How much traffic does it take to frack a well? That depends on how you count it

Picture by David Burr

Picture by David Burr

Traffic has become one of the most contentious issues in planning decisions for onshore oil and gas.

Recently, it was behind the refusals of permission for fracking at Roseacre Wood in Lancashire and a conventional well between the West Sussex villages of Kirdford and Wisborough Green. It was also a key argument used by opponents of exploratory drilling in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Yesterday, the debate over the volume of traffic likely to be generated by a proposed fracking site in North Yorkshire got more divisive.

A local campaign group accused Third Energy of misleading residents in its literature about plans to frack an existing well in Kirby Misperton.

Extract from Third Energy consultation newsletter

Extract from Third Energy consultation newsletter

A newsletter (see left) issued by Third Energy during public consultations earlier this year said traffic might be “slightly heavier” if its plans went ahead.

But it said “disruption to normal routines would not be significant”.

The newsletter estimated 265 lorry movements to the site during mobilisation, fracking, testing and removal of equipment, which would take place in the first eight weeks of operations.

The newsletter gave no figures for car or light vehicle movements during these phases.

Nor did it give details of traffic generated by well testing, production or abandonment, which would come later.

Another consultation document (see extract below) estimated 266 lorry movements for the same operations.

This itemised the figures for the first eight weeks but also did not give information about the later stages.

Extract from the consultation brochure

Extract from the consultation brochure

The figures in the company’s planning application, currently open for comments, predicted 910 heavy goods vehicle (HGV) movements in the first eight weeks: more than four times the newsletter figure. The application also predicted 504 car and light vehicle (LGV) movements for the same period.

When well testing, production and abandonment were added, the total movement of HGVs, cars and LGVs reached over 14,000.

Frack Free Ryedale, which drew attention to the disparity here, said:

“Many people are now wondering what other aspects of the application have changed since the consultation”.

The Reverend Jackie Cray, who lives in Kirby Misperton, told the York Press yesterday: “We’re very concerned at this huge increase in HGV traffic, and the impact this will have on the village”.

Referring to traffic predicted for the first eight weeks, she said: “910 HGV movements is vastly different from the 266 they claimed earlier in the year, and for there to be such a discrepancy is extremely worrying.”

Third Energy response

Third Energy, funded mainly by Barclays Bank, said the figures in the consultation newsletter were not comparable with those in the planning application. A spokesperson said:

“In the leaflets Third Energy produced, round trips were described as one journey but in the planning application they are counted as two”.

He added that the company had changed some of its plans following the consultation. So, the planning application proposed to remove waste water by road tanker, rather than pipeline, and it included plans to build a noise barrier around the rig from 42 shipping containers. The spokesperson said:

“[This] led to an increase in truck movements, a fact set out in our planning application that has been available for the public to view since July.”

People can comment on the application until 14th October. But with just five pages of text, the newsletter is much easier reading than the application. (There are now 216 documents on the North Yorkshire County Council website related to the application. Of these 91 are from Third Energy.)

We asked Third Energy to comment on complaints that its consultation literature had been misleading. The spokesperson said: “We explained why the numbers are different.”

Frack Free Ryedale said today:

“We are pleased to see that Third Energy are acknowledging that there is a significant increase in truck movements since the consultations.”

“However, we can find no clear reference in the figures quoted in the Planning Consultation Booklet or the Planning Statement that states whether these journeys are one-way or both ways, and feel that Third Energy are looking for excuses to explain away their four-fold increase in traffic movements.”

“This is unlikely to impress local residents, who are now facing far more disruption and noise from traffic than they were told at the public consultations.”

The numbers in detail

For anyone who wants to look in detail at the application, the traffic figures are in chapter 6 of the Planning Statement. This is found on page 4 of the Documents tab of the online application.

The predicted 910 HGV and 504 car and light vehicle movements for the first eight weeks of operations are made up as follows:

30 HGV movements to bring in and remove workover equipment
156 HGV movements to bring in and remove the noise attenuation barrier
388 HGV movements during the 42-day hydraulic fracturing phase
336 additional HGV movements to deliver equipment and remove waste during hydraulic fracturing (6/day for 42 days)
84 LGV or car movements during the preparation and pre-stimulation phase (6/day for 14 4days)
420 LGV or car movements during hydraulic fracturing (10/day for 42 days)

Testing, production and restoration

The next phases of the well involve a 90-day production test, followed by an estimated nine years of production if the test were successful.

The newsletter gave no details of traffic generated by the test or production from the well. Nor did it forecast traffic figures for abandonment and restoration.

Figures from the Planning Statement, however, predict these phases would generate a further 1,330 HGV movements and more than 11,800 LGV and car movements. They are made up as follows:

30 HGV movements during the 90-day production test (1 every 2-3 days for 90 days)
4 HGV movements in total during 9 years of production
1,296 HGV movements during wellsite restoration (36 daily for 6 days a week for 6 weeks)
360 LGV or car movements during the production test (4/day for 90 days)
11,232 LGV or car movements during production (4 daily for 6 days a week for 9 years*)
216 LGV or car movements during wellsite restoration (6 daily for 6 days a week for 6 weeks)


If all the traffic figures, in all the phases in the Planning Statement, are added together, the sums reach 2,240 HGV and 12,312 LGV/car movements: a total of 14,552 movements.

And even that figure may not the final number for this application.

The Planning Statement says gas produced from the well is expected to be dry. But it said:

“Whilst very unlikely, if formation water is produced with the natural gas, it will be removed as part of the routine production activity, which includes phase separation and liquid storage on site for subsequent off site treatment and/or disposal at an Environment Agency permitted waste treatment facility.”

There are no figures for vehicle movements for this operation, nor for routine maintenance of the borehole.

  • The final date for comments on the Kirby Misperton application (NY/2015/0233/ENV) is 14th October 2015. The application can be viewed here. Frack Free Ryedale has published guidance for people who wish to oppose the plans. Links to Third Energy’s consultation newsletter and press release about its plans at Kirby Misperton.

* The Planning Statement does not specify the length of the working week during production so we assumed a six day a week operation.

Updated 24/9/15 to correct number of shipping containers in noise barrier from 76 to 42 and correct the number of days in the pre-stimulation phase from 42 to 14 in one of the calculations. Updated 25/9/15 to include extract from consultation brochure

5 replies »

  1. What is the context? Are the traffic levels 10 over the same period or 10,000. If the former then a problem. If the later then not a problem. Context is always important.

    • I also am a bit confused as to why this is a problem. Third energy have responded to public concerns re noise and fluid disposal and have adapted their plans.
      How many other trucks and buses will use these roads? The answer is lots and lots, and we do not mind that. It seems that any activity related to fracking is evil, when in fact it is a well researched and established technology.

  2. The numbers are extremely important and should be clearly and consistently reported – given applications have been turned down on traffic. One very important point here is the traffic – including the 900 plus HGV journeys will travel through the very centre of the village – I don’t care what the cause of the traffic – most people will be disturbed and would not consider this a positive.

  3. Car journeys likely don’t really get noticed by anyone unless they are so frequent that they begin to overwhelm the road network. I suppose this is personal, but if I was looking to buy a house I consider one car every 5 minutes to be very light traffic. One car every say 20 seconds would be very heavy for me, though I have many friends living on such roads who have no issue with it and those houses are not worth any more or less than ones 100m away just off of the main road.
    One car every 5 minutes would be 12 an hour, or 96 over an 8 hour day, or over 8 weeks 5376.
    One car every 20 seconds would be 180 an hour, or 1440 over an 8 hour day, or over 8 weeks 80640

    910 HGV movements over 8 weeks is 114 per week, over a 6 day period it is 19 per day. Assuming that it was kept in an 8 hour period during the day its looking at 2 per hour-ish.
    If an HGV takes 20 seconds to pass through the village then that is 40 seconds per hour of extra traffic.
    Obviously it wont happen like that though, it won’t all be spread our perfectly averaged. It would be sensible to do nothing around commuting times and school times, and convoy movements.

    Shockingly I can take my car and drive through Kirby Misperton 600 times if I like, and do you know what.. I bet there would be no sudden bouts of insanity or people chasing after me. No one screaming in the road or hurling themselves from trees. I can bet, with high confidence, that if I went to Kirby Misperton (yes, I know the village) and drove through once every couple of minutes all day long that hardly anyone would notice. Shocking hay…

  4. The impact of heavy truck traffic in a fracking area is very large. Each well will have 900 or more journeys concentrated in the drilling and well completion (aka fracking) phases. It is peculiar but enlightening that an industry which clearly requires a high ratio of wells to gas output is so coy about the number of wells, the amount of water and the amount of waste involved in producing an appreciable amount of gas. The example of most fracking areas in North America points to the numbers and amounts being very large indeed. It is reasonable to assume that this leads to the coyness of the fracking industry and its proponents on this point. If fracking involved one well with 900 truck journeys there would be little opposition. In fact fracking involves hundreds of wells per year, each with its attendant heavy traffic. For this reason, among many other reasons, the opposition is significant and growing.

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