Yorkshire fracking company receives official warning over incorrect emissions data

Knapton Generating Station

Third Energy’s Knapton generating station. Photo: DrillOrDrop

The shale gas company preparing to frack in North Yorkshire breached one of its environmental permits by failing to publish correct emissions data, it has emerged.

Third Energy received an official warning from the Environment Agency for the breach, which concerned air quality data at the Knapton Generating Station in the Vale of Pickering.

The company was also criticised for failing to use an agreed method to monitor groundwater quality at a nearby gas well.

The incidents were uncovered by Frack Free Ryedale, a group which has campaigned for more than three years against plans by Third Energy to frack its existing well at Kirby Misperton.

The campaign group said the incidents called into question the trust local people could have in Third Energy.

Third Energy said there were “absolutely no impacts” on the environment and the Environment Agency reports showed that the regulatory system was working.


The Environment Agency (EA) visited the generating station on 31 January 2017. In a record of the visit, known as a Compliance Assessment Report, the EA said:

“On review of the 2016 stack emissions data at site it was evident that the monthly mean figures for the stack emissions were incorrect. Recalculation confirmed this, and the calculation error established. Reports have been resubmitted with revised figures.”

The EA said there was no evidence that Third Energy had breached the limit for emissions. But, issuing a warning, the EA added:

“Third Energy need to ensure that they have quality assurance in place on their emissions monitoring and are fully aware of the input parameters and calculations in their reporting software. There should be an auditable system in place.”

The EA recorded what is known as a level 3 breach of the permit. Level 1 is the most serious which could have a major environmental effect and level 4 the least serious with no potential environmental effect.

In the separate incident, the EA recorded that Third Energy’s contractor was not following the agreed method for monitoring groundwater boreholes at the Pickering wellsite.

While the method being used was acceptable, the EA said, it should have been approved first. Third Energy was advised to inform the EA in advance of any other differences between the permit requirements and the methodology in use.

Previous incidents

In 2016, the EA recorded two breaches against Third Energy’s permit following a complaint to the company of a smell at the Malton wellsite. Third Energy should have reported the complaint to the EA within 24 hours but did not do so for more than two months.

In March 2017, people living in Kirby Misperton and Great and Little Barugh complained about “a sickening smell”. One home was evacuated and five people independently contacted gas suppliers, it was reported.

Third Energy said the smell was not a gas leak and was caused by routine cleaning at the Kirby Misperton well site. But a local councillor said Third Energy’s John Dewar told him the discharge was a mercaptan, a substance added to methane to give it a distinctive smell. Mr Dewar reportedly said he didn’t know the volume or duration of the discharge.

“How can the community trust this company?”

Russell Scott, of Frack Free Ryedale, said:

“After failing to inform local residents of gas leaks on multiple occasions, this company has now been caught issuing false air pollution figures. How can the local community trust this company when they repeatedly withhold information about the true picture of their activities?”

Ian Conlon, who lives in Malton, said the company had “deliberately” used a different scheme for monitoring water that had not been subject to public consultation.

“They treat our community with utter contempt then, with government backing, force fracking which is far more risky than conventional gas extraction.”

Third Energy response

A spokesperson for Third Energy said:

“Firstly, it is important to say that there have been  absolutely no impacts on the environment.

“What these two reports demonstrate is the rigour of the EA and how their system of oversight works. Every small technical issue is identified, recorded and then required follow up action detailed. This information is published on the Environment Agency website and available to the public.

“Third Energy works closely with the Environment Agency to ensure its operations maintain environmental compliance at all times. The regulatory system is very detailed and every part of Third’s operations is subject to close scrutiny, particularly during regular site visits from the Environment Agency.”


Compliance Assessment Report for Knapton Generating Station Jan 2017

Compliance Assessment Report for Pickering wellsite November 2016

Updated 20/6/2017 with statement from Third Energy requested on 18/6/2017

31 replies »

  1. It seems the bad smell has reached the nostrils of the EA legal department, it reached us a long time ago, and is getting worse day by day. This is another slow car crash in the long and continuing farce of the o&g “gold standard” self regulations and its not so much the severity, its the fact that they wanted to cover it up (hide the stink) which does not bode well for the future when accidents will be many many many times worse. To the o&g PR Dept. his will be as about as welcome as a silent but deadly mercaptan release in a spacesuit…..

  2. From what I can see, this isn’t the big issue it’s being made out to be.

    The Environment Agency’s own internal guidance on enforcement shows that verbal or written warnings are only one step up from more informal advice and guidance given to permit holders when non-compliance is suspected or identified.

    It appears these are technical breaches committed by Third Energy. If any harm to the environment had occurred as a result, the Environment Agency response would have been to take more serious action than just issuing warnings.

    I once worked with a client that had an environmental permit that included a factory discharge to sewer as a ‘directly associated activity’ which meant that any exceedence of the parameters set by the receiving sewage company would technically be a breach of the environmental permit and had to be reported to the Environment Agency. On one determinant, phosphate, the client’s effluent discharge was consistently above the specified limit which meant it was continually in technical breach of its permit. No environmental harm occurred. This situation with Third Energy sounds like it’s a similar technical breach.

    Interestingly, in the case of my historic client, we were able to prove that incoming mains water had a higher concerntration of phosphate than was specified in the effluent discharge consent, and so even if the factory did absolutely nothing with the water and just put it straight down the drain, it could never achieve compliance with its environmental permit!

    • Nice try, but no cigar. An old tactic isn’t it, blame someone else, they breach similar conditions so we can too?
      Just a smokescreen though isn’t it?
      Or smellscreen in this case [Edited by moderator]
      Rather more serious then you would like to suggest and bodes very badly for future breaches of regulations.
      [Edited by moderator]

      • Phil C
        [Edited by moderator] It seems they have applied incorrect combustion factors in one case, and had a sub contractor carrout monitoring activities to an incorrect procedure.
        [Edited by moderator]
        Likewise for the smell. They failed to report this to the EA, but did report to the council. [Edited by moderator] How the breaches are viewed by those of us on this site is another matter.

  3. No biggy. It’s been corrected and we move on. The EA are just trying to appease the camouflage crew which will never happen.
    Getting closer to results day, hope everyone is getting excited!

  4. [Edited by moderator]

    Was it not the EA and their abilities that was the so called reason for Egdon PP to be delayed? Seems they can do their job.

    I suspect you could find the same recording problems on just about every farm in the country, and their safety record is a lot worse than oil and gas. Perhaps that should be a reason to cover all the agricultural land with fracking pads?

    • As someone who claims to have no engineering knowledge at all martin, I wouldn’t expect you to understand such technical issues.

      • Oh, btw, did you mean the miscalculation that the tories could have never in anyone’s wildest hopes that they could throw away a 40% lead to a miserable hung parliament? And then be forced to kow tow to the DUP being the ONLY remaining party that supports fracking? That miscalculation?
        That is a badge I would be proud to wear any day of the week.

  5. Failing to publish the correct figures and using the wrong method for monitoring groundwater are not “technical breaches”. They are a clear failure to do what they are supposed to under their permitting arrangements.
    The EA – which is generally very pro-fracking and is always very happy to give out a permit to any oil or gas company that wants one – felt it necessary to issue an official warning to Third Energy, which is quite a rare occurrence. For the pro-fracking lobbyists to dismiss this as ‘no biggy’ just shows that they don’t care about safety or human health. They just want the gas, come what may.

  6. There you go again PhilC! When have I ever claimed any such thing? Underestimating people can be a weakness, or it can be that some think they will undermine others credibility by defining people.

    [Edited by moderator]

    • Funny how language changes the meaning isn’t it? If the records were so “incorrect” how many other records are “incorrect”? Perhaps the operators were “incorrect” if they thought the EA wouldn’t notice?
      Was that a “miscalculation”?

  7. Speculation seems to be a speciality of yours PhilC, I will leave it to for you to take that where you want, along with your politics. Not sure if either offers much to the subject but I’m sure you feel it creates some excitement .

    • And of course you dont speculate at all do you? No! of course not? And do i notice that making personal remarks when you dont have anything constructive to say seems to be a speciality of yours or not? let me consider that? Oooohh! that’s hard one!

      • PS, did that godawful smell cause some excitement? Did those….ha! ha!….., “inaccurate” records cause any excitement? Ask The EA? They seemed to think so?

        • A little poem to sooth the savage breasts.

          Oh MerCaptan! Oh MerCaptan!
          WithApologies to Walt Witman

          Oh MerCaptan! Oh MerCaptan!
          Your tearful smell is done,
          Your leadership is cover’d by every crack, the prize she sought is gone,
          Her morte is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
          While shallow lies the unsteady squeals, the redresall grim and blaring;
          So depart! depart! depart!
          Oh the bleeding drops of blue,
          Where in your lack the MerCaptan lies,
          To the smell of the fallen, the cold and the dead.

          Oh MerCaptan! Oh MerCaptan! flies up and spreads the smells;
          Rise up—for you the muck is flung—for you the Google thrills,
          For you no sweet bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the knives unshrowding,
          For you the smell, of decaying mass, the beleaguered stomach churning;
          There MerCaptan! your loyal backers!
          This harm beneath your wellhead!
          It is some bad dream that of the lust to crack,
          To the smell of the fallen the cold and the dead.

          O MerCaptains captains do not answer, their wrinkled lips are pale and still,
          The corporation does not heed the harm, it has no pulse nor will,
          Your leadership is not anchor’d safe or sound, their spoilage be closed down,
          From tearful drip the loser leadership comes in without objective won;
          Exult Our shores, and ring the bells!
          And we with joyful tread,
          What the frack! your MerCaptan lies,
          To the smell of the fallen, the cold and the dead.

      • Dear oh dear, where do you think this is going to get you? Cant attack Corbyn because i dont care?

        I certainly didn’t vote for your GottaBubbleWrapUnicorn party. But it May? enlighten and edify you to know that i most certainly do vote and always have done, not that it is any business of yours.


        How sad, you are exhibiting that linear thinking again, just because i don’t trust any politician any further than i can throw them (Eric Pickles!!) Especially the present elephants jammed in the room, That doesnt mean i dont vote, use your overstimulated imagination to figure that out if you can.

        Such a joy to speak with a real staunchly loyal Teresa May supporter.

        • There are some telling results emerging from that terrible Grenfell Tower tragedy in Kensington, and that is that time and time again, the residents complained that the fire precautions were inadequate if not non existent and the type of cladding represented a danger of fire spreading.

          Official representations to the Tennent Associations and the councils and representations to the government by the fire authorities were all ignored going back to the eighties and nothing was done even when similar fires caused many deaths in high rise buildings. Boris Johnson’s erudite reply to the fire authorities was “get stuffed!”

          There is a worrying parallel with the fracking industry and oil and gas extraction in general.
          Local people are ignored and belittled, government runs hand in fist with the o&g operators, so called “gold standard regulation” not only do not seem to exist, what few regulations that can be applied are not enforced and we are always told that there is “no significant impact”. Is this a Grenfell Tower situation developing before or very eyes?

          The question that begins to emerge is, what will it take before regulations that do exist are rigorously applied, and new regulations as yet unspecified are finally and belatedly put into place and given real teeth to have the desired regulatory controls?

          Contentious i know, but it has to be said.

          • Hi Phil,
            Really well put!

            We have just put our MP local to PNR on notice that if he continues to fail to represent our concerns about the damage that fracking will cause to our families health and property in the House of Parliament plus our total lack of confidence in the fanciful Gold Standard monitoring that can’t even supervise wheel washing conditions at PNR, we will hold him personally responsible for the damage done!

            • Hi Peter, thanks, that has been bubbling away waiting to be said for a couple of days now, but in sympathy with the horrible facts of the Grenfell Tower deaths and homelessness, it seemed inappropriate until now when the truth of the criminal failure to act, the ignorance and incompetence by successive governments and Tenant Associations began to be revealed.
              Well done in serving notice on your MP over PNR. MP’s have gotten away with allowing their personal careers to override their responsibility to represent their constituents for too long. The MP private club “we know best” attitude is finally disintegrating from within, and amazingly they did it all to themselves, with a big push from the electorate of course. Lets take advantage of the disarray and reintroduce some democratic representation over o&g issues.

  8. A spokesperson for Third Energy said:
    “Firstly, it is important to say that there have been absolutely no impacts on the environment.”
    Fortunately… this time. The previous Mercaptan incident certainly had an impact on residents.
    TE also said “What these two reports demonstrate is the rigour of the EA and how their system of oversight works. Every small technical issue is identified, recorded and then required follow up action detailed.”
    What confidence do we have that there are not a load of other conditions that are being incorrectly or not adhered to, but not yet discovered, self regulated or rigourously overseen? The EA has been hacked back by over 40% in recent years and has had to move staff from various other areas to cover the very few fracking applications/sites that exist currently. I doubt their oversight is dramatically regular and therefore can have only limited rigour.
    Were these breaches due to TE not correctly knowing the specific regulations (incompetence somewhere in the regulatory process?) or deliberately not adhering to the specific regulations (easier, cheaper or not likely to be found out?).
    Another from TE ‘The regulatory system is very detailed and every part of Third’s operations is subject to close scrutiny, particularly during regular site visits from the Environment Agency.”
    How regular? More importantly, how regular will they be if/when there are hundreds of well pads, thousands of wells and millions of gallons of waste water?
    GottaBKidding said ‘no biggy’.
    Fortunately… this time, but they could well have said ‘no biggy’ individually about cladding, sprinklers and alarm regulations in high rise buildings. I was under the impression that regulations were collectively about ensuring there are no biggies in the future.

  9. Good points Mike Potter. Regulation is only as effective as the powers to enforce them. In terms of emissions measurement the shale gas industry to date has a dubious history and that front, as it has for water monitoring. Self regulation is simply asking for corners to be cut but I doubt if the EA has the resources to manage independent verification or the teeth (or even the will) to do anything about serious transgression.

    • Phil and Mike
      Just to note that the findings of the EA inspection do not relate to fracking activity, rather existing gas plant activity and the monitoring of an existing well.
      This activity has presumably been going on for some time (gas production), so the AE have a handle on the capability of the company, hence, maybe, the low ( as in low risk ) score.

      It will be interesting to know how the company is getting on with improving its internal audit, or monitoring system and how they will beef up for the forthcoming additional activity.

      There is a lot of criticism of the UK regulatory system in drill or drop, but it would be interesting to know which country or system could be held up as better. Are those countries which have a more prescriptive approach better? Which country has more inspectors? What is an appropriate level of inspection for a well pad ( continual, daily, weekly, monthly or risk based?)

      So is the EU better at managing O&G issues ( Germany maybe)? Or was Charles Perrow (normal accidents) correct, and we do not know how to manage high risk technology?

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