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Guest Post by Lee Petts: A view from the well pad

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The noise wall at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site in Lancashire. Lee Petts said this quickly deadens the sound of the engines that drive the drill. Photo: Lee Petts

Yesterday Cuadrilla held another virtual tour of its Preston New Road shale gas site for online viewers (DrillOrDrop report). Lee Petts, environmental consultant and managing director of Remsol, recently had a real visit to the operation. In this guest post, he gives his impressions of the site near Blackpool.

My company, Remsol, worked with Cuadrilla some years ago when we researched, identified, tested and proved a safe and effective method of treating flowback wastewater that arises in the fracking process. We also compiled environmental permit applications for its Becconsall, Anna’s Road and Grange Hill sites. Although we no longer provide environmental services to Cuadrilla, I remain supportive and am a member of the Steering Group at Lancashire For Shale.

The tour was fascinating, and although I was only there as a courtesy, I was still able to cast a practiced eye over the operations, based on 21 years experience as an environmental consultant.

It’s a lot different than you’d imagine and nothing at all like the stories that circulate on social media.

The most noticeable aspect was how eerily quiet it was compared to my expectations.

They were drilling when I visited, and it was a lot quieter than I remember it being at Becconsall and Anna’s Road. No matter where I was on site at PNR, I didn’t have to raise my voice or strain to hear what my host was saying.

It was especially quiet behind the sound wall that has been erected (see picture at the start of this post) – a few metres beyond it and all you can hear is the traffic on Preston New Road and the M55. It’s incredibly effective. The sound of the engines that drive the drill, and the pumps that circulate drilling mud used to cool and lubricate the drill bit were quickly inaudible thanks to the noise barrier.

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Foam pads attached to the metal gates prevent them from noisily clanging closed. Photo: Lee Petts

Cuadrilla appears to have really taken local noise concerns seriously. For instance, the speed of the drill is reduced at night so that noise from the ‘top drive’ is lowered. Internal metal gates even have foam pads on to stop them clanging when they’re closed.

It’s also paid a lot of attention to preventing pollution. Tanks that store fluids like diesel, for instance, are double-skinned to make them more resilient and sit inside what’s known as a ‘bund’ – although it’s hard to see this from aerial images. This means that in the unlikely event that these tanks were to spring a leak, any spills would be captured there before they could get onto the pad itself. Small containers, such as 45 gallon drums, are stored on portable bunds. These are all examples of recognised good practice.

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45 gallon drums provided with their own portable bund for safe storage. Photo: Lee Petts

I’ve seen people express concern about the pad ‘flooding’ during heavy rain, but this just shows that the impermeable liner installed underneath is doing its job – if it weren’t, then you wouldn’t see standing water.

The pad is also lower than the surrounding fields and surrounded by an earthen bund made from soil extracted when constructing the site and piled-up around the perimeter, which means that when people say they can see evidence of fluids leaking off the site and onto farmland in the direction of the Wensleys, for example, this just can’t be true; if anything, liquids would be more likely to run-off the fields and onto the pad (although the design of the pad prevents this too). Again, it’s a bit hard to see this from drone footage.

Overall, I found it very well run by people that have clearly been listening and responding to genuine local fears.

I know that there will be some people reading this that still don’t want shale gas exploration to go ahead in Lancashire, and I get that, but hopefully they and others will take some comfort from hearing that’s it’s being done right.


Do you live or work near Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site? DrillOrDrop would like to hear what impact the operations have had on your life.

27 replies »

  1. “Cuadrilla appears to have really taken local noise concerns seriously” – no, more accurately they take the condition limiting noise seriously because they don’t want to be told to stop work. In their original planning application to LCC they said they would work within higher noise levels, they then changed the levels down when they discovered the application was going to get kicked out, then put them back up again when they went to the Public Inquiry. Would they have done that if they took local noise concerns seriously?I don’t think so.

    • PNR_PL_Flood Risk Assessment May 2014:

      “As the Exploration Works Site slopes from southeast to northwest, there is a low risk of localised flooding, from adjacent eastern areas flowing onto the well pad, if surface water runoff is not able to infiltrate or runoff into the existing watercourses.”

      • So “Joe” what Lee should have written was “the pad is also lower than the field to the east”, not the “surrounding fields” which is by no means the same thing.

        As you might say “So [edited by moderator] he simply destroyed his credibility?”

    • In May 2015 Cuadrilla planning application LCC/2014/0047 was granted by LCC.

      Cuadrilla agreed a noise threshold limit of 42 decibels to plug abandon and restore the Becconsall site. No night time working was allowed.

      In early 2017 Cuadrilla presented planning application LCC/2017/0016 to LCC

      This application was to increase the noise threshold to 55 decibels. A huge increase. Not only that but they wanted to work right through the night.

      And if that wasn’t enough they asked for the monitors which detect the noise to be moved further away than was agreed in LCC/2014/0047.
      This meant even more noise could be produced at the site.

      No consideration for the locals. No concern for the bird population.

      Present plans which mitigate down to a minimum level, get the application passed, and then state you cannot work to those low levels (with no justifiable explanation) then ask for huge noise threshold rises.

      A plan that backfired like most of their planning manipulation schemes which just cause more people to dig deeper and expose the realities of this industry.

      The Cuadrilla and the church mouse story is falling on deaf ears.

      • “This application was to increase the noise threshold to 55 decibels. A huge increase. Not only that but they wanted to work right through the night.

        And if that wasn’t enough they asked for the monitors which detect the noise to be moved further away than was agreed in LCC/2014/0047.
        This meant even more noise could be produced at the site.”

        Considering you provide the document source, it’s surprising how many misleading items your above statement contains.

        From your source document:

        “Variation of condition 14 of planning permission LCC/2014/0047 so that permitted noise limits during plugging and abandonment of the well and restoration are limited to 50dB(A) between 07.00 and 19.00 hrs when measured at the boundary of the nearest residential receptor.”

        “The applicant originally proposed that the condition should be worded such that noise would not exceed 55 dB(A) LAeq 1 hour (free field) between the hours of 08.00 and 21.00 hours and 42 dB(A) LAeq I hour (free field) between the hours of 21.00 and 08.00 when measured at the nearest residential property.”

        “It is now proposed to undertake the plugging and abandonment works between 07.00 to 19.00 hrs ….”

        The sound level produced on site is irrelevant; it’s the amount of noise which escapes from a site which is the concern. Hence the attenuation barriers.

        • ‘it’s surprising how many misleading items your above statement contains’

          Let’s look a little deeper and see who is misleading who

          Cuadrilla state they have years of experience in exploratory drilling. They must know all about the noise thresholds they require to drill, frack, and restore a site. All the basic stuff right.

          We start with the original application LCC/2014/0047. Pre application advice was sought and given.Operational requirements discussed.
          The application is passed with condition 14 imposed which states

          ‘Noise emitted from the site shall not exceed 42 dB Laeq(I hour) (free field), as
          defined in this permission, when measured at any point on the red edge application
          site boundary.

          Reason: To safeguard the amenity of local residents and to prevent disturbance to
          birds ‘

          Three years later and Cuadrilla present LCC/2017/0016.

          Now things have changed. They want to change condition 14 to

          Noise emitted from the site shall not exceed 55dB LAeq (1hour) (Free field) between the hours of 08:00 and 21:00 and 42dB (1 hour) (free field) between 21:00 and 08:00 as defined in this permission when measured at the boundary of the nearest residential receptor.

          The reason given

          To allow for the plugging, abandonment and restoration of the site outside of the wintering bird period without unnecessary restrictions associated with working within a noise limit of 42dB LAeq (1hr) free field at the red line boundary.

          So let’s sum this bit up.

          Professional experienced company happily excepts 42dB in 2014 which sees application passed and minimal disturbance to residents and protected bird population. Three years later they confirm they cannot carry out works under their own agreed noise threshold and request 55dB and monitors moved further away.

          So is the reason

          A. They have no idea of their own operational requirements or
          B. It was easier to get an application passed using totally un achievable noise levels and then try to get those levels changed later

          However things don’t end there.

          Shortly after submitting LCC/2017/0016 which requests the 55dB and all night drilling they change their mind again on what noise levels they need.

          They now need 50dB and don’t need to work all night.

          Why would they do that you are asking.

          Ribble Estuary Against fracking commissioned an acoustic report specifically for this application. It was peer reviewed and sent to LCC planning

          Guess what it states.

          That at this site 55dB and all night working conflicts with requirements found in the NPPF and therefore the application with those thresholds should be refused

          What a coincidence they then dropped the noise threshold.

          The fact that the noise level that finally got passed was 50dB and no night working is only because the application would likely have got refused at 55dB as there were material planning reasons for rejection.

          When you ask residents to agree to being submitted to noise levels of 42dB and occasional night workings and then change that request to 55dB with constant all night workings with no justification I think you will find

          IT IS THE RESIDENTS WHO HAVE BEEN MISLED

  2. No staining of the field by the pad then? The drone shows this.
    The Pad isn’t lower than the field either.
    So quiet because half the time Rusty had broken down.

  3. So, we have more facts instead of the myths, and the usual suspects immediately attempt to squash such facts with their usual fake news. Bit early for the desperation, but hey ho.
    Nice, quiet, neighbours willing to pay an income per local household, support local employment and financially support community projects. Should do wonders for local property prices.

    Main news yesterday was around consignments of fake underpants-Christmas presents for a few antis? The ideal way to gird a few loins for the coming New Year.

    • Lyrics from The Nightmare before Christmas altered slightly with greatest apologies to the authors and to Tim Burton, I’m sure you will understand Tim the dark connotations of this industry.

      “The Nightmare Before, During and After Christmas.”

      Jack Frack Skellington, “The TPD Pumping King”

      What’s This?
      ——————————

      What’s this? What’s this?

      There’s people everywhere

      What’s this?

      There’s no methane in the air?

      What’s this?

      I can’t believe my eyes!

      I must be dreaming

      Wake up, Jack, this isn’t flare

      What’s this?

      What’s this? What’s this?

      There’s something very wrong

      What’s this?

      There’s people singing songs

      What’s this?

      The streets outside are lined with

      Little creatures laughing

      Everybody seems so happy

      Could they have Democracy?

      What is this?

      What’s this?

      There’s children throwing snowballs

      instead of coughing blood

      They’re busy building windfarms

      And absolutely no one’s dead

      There’s light in every window

      Oh, I can’t believe my eyes

      And in my dead bones I feel their warmth

      That’s coming from inside

      Oh, look!

      What’s this?

      They’re hanging mistletoe, they kiss

      Why that looks so unique, inspired

      They’re gathering around to hear a story

      Roasting chestnuts on a fire

      What’s this?

      What’s this?

      In here they’ve got a little tree, how queer

      And who would ever think

      And why?

      They’re covering it with tiny little things

      They’ve got electric lights on strings

      And there’s a smile on everyone’s face

      So, now, correct me if I’m wrong

      They have such fun

      I hate them every one

      Or, could it be I’ll get my wish?

      What’s this?

      Oh my, what now?

      The children are asleep

      But look, there’s nothing shaking underneath

      No snaking drills, no fracking bores here to scream and scare them

      Or legally ensnare them, only little cozy things

      Secure inside their democratic dreamland

      What is this?

      The poisons are all missing

      And the frackmares can’t be found

      And in their place there seems to be

      Good feeling all around?

      Instead of screams, I swear

      I can hear music in the air

      The smell of cakes and pies

      Are absolutely everywhere

      The sights, the sounds, the tea urns all around

      There’s no policemen anywhere or poisons underground

      I’ve never felt so good before

      This empty place inside of me is filling up

      I simply cannot frack enough

      I want it, oh, I want it

      Oh, I want it for my own!

      I’ve got to know

      I’ve got to know

      What is this place that I have found?

      What is this?

      …..Northern Town?……hmm…..

      It could never happen here…..could it?

      Have a happy pre Christmas Sunday with friends and family and enjoy a quiet peaceful day without nightmares…..of any kind.

  4. Reduced noise at night. How have they solved the problem of clanging pipes when they are changed and taken from and returned to the pipe rack? This was a reported problem at Crawberry Hill.
    Quiet enough to talk while drilling takes place? Really? What about when all the generators to do a frack start up and the ground starts vibrating – hard to believe the “sound barriers” erected to stop observation of the operation from outside will stop the noise then.
    Flooding of the site shows the impermeable barrier is working? Interesting given the photos I took of water leaking off the well sites at West Newton A and Crawberry Hill. These operators do not anticipate severe rainfall events arising from the climate change (partly caused by hydrocarbon use and fugitive emissions of methane!).
    Leakage from the site? It can’t happen – nothing like denial – I have seen it and it was reported and the EA required action to stop pollution. This is the professional advice of someone arranging Environmental Permits and on the steering group of Lancashire for Shale. Thank you for providing further evidence of the weakness of our gold standard regulations and the industry links of the pro-shale gas opposition groups,
    The site is located in a hollow so it cannot leak into surrounding areas. Further evidence of the dishonesty of the planning application which claimed there was no risk of flooding at the site. Do you mean they deliberately chose a site liable to flood – haha.
    Well done Lee Petts, managed to shoot yourself and the industry in both feet at the same time as shooting yourself in the head and hands.

    • Jon – with your knowledge & skills, perhaps you should set yourself up as a consultant?

      As a template, you could do worse than read & understand Arup’s actual Flood Risk Assessment for the PNR site:

      “The risk of flooding at the site and the risk of causing increased flooding downstream from the site is assessed as follows:

       The proposed Exploration Works lies within The Environment Agency’s designated Flood Zone 1 and is therefore at very low risk of fluvial flooding.

       The Exploration Works Site is at low risk from overland flows running onto the well pad from the east, due to the nature of the topography where the eastern side of the well pad is dug-in. Profiling of ground levels on the south- eastern perimeter is required to prevent this affecting the well pad during operation.

       Containment/attenuation measures have been designed to ensure no detrimental effects are caused downstream of the Exploration Works in areas within Flood Zones 2 and 3. Surface water runoff does not increase beyond the existing ‘greenfield’ rates for storms up to and including the 1in100 year event, allowing for future climate change.

       Similarly, the buried pipeline connections for extended flow testing will not impact on flood risk.

       The Exploration Works are considered unlikely to be affected by sewer flooding, however there is a low risk of flooding from an adjacent water main which has a history of bursts and requires installation of a pressure management valve to reduce this.

       It is considered that there is little risk of ground water flooding at the Exploration Works.

       Climate change will be allowed for, based on the precautionary approach. It can be concluded that the development will not increase flood risk off-site as result of development proposals.”

      Note your misleading claim “These operators do not anticipate severe rainfall events arising from the climate change ….” So why [edited by moderator] simply destroy your credibility?

      • [Edited by moderator]

        Look at the facts to back up my statement about an industry which, like the government, is in denial about the increasing rate of severe rainfall events – one of the predicted and now actual consequences of climate change.

        I was on the frontline of emergency response to flooding in the East Riding in October 2000 – the wettest autumn since 1766.
        Lancashire, like the East Riding was hit by the floods of 2007 – the wettest May-July period since 1766.
        Flooding in Cumbria in 2009 – heaviest 24 hour rainfall measured ever in the UK.
        Flooding across the North in 2013-14 wettest December and wettest January since 1876.
        Almost all the wettest years on record have occurred since 1998.

        Despite the reassuring flood risk plans submitted by the operators there are well documented examples of rainwater running off shale gas sites which were supposedly designed to avoid this risk to the surroundings – Crawberry Hill and West Newton A in 2014 and now Preston New Road.

        Lee Pett’s suggests that PNR is designed to flood to avoid risk to the surroundings and the water system – if so it was inadequate design because water from the site did pollute the local streams and the EA had to intervene.

        Do you seriously agree Cuadrilla designed a site to flood even though this would hinder their operation?

        The key to this is climate change and the industry is in denial about the increasing pace of change – in particular severe rainfall events.
        How else do you explain the gap between the Ove Arup report and the actual impact of rainfall on the PNR operation?
        Hint – see the excellent work of DeSmog on Climate Denial links to the oil and gas industry reported in Drill or Drop this morning 11.12.17..

        So not only have your and your colleagues got your career advice wrong – you know I am well past retirement age – but your credibility as the voice of incisive criticism of the anti-fracking community is also suspect – must try harder – or better still just pack it in.

  5. The rain water mixed in with drilling fluid is running off the Pad in to the field and main drain. This article is incorrect.

    • Inside Man, do you understand the concept of a circulating system? or have some evidence that drilling fluids are leaking off the pad?

    • Since we are not fooled for one second, no one is bothered. What perhaps should bother you though, is that anyone who claims such environmental…..credentials…..could be quite as easily Cuad suckered as Lee Petts apparently is?

      And also that Kale not Shale thinks we don’t know that.

      Sad really?

      [Typo corrected by moderator]

  6. The only safe thing about fossils that are extracted and processed for fuel, is that if you leave them in the ground the carbon they could potentially emit is not likely to enter the atmosphere. The minutia of the extraction process detail is therefore redundant. A category mistake I think.

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