Regulation

Residents feel betrayed over failure to test for radon around Lancashire fracking site

preston-new-road-protest-170118-6-ros-wills

Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site. Photo: Ros Wills

People living around Cuadrilla’s shale gas site at Preston New Road near Blackpool say they are horrified to learn that there has been no independent testing for the radioactive gas, radon.

The British Geological Survey (BGS) has been surveying water and air quality, greenhouse gases, seismicity, ground motion and carbon dioxide in soil around the site at Little Plumpton (details).

But the organisation confirmed to DrillOrDrop that there has been no monitoring of radon in the air or homes, before operations begin at Preston New Road. It also said it was not aware of any radon monitoring in the area by other organisations.

A similar project near Third Energy’s fracking site at Kirby Misperton in the Vale of Pickering, North Yorkshire, has been monitoring for radon. It received a grant from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). But the BGS confirmed there has been no direct government funding for the Lancashire monitoring.

Neither the Fylde nor central areas of the Vale of Pickering have high radon concentrations. But monitoring would create a baseline against which data collected during drilling and fracking can be compared.

The absence of baseline radon data at Preston New Road was spotted by a resident living nearby and raised with his local MP, the Conservative Mark Menzies.

Preston New Road Action Group, which opposes Cuadrilla’s operations, said today:

“Local residents should be very concerned at this. There are no safe limits for radon. It is vitally important that it is monitored both near the site itself and in surrounding homes.

“This failure to monitor radon is not in line with the robust regulation that we are told exists for this Industry to protect communities from harm. We feel very let down.

“It appears that there is no funding available to monitor Lancashire, though there is a clear requirement to do so, and this monitoring is in place for Yorkshire.”

Radon baseline recommended

Radon increases the risk of lung cancer, particularly among smokers. The higher the level of radon and the longer the exposure, the greater the risk. According to Public Health England (PHE), radon causes over 1,100 deaths from lung cancer each year. Half these deaths are among current smokers (details).

Explaining the value of radon monitoring in North Yorkshire, the BGS referred to the Public Health England review of potential impacts of exposure to pollutants result from shale gas extraction, published in 2014.

This review concluded that radon may be released to the environment from shale gas activities but at levels that were not expected to result in significant additional radon exposure. It did, however, recommend the establishment of baseline radon levels in shale gas areas.

Survey scoping underway

DrillOrDrop understands that Public Health England (PHE) is currently considering a plan for monitoring radon in air and homes around Lancashire shale gas extraction sites.

A PHE spokesperson said this afternoon that the plan was in the scoping phase and there were no details of when or where the monitoring might be carried out or how it would be funded.

But time is running out for a baseline radon survey around Preston New Road because Cuadrilla has already begun construction work at the site. A company spokesperson said drilling was due to start in quarter two of the year (April-June) and, depending on how long that took, fracking could begin in quarter three (July-September).

Without a baseline, there would be no evidence of changes in radon levels. This would be a vital piece of information to anyone who became ill and wanted to make a legal claim.

Residents call for community protection

Preston New Road Action Group said today:

“We call on the Director of Public Health for Lancashire, Dr Karunanithi, our MP Mark Menzies, our government and local authority to uphold their duty to protect and serve our community on this matter. Failure to understand and demand this monitoring is a dereliction of duty and puts local people at risk.

“We have always felt we are being used as guinea-pigs for fracking, but it is now clear that this experiment will be without scientific checks, safeguards and monitoring. We have been betrayed.”

A spokesperson for Mr Menzies said the MP had written to the business minister, Jesse Norman, last week about the issue and he expected a reply within two weeks.

DrillOrDrop contacted BEIS last week about why Lancashire had not received direct government funding for radon monitoring. We also asked why radon monitoring was needed in North Yorkshire but not Lancashire. The department has not responded.

Radon monitoring in North Yorkshire

In the Vale of Pickering, researchers selected about 150 homes at random in and around Kirby Misperton, Little Barugh, Yedingham, Pickering and Malton. Residents received two passive radon detectors which measured levels in an occupied bedroom and living area for more than a year.

Outdoor monitoring for radon was carried out around Kirby Misperton (15 sampling points), Yedingham (8 sampling points) and Pickering (6 sampling points). A control site at Chilton, in the Vale of White Horse, Oxfordshire, was also sampled. Four three-month passive detectors have measured radon concentrations at each sampling point. More details

The BGS said monitoring for radon in air and homes could be established quite quickly and should be done for a minimum of three months.

 “Enhance scientific understanding”

In 2015, the BGS said its environmental monitoring would be different from that carried out by Cuadrilla and would provide “vital baseline information”. The BGS said:

“It is designed to enhance the scientific understanding and knowledge of the effects of shale gas operations on the environment and support peer-reviewed science.”

The BGS is publishing monitoring results on its website (Lancashire and North Yorkshire)

39 replies »

  1. It strikes me that the assessment included in the EIA and associated environmental permit applications – that radon risks connected with flaring during the well testing phase of the project are trivial – has been accepted by LCC’s professional planning officers, the Environment Agency’s specialists in environmental radiation protection, and an independent Planning Inspector, and that is probably why no monitoring has been required by planning or environmental permit condition.

    There is clearly an appreciable difference in background radon on the Fylde when compared to the area around Kirby Misperton because of the different geology (you can see this if you consult the UK Radon Map) which has probably also led to baseline monitoring over in Yorkshire but not Lancashire.

    For what it costs to do, I personally think it’s a bit of an own goal not to really, but not because I think there’s any particular risk, just because it seems a sensible thing to do in order to demonstrate that local fears are unfounded.

    • “There is clearly an appreciable difference in background radon on the Fylde when compared to the area around Kirby Misperton because of the different geology (you can see this if you consult the UK Radon Map) which has probably also led to baseline monitoring over in Yorkshire but not Lancashire.”

      Funny that Lee – on the radon map I looked at yesterday Kirby Misperton has exactly the same (low) background risk shown as PNR. (You can see this if you consult the UK Radon Map – http://www.ukradon.org/information/ukmaps) so that really doesn’t explain anything I’m afraid. Nice try though.

      You seem to be saying that you think the only radon risk to be considered is to do with flaring – have I understood you correctly?

      • I see you went in to bit more detail on your Backing Fracking page Lee. You still got the Kirby Misperton radon risk wrong there though as well 🙂

        • According to Lee’s Backing Fracking page, Radon 222 decays after 3.8 days into … nothing to worry about? Really?
          Backing Fracking don’t seem to have any knowledge of Radon’s radionuclide ‘daughters’.

  2. I raised the radon issue at a local meeting where the Environment Agency were unable to respond immediately. I was subsequently informed that they do not monitor for radon as it falls outside of the scope for “NORM” specifications.

    I understand that radon has a relatively short half-life but decays to plutonium as very small particles.

    I was also informed by Hutton Energy that in the event of any flaring of gas from the Harlequin. it would result in a natural dispersal of the radon. As far as I am aware, no attempts are made to remove radon from extracted gas at any location; unless you know better.

    I also suspect that fracking would release more radon than simple drilling. Perhaps an “expert” would wish to comment!

    • I understand that radon has a relatively short half-life but decays to plutonium as very small particles.

      No. Radon-222 spends around 22 years and 147 days being transformed from short-lived radioactive progeny to long-lived radioactive progeny, before eventually stabilising as Lead 206.

      Prior to that it spends its longest time (22 years) as long-live radioactive Lead-210.
      After radon 222 is emitted by the flare stack, its solid radon ‘daughters’ (progeny) are deposited on the soil and water below (fallout),where they enter the food chain and find their way into humans, animals, fish, and insects.

      Radon 222 decay chain progeny
      Radon 222 (3.8 days) — alpha –> Polonium 218 (3 minutes) — alpha –> Lead 214 (27 minutes) — alpha –> Bismuth 214 (20 minutes) — alpha –> Polonium 214 (80 microsecs) — alpha –> Lead 2010 (22 years) — beta –> Bismuth 2010 (5 days) — beta –> Polonium 210 (138 days) — alpha –> Lead 206 (stable)

  3. No sour grapes at all. No financial interest. Permission has been granted for test drilling in Lancashire, everything else is process. Just trying to keep a balance against such nonsense as suggesting fracked gas into peoples homes would contain more radon than other sources! This is way beyond speculation, and moves into FOE territory. I’m not sure who are the targets for such pearls of wisdom, but would suggest if you are trying to sway public opinion, treating them as unintelligent is not a wise move.

    Who knows what their source of gas is from day to day? Why should fracked gas contain more radon than other sources? For goodness sake, keep away from Cornish pasties because radon is absolutely rampant down there.

    Interesting to see lots of talk about radon being released but none about the actual content of radon within the strata that would be fracked. I suppose that is totally irrelevant? I suppose the same argument has been made about aquifers, so why bother to change the record?

    And, “the bleeding from every orifice” comment. Really? Media absolutely full of reports from Scotland and the shipping crews? Must be that all these toxins were removed at source, or simply were all bound within the local population?

    • Public Health England have already reported that fracked unconventional shalegas contains 15x more radon than conventional natural gas. Unconventional shalegas needs to be stored for around 38 days to allow the radon to decay.
      What we don’t want is any build up of radon from gas stoves and fires inside an enclosed space, like someone’s home.
      In Fylde, Lancashire there is no natural radon and subsequently there is no radon mitigation built into homes.
      Cornwall is irrelevant to this discussion, as the unconventional shalegas is going to be produced in Fylde and fed into the Lancashire gas network.

  4. As NO shale gas has been produced in the UK, that is a pretty convincing “fact”!! (Actually, that is a little misleading, because it has been a long time ago-but I suspect long before radon was measured.)
    “In Fylde, Lancashire there is no natural radon”-so-what is the issue?? “What we don’t want…”-well, as long as you use gas from Fylde and not from elsewhere, you have no problem! As I have stated before, the use of this “issue” is understandable, but it certainly is not science. Short term, it may be all you have, long term it will continue to deplete the credibility of your cause. Bit like trying to use horns hooted as support for the cause, and believing the two fingers were wishing you victory!

    I like the term “unconventional”! It is gas, held within shale. Visit Kimmeridge and light up a few bits of shale rock. It burns, just like “conventional” gas. Try the skin diving along the coast there (very good). You can swim through the bubbles from the sea bed and not emerge “bleeding from every orifice”. There are no statistics to show any impact upon marine life. I suppose “alternative energy” is a totally different type of energy to “conventional energy”?

    Seems to me, your argument is actually in favour of using Fylde gas in Lancashire, because there “is no natural radon”! (And that is without the argument of destroying the environment by bringing gas from half way round the world, that you have no clue regarding radon content.) By the way, how much radon is contained in the gas being extracted out to sea, off Blackpool?? Is this entering into your homes??

    The radon monitoring I am familiar with is absolutely nothing about this entering peoples homes through gas pipes! This is about seeping into the homes through the footings/floors-just a minimum of 1000 metres difference. I could even find an actual report of such monitoring, if pushed.

    Grasping at straws is hardly scientific.

    • Martin “The radon monitoring I am familiar with is absolutely nothing about this entering peoples homes through gas pipes! ” – so because you are not familiar with something because it hasn’t happened in the UK yet, its not a risk. Thank goodness we have your logic to keep us all safe! I think you need to have a little think about the logic being discussed here. The concern is about additional radon being released via the drilling / fracking process and potentially by burning fracked shale gas in domestic situations.

      By the way, as regards your horns comment – you should come down to PNR one day – the smiles and thumbs up and horn honks from the passing motorists is quite inspiring – we even laugh at the very occasional sad ranty screwed up face swearing out of the window and making self-abuse signs because at least three quarters of those passing clearly support us and most of the other quarter simply drive past without expressing support or otherwise. It’s great to see the silent majority against fracking finally starting to make some noise Martin!

  5. Isn’t it better to do baseline monitoring regardless ? This is a new industry and quite obviously there are concerns on both camps and the only way to prove, or disprove is to monitor.

    • Baseline monitoring and monitoring during production should be undertaken. The gas picks up the radon in shale because of the way it is situated in the shale within organic material (apparently). Gas held in conventional sandstone / limestone resrvoirs has much lower / no radon as it is held in primary porosity usually with unmoveable water againts the rock grains and no organics. The gas will have originated in the same shales but lost any radon a long time ago during migration.

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