE News this amounted to a technical breach of well integrity. Cuadrilla has denied the emails indicate this.

9) Flowback fluid problems

According to an Environment Agency response to a Freedom of Information request, in 2011, Cuadrilla sent more than 8,000 cubic metres of flowback fluid (the volume of 3+ Olympic swimming pools) from hydraulic fracturing at Preese Hall to the United Utilities Daveyhulme Industrial Waste Water treatment facility in Greater Manchester.

An investigation by BBC Inside Out in January 2014, found that radium levels were 90 times the permitted level for drinking water. The flowback fluid contained what was regarded as low level naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) and at the time, under the regulations, it was classed as industrial effluent, not hazardous waste.

In October 2011, the Environmental Permitting regulations changed to incorporate the Radioactive Substances Regulations. As a result, Daveyhulme could no longer accept flowback fluid without a permit. The fluid was disposed, under licence, into the Manchester Ship Canal. There are reports that the fluid was not adequately treated. At the time, the BBC Inside Out said there were no treatment works equipped to treat flowback fluid in the north west.

A further 120 cubic metres of flowback fluid was used in laboratory and batch scaled trials at a number of industrial waste treatment sites. The Environment Agency said these sites had permits to treat effluents. The trials were designed to “help determine disposal routes should the industry be given permission to continue. After these trials no further flowback remained at the Preese Hall site.

Other sources: BBC press release; breakdown of contents of flowback fluid, Residents’ Action Against Fylde Fracking quoting EA/Mike Hill correspondence; EA document on flowback fluid December 2011

Anna’s Road, Lancashire

10) Cuadrilla failed to restore the site by the time in the planning condition

Application 05/10/0634, approved November 2010, included Conditions 1 and 2 which required the development to begin no later than 3 years from the date of the permission and the site to be restored within 18 months of the start of the work.

A planning officers’ report in February 2014 for a new application (05/12/0729) said work started on 19th September 2011 and the site should have been restored on 18th March 2013.

Another application 05/12/0729, approved February 2014 varied the condition on the time limit for restoration. Condition 1 requires the site to be restored no later than 31st July 2014.

11) Cuadrilla abandoned well after a packer tool becomes trapped

A Cuadrilla statement on 16th November 2012 confirmed that it would discontinue the current well and drill another 10ft away. It said a cement bond log showed the possibility that the cement had not adhered evenly to the casing near the bottom of the well below the aquifer. During tests, a packer became trapped by the pressure and the company said it was not feasible to drill through or around it.

12) Cuadrilla abandoned fracking at Anna’s Road over EIA but blamed wintering birds

On 21st January 2013 a Cuadrilla statement announced plans to frack at Anna’s Road.

On March 14th 2013, Cuadrilla issued a statement saying it was “modifying” its planning application before Lancashire County Council to include an EIA covering drilling, fracking and flow testing and would resubmit later in the year.

On March 16th 2013, the Guardian reported Cuadrilla had halted operations at Anna’s Road because of need for environmental assessment. The paper said the assessment would not be completed before autumn when work would be disrupted anyway by wintering birds.

On 7th October 2013, Cuadrilla announced it would not submit an application for fracking at Anna’s Road. A statement said: “The background to this decision includes technical constraints related to wintering birds.”

On 17th December 2013, a Cuadrilla statement said Anna’s Road would be restored by the end of July 2014.

On 11th December 2013, Lancashire County Council recorded the withdrawal of Cuadrilla’s application for a horizontal borehole for exploration, core sampling but not fracking.

Grange Hill/Singleton, Lancashire

13) Cuadrilla failed to restore the site by the time set in the planning condition

Application 05/10/0091, approved February 2010, including Conditions 1 and 2, which required work to start within 3 years of the permission and the site to be restored within 18 months of commencement

A planning officer’s report from July 2014 said work started on 20th July 2010 and the site should have been restored by 19th January 2012. On 20th December 2011, Cuadrilla submitted another application (05/12/0003) to extend the time period for completing the well testing by fracking and for restoration to May 2014. This application was withdrawn.

14) No planning permission at Grange Hill/Singleton since 2012

See above. On 8th April 2015, Lancashire County Council’s development control committee refused application LCC/2014/0084, for seismic monitoring, pressure testing, abandonment and restoration. The decision has yet to be confirmed but it means there has been no planning permission for the site since the original planning permission expired on 19th January 2012.

15) Cuadrilla drilled a sidetrack to the wellbore, which was not mentioned in the planning permission

Application 05/10/0091, approved February 2010, was for a vertical well. A DECC Landwells spreadsheet and UK Onshore Geophysical Library map shows that Grange Hill 1 was spudded on 15th January 2011 and Grange Hill 1Z on 15th April 2011. A reply to an FOI request to the Health and Safety Executive (27th January 2015) confirmed that Cuadrilla drilled the sidetrack to bypass a drilling assembly stuck in the original borehole which could not be recovered.

16) General seismic testing, Lancashire

A Guardian report in August 2013 said that Cuadrilla’s contractors repeatedly trespassed on private land during geological surveys from April-June 2012. The paper said Cuadrilla had paid out to at least one homeowner to settle legal action over trespassing. Mark Mills, who lives near Lytham St Annes, said Cuadrilla operatives repeatedly trespassed into his large garden in May to lay cables and drive in dozens of sensors to make seismic recordings. After the first cables were laid, he said: “I told an operator don’t go back on my land and he said, ‘I won’t.’ But lo and behold, the next day they had been in again and put a big red mark on the ground.” Mills said the operators’ maps, which he copied, showed the mark was to be the site of a detonation. “It was right near a gas main and my septic tank,” he said.

The Guardian also reported that the issue was raised at a meeting between senior Cuadrilla staff and the then Energy Minister, Charles Hendry on 2nd July 2012. Hendry is said to have expressed concern over “recent reports of intrusion into developed areas for the seismic testing over the Jubilee weekend” and said “these incidents only served to strengthen what was now becoming a national campaign”.

17) Publicity

In April 2013, the Advertising Standards Authority upheld six of 18 complaints against Cuadrilla Resources for its brochure Summer 2012 Exploring For Natural Gas. The pressure group, Refracktion, claimed the document was misleading, exaggerated and unsubstantiated. The ASA ordered that the brochure must not appear again in its complained-of form.

An incompetent drilling company and a whole load of planning breaches doesn’t exactly inspire confidence does it? Do the gung ho Tory ministers who are pushing for this to go ahead even know about these issues. Do they even care?


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