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


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)

40 replies »

  1. Does anyone monitor for radon in their homes? We don’t here. But perhaps we should? Do people in Cornwall & Aberdeen monitor for radon? Do UU monitor water at Stocks which flows over and in the same Bowland Shale? Perhaps.

    The difference between Preston New Road and KM may be that one is currently producing nothing while the other was / is a production site?

    “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.”

    Local residents better get on with it if they are concerned. Funds are readily available at:

    Friends of the Earth
    The Printworks
    139 Clapham Road
    SW9 0HP

    Probably a better way to spend their money than on appeals and judicial reviews?

    • “Funds are readily available”? That brings a wry smile to my face.

      Frankly if you think that local residents should dig into their own pockets to carry out what should be the duty of a responsible government, which has been recommended by its own adviser PHE to implement radon monitoring, I really don’t understand your attitude.

      There is of course no difference between KM and PNR in the requirement for baseline monitoring. The only difference is BEIS paid PHE and BGS for the Yorkshire work, but refused Lancashire. Even the BGS work on air quality around PNR may come to an end in April, we understand, due to funding issues. Are you suggesting the community should invest in a whole set of kit and expensive ongoing lab testing, if that happens?

      • “Funds are readily available”? No doubt they have the money, but I was being sarcastic – FOE do something useful for a change?

    • Radium 226 decays to radon. Both are soluble in water, with concentrations increasing as salinity increases.

      The flow back water from the preese hall well is high in radium 226 ( between 14 and 90 Bq/L ) It is also highly saline (nearly 3 times higher than sea water) see EA report

      Click to access FlowbackwaterEA.pdf

      Defra issue guidelines on Radon [link below corrected by moderator]

      Click to access reg-11.pdf

      a) Radon Regulation 11(2) prescribes the monitoring requirements for radon which has a specified value (i.e. the value above which an investigation must be carried out) of 100Bq/l.

      Regulation 11(3) requires that a local authority must ensure that a representative survey is carried out to determine the likelihood of radon exceeding the specified value.

      Surely a ‘Gold Standard’ regulation system would have noticed that radon levels on and around the site are likely to become elevated and would need monitoring at all times.

    • It is interesting that many of the compromised health symptoms that people report living next to fracking wells, could be a result, not just of the noxious and unknown chemicals used and injected into the ground, but also of radiation sickness from radon gas and other free radicals released into the environment by the process, not to mention the apparently hushed up practice of using depleted wells for the disposal of nuclear waste. the reason for a three month period of measurement prior to wells being sunk is to establish the background radiation base line, any attempt to prevent or stop that on economical grounds is simply insane and contravenes and demonstrates the lie of every precept of the now infamously non existent “gold standards” we were apparently fraudulently assured of.

      Vomiting diarrhea, bleeding from every orifice, lack of energy, flue like symptoms skin rashes and swelling, all those symptoms are reported by those who are in close proximity or downwind to, or have air and land and water polluted by the fracking operations.

      Look at the chart and all these symptoms are from the effects of radiation poisoning. That is a real smoking gun.

    • Radon monitor are installed in the homes of those living in high radon count areas in the UK i.e Cartmel Grange over Sands, also western fringes of sea board from Sellafield down to Morecambe, Cornwall and Devon have the highest radon count in the whole UK, probably due to tin mining loosening up the toxins underground.In addition when you sell your home you are now obliged to offer up all radon information for the area your home is situated, as a legal requirement.
      You can track the radon count for the whole of the UK including across the N Yorks area at Reeth Aysgarth etc….a must have viewing so google UK radon maps

    • Thanks for that Jill, we are aware of that. Unfortunately this is a broad brush picture, not particularly relevant to the current discussion, where the residents near the potential PNR fracking site are calling for the recommendations of PHE to be carried out. In Yorkshire this has consisted of outside monitoring of radon at a number of specific sites pertinent to the potential fracking of KM, and a programme of base monitoring in residences. Monitoring will continue, enabling an assessment of whether fracking is increasing radon levels. This is what PNR people are asking, that they are given the same baseline approach and a guarantee of ongoing monitoring. This is not happening, and it is unlikely that anything will be done before drilling and fracking starts. There is no difference between KM and PNR, in that it is not relevant what figures existing monitopring shows, but whether there is a perceptible increase in future.

  2. Of course the other radon related question is how much would end up in people’s homes were fracked gas to be piped in and burned via the domestic supply.

    A risk assessment by Public Health England (PHE) showed that shale gas would result in individual exposures to radon that are 15 times higher than through existing supplies of natural gas.

    PHE said further research was needed to monitor radon levels in the gas, in people’s homes and in groundwater around fracking wells.

    Time they (the regulators that is) got started Paul – it really should not be left to local residents to fund and perform the required baseline monitoring in a country that claims to have “gold-standard” regulations surely?

  3. John – I agree that if there is a concern then baseline monitoring seems appropriate – by a recognised company independent of Cuadrilla, FOE / Greenpeace etc. If the regulators are not doing it then I would encourage my local community to do it. That said, I agree that the regulators should undetake this independent of the oil company. But this could be important. If radon levels are found to increase with shale gas extraction what happens? Is there a mechanism for stopping production?

    Dr. Sutcliffe’s linked map indicates that baseline radon in the Cuadrilla area is pretty much zero so any increase should be easy to see through monitoring.

  4. ” If radon levels are found to increase with shale gas extraction what happens? Is there a mechanism for stopping production?”

    Well Paul if not then what is “gold standard” regulation worth? It’s a very interesting question that one, and perhaps explains why locals are not keen on letting even one well be drilled. Once it’s started it will be very difficult to stop.

    Reported radon risk varies immensely within small areas as you will find out if you but a radon report on an individual property.

    • High speed broadband is being installed up here and part of the installation is a radon gas block at the point of house entry. I don’t think BT offers this or at least didn’t when mine was installed. So clearly there is an issue generally, gas production or not?

      • There are no natural sources of Radon within the Borough of Fylde, so there are no requirements to install radon gas blocks to prevent radon entry into homes.

    • There is also the question of the 120 days of flaring per well at Preston New Road , which would produce 3,150,000,000 gigabecquerels in total or 26,250,000 million becquerels per day for 120 days.

      The immediate area would be contaminated with Radon as a result of flaring.

  5. My parents lived in an area where radon required monitoring, and tests were conducted. The rest of their extensive family lived in other parts of the country where it did not require any monitoring, and it was not. Perhaps we should have some monitoring for the disturbance of Black Death contamination, even where no burial grounds exist?

    Simple science AGAIN being abused by the antis. I can understand grasping at any straw, but you will continue to lose credibility by doing so.

    Back from walking the dog past the solar farm still under construction. Do you know what? Even such “eco friendly” sites create a good deal of noise, traffic and road damage during construction. Ditches already blocked from heavy lorries turning, council unlikely to clear, flooding will occur (it has before) and global warming will be blamed, as that will save the council the cost. Should be banned!?

    • My parents lived in an area where radon required monitoring, and tests were conducted. The rest of their extensive family lived in other parts of the country where it did not require any monitoring, and it was not

      That’s very interesting. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Surely a ‘Gold Standard’ regulation system would have noticed that radon levels on and around the site are likely to become elevated and would need monitoring at all times.

    The anticipated discharge of Radon from the PNR site from each flare would be 3.15 GBq for the 120 day duration of each well test
    operation, or 26,250,000 bq per day.

    Can food grown in soil near the PNR become contaminated?

    Yes. It can.

    Radon produces solid radioactive daughter products with much longer half-lives. Radon-222 has half-life 3.8 days and its daughter product lead-210 (210Pb) has half-life of 22.3 years. Lead-210 produces harmful polonium-210 (210Po) with a half-life of 138.3 days.
    There will be significantly higher radionuclide concentrations in the top soil layers in the area close to the site.

    For that reason, we need radon monitoring.

    As many of us have kitchen gardens close to the Preston New Road site,we need to know whether we will have to stop eating our own fruit and vegetables.

    Our health is important.

  7. I think the general public and media news grew tired of the anti fracking brigades for the now exposed fear mongering campaign and nuisances act of local traffic disruption. 2 years ago protest like those currently taken place at PNR would have made headlines in popular media in uk and around the world. And Tina Rothery the anti fracking mama would have been on interview circuits with all the powerful media news internet maybe even mtv. But it seems no one cares any more. They all heard the argument and decided this is getting boring and tiresome going around in circles with the same points.

  8. Quite simply, this is an attempt to delay/stop the development with poor science. It is understandable, and understood. It is a technique used for many years and often costs the tax payer a great deal of money to pay for work which is totally unnecessary. I recall exactly the same from the “debate” around the Newbury by-pass. I lived in Newbury. Huge numbers of trees would be lost-they were not. Rare animals needed to be considered and should prevent building. They were “re-housed” at vast expense and then found not to be rare! And yes, the Black Death burial sites were actually brought into the “debate”. The environment now within Newbury is hugely IMPROVED as a result of the by-pass.
    I expect some testing will end up being set up to defend against potential delays. The antis will then come up with some other attempted delaying tactics. The mechanism is understood but it is not science.
    My parents lived in a high risk radon area, grew all their own vegetables. They also produced most of the meat they consumed. Mother lived to 92 years of age, father 96. This type of “science” would probably suggest because they eventually did die at this age, there could be an effect!

    • Funny Martin – we haven’t considered black death burial disturbance as a possible issue but thanks for the suggestion. You do soind as though you have a very bad case of sour grapes.

      I’m sure you also know people who smoked 60 cigarettes and drank a bottle of gin a day yet lived to 100. meanwhile back in the world of sensible discussion ….

      TW – I think you’ll find the local traffic disruption is more Cuadrilla’s fault than anybody else’s over the last 2 weeks, but don’t let the facts get in the way of a good Peeny-style rant. And just because (as here) the same points get rehashed all the time does not make them invalid – or do you really think it does?

    • Baseline monitoring is needed because the lack of baselines is one of the critical failures of shalegas extraction in North America.
      Please stick to the topic.
      The topic is the failure to commence the promised independent Radon monitoring programme. We need this because:

      Director of Science, BGS: “Accessible data and information will provide an independent evidence base”

    • Quite simply, this is an attempt to delay/stop the development with poor science.

      I’m sure Dr. Rob Ward of the British Geological Survey, Public Health England, University of Manchester, University of York, University of Liverpool, University of Bristol, University of Birmingham and the National Centre for Atmospheric Science will be fascinated to hear how you think they practise poor science in their blatent “attempt to stop/delay the development”.

  9. Our health is important
    We were promised an:

    Independent integrated monitoring programme:
    • Water, air, seismicity, ground motion, soil gas and radon


    Extraction will use/mobilise chemicals/substances that are
    potential pollutants. Risks must be fully assessed and managed
    effectively – from exploration to post abandonment

    Baseline and on-going monitoring is essential
    Asking for radon monitoring is not a delaying tactic. This has been discussed by experts from the BGS and PHE. A Radon monitoring programme should have been put in place already for Lancashire, as it has been for the Vale of Pickering.
    It isn’t our responsibility, as residents, to fund and conduct a baseline radon monitoring programme!
    Requesting that the Radon monitoring programme begin is not a delaying tactic and we won’t accept disparaging, insulting comments from eager frackers who are trying to blame any delays that might occur (because of the failure to put this promised monitoring in place) on Preston New Road residents.

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