Last week, Lancashire’s development control committee rejected the advice of officers and refused planning permission to Cuadrilla to use its Grange Hill wellsite at Singleton for another three years.
The company wanted to use the well for pressure testing and seismic monitoring as part of its fracking plans for Preston New Road and Roseacre. At the end of the permission, Cuadrilla proposed to plug and abandon the Grange Hill well .
Before making its decision, the committee heard from 14 speakers, including local residents, campaigners and Cuadrilla. We’ve transcribed the presentations from five speakers (see Transcripts below). They are listed in the order in which they spoke at the meeting. The committee also heard longer presentations at a private meeting. These included speeches by Mike Hill on Environment Agency regulation and the National Planning Policy Framework and Ron Bedford on ecology.
Opponents argued the Grange Hill plan had failed to
- Take account of other developments nearby
- Assess alternative sites
- Guarantee safety or long-term monitoring of the well after it was abandoned
- Include an Environmental Impact Assessment
- Adequately consider the impact of birds in the tidal River Wyre Special Protection Area
- Include a wintering bird survey
Opponents also argued the application was legally flawed and premature because it assumed permission would be granted for fracking at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood.
One speaker who supported the application argued there were “no great issues about the plans” and the site would not be noisy or dangerous. The company argued that the site would not be visually intrusive and the benefits outweighed minor environmental impacts.
The committee voted by seven to six, with one abstention, to refuse the permission on the grounds that it did not comply with council planning policies. Members will confirm the reasons for refusal at a future meeting.
I live near to the Grange Hill site, in one of the three closest properties. I am here today to talk to you about well integrity. My objection is that Cuadrilla have shown little to confirm that they are supporting high standards of working practice in environmental protection, which is objective 5, section 5 of the Minerals, Waste and Core Strategy.
It is an accepted fact that well integrity is a real issue for the industry. Industry figures say 5-7% of newly-drilled wells fail and, over 20 years, 60% fail. The fact is that metal corrodes. Add sodium chloride, in which the well is suspended, along with the earth’s pressure and we have a wonderful recipe for rotting metalwork. Cement has the propensity to shrink so there are also serious issues of cement bonding to the metal casing as well as to the rock layers.
The planning officer’s summary states that the well has been designed to prevent on a permanent basis any transfer of any gas to the underground rock formations, via the well and so avoid fugitive gas emissions to the air and the contamination and pollution of ground and surface waters.
This is a totally misleading statement as no such guarantee can be given.
It was when they began to abandon the Preese Hall well, damaged by the earthquake that we now know was caused by fracking and that they found that there were issues of gas leaking. Had the cement casing itself failed? Or was the earthquake the cause? Could there be migration of fluids and methane through the fault that was activated, something Professor Smyth talked about to you in his presentation a few weeks ago.
The well at Singleton was drilled in 2011, after Preese Hall and is located not far from the Thistleton fault. The geological data Cuadrilla were using when they drilled the Preese Hall and Singleton wells appears entirely unreliable. It resulted in the fracking activities at Preese Hall tapping into a fault and triggering off an earthquake.
Cuadrilla had problems drilling the Grange Hill well and had changes to the original construction. What is uncertain is whether this well will remain intact if seismic activity occurs, as it did at Preese Hall.
The Fylde is known to be a heavily faulted area with faults travelling from the shale layer directly to the surface.
Was the well at Preese Hall damage due to Cuadrilla’s incompetence? Or was it inexperience? Either is concerning. But whatever you choose to believe, neither are good practice.
The EA will not be monitoring Preese Hall, post abandonment, even despite the problems and neither will they be monitoring Singleton. So who will be responsible and bear the costs of monitoring sites long after Cuadrilla has made its supposed profits and left?
Cuadrilla are proposing to create well pads with anything up to 60 wells per pad, drilled horizontally. Horizontal wells are 10 times more likely to leak than conventional vertical wells.
Imagine if all goes to plan. The Fylde will have a network of horizontal wells beneath the surface fanning out. Not all will fail immediately but one thing is for certain all wells do eventually fail and we will be leaving future generations with a horrible legacy for many years to come.
Cuadrilla have shown little to confirm that they are supporting high standards of working practice in environmental protection.
So if you grant planning permission for this application, will you be satisfied that the issues I have raised will be adequately addressed by the regulatory bodies?
To hear Anike Ditchfield click here. Her presentation starts at 00.52.35
Lawrence Rankin, former environmental manager for Environment Agency in Lancashire
First let me thank the officers for their report, however I hope to show that they have reached the wrong conclusion and that the application should be refused because:
Firstly it has not been properly considered as part of an ongoing programme of work. Secondly about shortfalls in regulation.Thirdly regarding concerns about well integrity. And fourthly the need to apply the precautionary principle.
“Sub-surface engineering will always involve significant uncertainty, since there is limited data about processes occurring at great depth”. That’s a quote, not from some anti-fracking organisation. That’s actually a report that was produced following the earth tremors on behalf of Cuadrilla. This application may not be for fracking per se but the concerns regarding uncertainty still remain.
We need to recognise firstly the impact of on-going development, not just about individual sites.
This application is part of the ongoing development of shale gas across Lancashire. So it should not be considered in isolation but in the context of the totality of that development and particularly in relation to sites that are specifically referred to through the application.
No EIA [Environmental Impact Assessment] or habitat regulations assessment for the site has been done. And in the light of this, the current proposal fails the requirement to consider plans and proposals in combination.
So how good is regulation in the round? There are currently, as we’ve heard, no specific regulations for fracking. In fact, in 2012, Lancashire County Council itself specifically called for industry-specific regulation. Again, this is not fracking here, per se, but it is a form of dry fracking, using an explosive charge, which will only affect strata up to 4ft from the well. Which begs the question, what exactly is that going to prove in isolation? It has to be in combination with other sites to make any sense.
It is often claimed the UK has the best regulation in the world yet planning breaches at Cuadrilla’s sites have remained unenforced. No action has been taken against them.
Effective regulation rests on three legs: permitting, monitoring and enforcement. If one of these is not implemented then you don’t have a proper regulatory regime. And you don’t protect the environment and people.
In my opinion the Environment Agency has misinterpreted paragraph 26 of the NPPF [National Planning Policy Framework] in removing their requirement for prescribed well conditions in favour of what are effectively guidelines. In fact most UK regulation has moved to self-regulation and that is part of the issue. It didn’t work for banks or for care homes, why should it work for this sort of operation.
We’ve heard quite a bit about well integrity, the Achilles heel of the industry. This well was in fact drilled over three years ago and drilled as part of a process, if you remember, in 2010 when fracking was not even mentioned in the application that was granted by delegated authority. So you have got to question what was the condition of the drilling mechanism at that time and what condition is it at the moment? There’s no indication that its integrity has been full assessed prior to this proposed use.
A key element of environmental protection is the precautionary principle. And one element of that is climate change. We all, I think, have a responsibility to protect against climate change, whatever the operation that is being proposed.
And this development would constitute extended industrialisation of the countryside, taking the site operation up to six years what was originally granted.
To hear Lawrence Rankin click here. His presentation starts 00.56.42
When the first application came in, we got a letter from the County Council asking us if we had any objection to a small temporary gas drilling rig for a nine week period, we didn’t object to it. And I really wish we did now because it went on for 11-months. We didn’t object to it because we thought it would be finished next week or the week after.
We were approached by a company that worked for Cuadrilla and asked if we had a water well. And I said ‘Yes, we do have a water well’. They said ‘Do you know anyone else in the area?’ I said ‘I do but I don’t know many people who actually use the wells’.
They asked me if they could take tests of our water quality from the well.
I said yes that they could do as long as I could have a copy of the results. ‘No, you can’t have a copy of results’, he told me ‘because you’re not our client”.
I said ‘Well don’t take a test of the water then, if that’s the case’. So after about 20 minutes heated conversation with his boss on the phone they agreed I could have a copy of the results. I said to them: ‘I’ve got two fishing lakes on my premises and there’s livestock in them. There’s very large carp, valuable fish, up to 34lb in weight, which is over £2,000 a fish. And I said: ‘I’m concerned about the quality of my water and the lakes and about them getting polluted from the drilling site. I said ‘Will you test those, it’s more important to me than my water well’. So they promised me they would do.
I had a Fylde Council meeting: it was confirmed again they were going to come and test my water of my fishing lakes.
We’ve sent them letters on a regular basis asking them when they’re going to come and test them. I’ve been waiting nearly three years now. It’s just not happening.
I’m a glassmaker, we make glass and the public come in and see it being made. Quite a lot of the workers that work on the drilling rigs, mainly American and Canadian, used pop over to the studio and watch me make glass and I’d be chatting to them. And I told them about the story about the water not being tested from my fishing lakes. And I said ‘Why do you think this is?’
And they replied: ‘Well I’m very sorry but we think you’re going to lose all your fish.’ And that was that.
I’m a layman, a glassmaker, but I don’t like the idea of it all. In my mind, that hole should have been filled when the planning permission ran out. And filled with concrete, sealed, that should have been it.
To hear John Ditchfield click here. His presentation starts 1.05.36
The pressure testing will provide sub-surface geological reservoir information of the Bowland Shale and the seismic monitoring will provide valuable information on the baseline seismicity in order to fulfil one of the Royal Society/Royal Academy of Engineers recommendations.
There will be no need for any additional drilling. The existing well will not be hydraulically fractured.
Following the monitoring programme it is planned that the well will be sealed with cement plugs and abandoned in accordance with the oil and gas UK guidelines and the site returned to the greenfield condition.
We confirm that no fluid will be injected into or produced from the shale, that no gas is to be produced or flowed from the well.
The site is already established and has an impermeable membrane to provide containment for any spilled liquid and surface water run-off.
It will take around two weeks to install the testing and monitoring equipment with the use of a workover rig. The rig will then be removed and the monitoring gauges will be left in place in the well, recording pressure for around two years.
The integrity of the Grange Hill well is fully understood and a total of five cement bond logs were carried out during the drilling of the well.
To hear James Adam click here. His presentation starts at 01.26.23
Mark Smith, Arup (Cuadrilla’s consultant on environmental issues)
Firstly visuals. There are limited views of the site available, given the topography and existing tree screening. The principal views are for road users on Grange Road and footpath users to the south.
The workover rig, the tallest structure, will be used for around eight weeks in total, initially during installation, then maintenance and at the end of the planning period for removal of equipment and plugging.
Any lighting on site will be kept to a minimum and directed in a way which minimises spillage beyond the site.
Visual impacts are therefore minor.
Traffic. The site has good access and visibility, with the A585 only a short distance away. For the majority of time when the monitoring is underway there will be no HGV movements. Peak HGV movements are associated with the removal of surface material, restoration requiring approximately 7-10 HGV movements a day over 3-4 weeks.
Noise. Experience shows that the monitoring activity itself is a very low noise activity. It will not be audible in the immediate locality of the site.
Surface and groundwater. Groundwater will be protected from the contents of the well during monitoring operations by a combination of steel casings and cemented annulae, which were put in place as part of the original well construction. The impermeable membrane also protects groundwater.
The risk of any adverse impact from the well testing process on groundwater and local water courses is highly unlikely.
Ecology. The nearest statutory site designated for bird interest is the Morecambe Bay SPA Ramsar located approximately 1.2km to the north. Cuadrilla have committed to install the monitoring equipment and undertake the equipment checks and abandon the well and restore the site outside the winter period. With this commitment there is minimal potential impact on the ecology and over-wintering birds. The ecological assessment and this proposed approach have been agreed with LCC’s ecologist and Natural England.
Finally, we agree with the officer’s conclusion set out in his report that the proposal would not generate significant environmental effects and given the low level of impact it does not require an EIA.
We also agree with the officer that the development complies with the NPPF as the benefits of the proposal outweigh the minor environmental impacts. We therefore fully support the officer’s recommendation that permission is granted subject to the conditions set out in the report.
To hear Mark Smith click here. His presentation starts at 01.27.50
View the planning application here
[Updated on 2nd March 2015 to include reference to longer presentations at a private meeting of the committee]