The shale gas firm, Cuadrilla, breached its environmental permit twice in the early stages of the operation at its fracking site near Blackpool.
Documents released recently by the Environment Agency show that the company allowed surface water containing silt from its Preston New Road site to reach the tributary of a local brook twice in a week.
The site is supposed to be designed and operated to prevent any contaminated water from the well pad draining into surrounding fields and streams.
But despite guidance, the EA said the company’s surface water management scheme at the time was “found to be inadequate”.
An officer said the scheme “required improvement to prevent surface water containing silt from causing pollution”.
Frack Free Lancashire, which opposes Cuadrilla’s operations, said the incidents raised questions about trust in the company. A spokesperson said:
“If Cuadrilla can breach conditions twice, just a few weeks after starting work at the site, how can they be trusted not to do so again?”
In July 2017, the head of the EA’s onshore oil and gas team, told a meeting in London that permit compliance was crucial to community trust:
“For the industry, compliance with our environmental permits is probably the most single thing they need to do. … This is going to be key to regaining the trust and their social licence in the communities in which they operate.” (DrillOrDrop report)
Protesters, who have filmed the Preston New Road site since work began on 5 January, have reported several occasions when the wellpad appeared to have problems with surface water.
The issue was also raised at the June meeting of the community liaison group for the site. Minutes referred to the site being waterlogged. Cuadrilla’s geologist, Mark Lappin, said the company had addressed the issue of excessive rainwater.
Details of permit breaches
The permit breaches came to light following a site inspection by the Environment Agency (EA) on 2 March 2017, about two months after Cuadrilla started work at Preston New Road.
According to the EA, the first incident occurred on 27 February 2017 when surface water discharged into a tributary of the Carr Bridge Brook.
The EA said this was caused by a surface water management problem:
“A trial dewatering and treatment method for surface water from the well pad following heavy rainfall did not provide sufficient treatment to prevent silt entering this tributary.”
The EA said this method had ceased by the time of the March inspection.
A second discharge happened three days later on 2 March, when EA inspection staff were at the site. The EA said:
“[This] was caused by an escape of surface water from the well pad that contained silt. The silt overwhelmed a low bund around the well pad and escaped into a header drain that collects surface water. A bag filter and straw bales had been used to treat surface water containing silt before discharging to a field drain.”
The EA said there was no deterioration in water quality in samples collected on 27 February or 2 March. But inspectors spotted discolouration of the watercourse on 2 March.
The EA said:
“Despite notification to the operator on the 27th February of surface water containing silt entering a tributary of Carr bridge Brook a similar incident occurred on the 2nd March.”
For both incidents, the EA recorded a breach of the environmental permit condition 2.1.1, which prohibited the company from discharging surface water containing silt into a tributary of the Carr Bridge Brook.
The EA also recorded a breach under Regulation 12(1)(b) of the Environmental Permitting Regulations because Cuadrilla did not have a permit for discharging surface water.
Breaches are rated by how serious an impact they could have on the environment, with C1 being the most serious (major environmental effect) and C4 being the least serious (no potential environmental effect).
The Preston New Road breaches were ranked C3, where they could have a “minor environmental effect”.
The notes on the EA’s Compliance Assessment Report recorded:
“At the time of these incidents the surface water management system was found to be inadequate and required improvement to prevent surface water containing silt from causing pollution.”
The company was instructed to implement a well pad surface management system to protect local watercourses and prevent surface water containing silt from reaching them.
The EA’s Compliance Assessment Report also recorded:
“Since these incidents surface water containing silt has been retained on the well pad and removed from site via tanker while a medium-term solution to treat surface water is developed and tested.
“This solution involves treatment using settlement and ph adjustment in a dedicated treatment system called a silt buster, the treated water is then discharged to ground.”
Before the incidents, Cuadrilla had already received advice on silt pollution.
Another Compliance Assessment Report, for an inspection on 30 January 2017, at the end of the first month of operations, recorded:
“Pollution prevention advice was given in relation to the soil stripping prior to the construction of the site contractor’s compound.
“Advice and guidance was provided on good housekeeping around the contractor’s compound to prevent silt pollution”.
The EA instructed Cuadrilla:
“Land drains around the site should be highlighted on the site plan.
“Drainage and/or collection of surface water runoff from the contractor’s compound must be clearly marked on the site plan and included in the method statement. Actions will be reviewed on the next visit”.
Questions over trust
A spokesperson for Frack Free Lancashire said:
“Fortunately these incidents only had a minor environmental effect but such incidents in future, especially now Cuadrilla have started drilling and fracking possible by the end of the year, could have far wider and more serious consequences.
“As we have seen from previous events in Lancashire such as the cryptosporidium outbreak, our water is precious and must be protected at all costs.
“Fracking undoubtedly poses risks to not only our water but also to our air. Rest assured we will be watching their activities closely. The good news is the EA are also watching closely too”.
DrillOrDrop invited Cuadrilla to comment on the breaches. This post will be updated with any response.
Links to documents
Cuadrilla Preston New Road Compliance with Permit Assessment Report 07.04.2017 (pdf)
Preston New Road Compliance with Permit Assessment Report 30.01.17 (pdf)
Anti-frac campagners should be pleased with this. Many of their number would claim the EA are not able to monitor, but this minor infringement suggests otherwise. It is important that Cuadrilla are held account by the regulator on this. I wish the EA would monitor farmers in NW England who have planted sweetcorn, a totally unsuitable crop in NW England, with respect of risk to topsoil erosion and therefore soil erosion leading to silt influx into watercourses. I have already seen this happen in a river which I love and know intimately, and has fascinated me since I was a child. It has lamprey, sea trout, and salmon – nothing from the EA about this bad farming practise as far as I know.
Dr Riley. I can only agree that the planting of maize for bio gas is a faulty solution to a serious problem and has consequences which are undesirable. It would surely be illogical though to infer that because growing maize may be problematic then fracking is not, so the introduction of sweet corn into the argument here is really just a red herring.
I do hope your lampreys don’t end up with fracking flowback fluid being discharged, however inadvertently, into their environment.
refraktion- no not a red herring. I am suggesting that farming does not appear to be as highly regulated as onhsore oil & gas operations – nor does it get the same attention from campaigners like yourself. Bearing in mind that farming is widespread and is a surface activity that disturbs the soil and is close to watercourses. I am surprised at this discrepency.
Maybe people feel farming is necessary Dr Rily? No discrepancy really.
refracktion, where would farming be without gas? Think about it.
Dr Riley – few of us are saying we won’t use gas over the next couple of decades – it’s just that market forces being what they are we’ll probably just use gas from the cheapest source which leaves UK fracking pretty much high and dry.
As an intelligent academic you must realise we can’t just keep burning fossil fuels or using them as a base ad infinitum. We really need people like you to be looking for new answers not just repeating old mistakes. Think about it. If you and your colleagues don’t do that what hope is there?
Given the advances in renewables and particularly offshore wind, plus the potential for hydrogen as a power and gas source (generated by renewable/carbon free energy, not methane) demand for gas is only going one way and that is down. Furthermore, by improving the heat efficiency of buildings, demand for gas as a source of heating would be reduced by around 25%. There is more mainstream talk now and great work being done in the Liverpool/North West region about providing heating from hydrogen gas. Increasingly methane gas will be resigned to the back up of renewables and specific intensive power industries, for which limited CCS may be introduced. And with an over supply of gas in the market, the economics will mean that importing conventional gas for an ever diminishing market demand will be far cheaper. There really is no place for fracking.
With regard to the breaches on Cuadrilla’s site, surely the issue is the fact that they have already breached environmental controls in the early stages of operations, at a time when they are “on their best behaviour”. Cuadrilla will be aware the industry and these first few exploratory sites are under considerable scrutiny. If they can’t get things right now, what does that say about the future? This level of scrutiny would not be present in the future as it would not be sustainable. Hardly fills one with confidence. And let us be clear, there is only the current level of scrutiny because of public pressure.