Controls needed to cut risk of spills and leaks from UK shale gas industry – new research

pnr 170822 Ros Wills3

Preston New Road, 22 August 2017. Photo: Ros Wills

The UK could see up to one spill for every four large shale gas pads, according to researchers.

In the first study of its kind, the Researching Fracking in Europe (ReFine) consortium has predicted that for production pads with 10 lateral wells there could be one onsite spill for every 16 pads. When 40 laterals were developed on a single pad, the rate was estimated to increase to one spill for every four pads.

The researchers from Durham and Newcastle Universities also looked at the risk of spills during the transport of liquids to and from sites. They predicted there could be one road spill for every 19 pads.

The study concluded that strict controls would be “a necessity” to minimise the risk of leaks and spills from any future shale gas industry in the UK.

Flowback fluid is usually highly saline, sometimes five times the salinity of sea water. It can also contain heavy metals, fracking chemicals, naturally-occurring radioactive material and hydrocarbons. Spills of flowback water, produced water, fracking fluid and chemicals are potentially hazardous if they enter natural ecosystems.

Lead author Sarah Clancy, a PhD student at Durham University, said:

“There is currently no shale gas production within Europe, but exploration wells are underway and the public has expressed concerns about the effects on the environment including the potential for leaks to pollute land, surface water and groundwater.

“Given the highlighted risks of spills from shale gas operations, mitigation methods are a necessity.

“If a shale industry is to go forward in the UK, or across Europe, appropriate strategies need to be in place to minimise the risk of spills associated with well site activities and the transportation, handling, storage and disposal of hydraulic fracturing related fluids.”

The study, published yesterday in the journal, Science of the Total Environment, used data on reported onsite spills in the shale industry in Texas (1999-2015) and Colorado (2009-2015). The researchers suggested that the number of reported spills may be an under-estimate. Despite this spills in both states increased over the period of study.

The researchers said the most common cause was equipment failure, corrosion, what were described as “acts of God” and human error. In Colorado, a third of spills were spotted during site remediation and random site inspections.

The study said:

“It is important that regular site inspections are performed by an appropriately trained work force and where possible constant onsite monitoring is carried out.”

The researchers called for systematic equipment checks and regular site monitoring during operation and after abandonment to identify equipment failures.

Last week, the industry organisation, UK Onshore Oil and Gas restated its case that 400 UK shale gas sites would be built over the next 20 years (link here). This followed an unpublished Cabinet Office report which estimated 30-35 sites by 2022.

Road spills

20140131 Barton Moss Peter Yankowski

Photo: Peter Yankowski

The researchers estimated that in the first two years of drilling, a well pad with 10 laterals would require at least 2,856 tanker movements, each with a potential capacity of 30,000 litres of liquid.

Using spill data from UK milk and oil tanker industries, they predicted that a shale industry would be likely to experience an incident on the roads for every 12 well pads developed and a road spill for every 19 well pads over the lifetime of a well.

The paper said:

“Our analysis shows that when tanker movements for a single 10-well pad with 10 laterals is concentrated over two years the likely annual number of spills is less than one.”

But it added:

“Our calculations show that the number of spills increases to 2-6 when 100 wells sites with 10 wells per pad with one lateral each is developed.”

Previous research into commercial road transport has shown that long journeys, driver fatigue, time pressures, and unsuitable roads, such as country lanes made worse by bad weather or heavy traffic, could contribute to accidents and spills.

The researchers recommended there should be regular vehicle inspections and maintenance; specialised training and instruction for drivers; and appropriate driving schedules and routes.

Most UK onshore oil and gas sites have traffic management plans which specify delivery routes and hours for heavy goods vehicles. But campaigners against the industry have identified breaches of these plans at sites across the country.

Link to study

  • The ReFine website says: “The consortium is primarily funded by Ineos, with contributions from the Natural Environment Research Council, Environment Agency and the EU.” It adds: “Although partly funded by the energy industry, ReFINE enforces strict governance and ethical procedures to ensure that funders have no control over the research that is undertaken or published”.

35 replies »

      • Well, its Sunday again, the dinners cooking for the 5,000, and its time for our Sunday song.
        I was listening to David Bowie on the headphones and had to come in a put this down, funny what occurs to you whilst cooking?

        With deepest apologies to the estate of David Bowie , i have altered some of the words to protect the innocent.

        “Acid To Acid”

        Do you remember a guy that’s been
        So clearly wrong
        I’ve heard a rumour from OGA Control
        Oh no, don’t say it’s true

        They got a message from the Minister Man
        “I’m fracky. Hope you’re fracky, too.
        I’ve moved. All I’ve needed to move.
        Sordid details following.”

        The shrieking of drillers is killing me
        Just pictures of deep thrills on pinterest
        And you won’t get no money
        And we ain’t got no care
        And you’re hoping to frack but the planet is knowing

        Acid to Acid, punk to punky
        We know Danger Tom’s a Junky
        Strung out on methane’s high
        Hitting an all-time low

        Time and again I tell myself
        I’ll say what I mean tonight
        But the little obscene weasels are following me
        Oh, no, not again

        I truck with a valuable friend
        “I’m fracky. Hope you’re fracky, too.”
        One flash of blight
        But no smoking pistol

        I never done good things
        I always done bad things
        I never did anything out of the true,
        Want some facts to break the vice
        They wanna drill down right now

        Acid to Acid, punk to punky
        We know Danger Tom’s a Junky
        Strung out on methane’s high
        Hitting an all-time low

        My mama said, “To get things done
        You’d better not frack with Danger Tom.”

        My mama said, “To get things done
        You’d better not frack with Danger Tom.”

        My mama said, “To get things done
        You’d better not frack with Danger Tom.”

        My mama said, “To get things done
        You’d better not frack with Danger Tom.”

        Have a great Sunday with family and friends

      • Fiona
        They well may be, as it seems quite a few people are unaware of the Councils duties in the matter of Emergency Response. I am heartened though in the knowledge that no matter which party mp was elected, they all would be in the same boat.

  1. If hazardous material is being transported than regulations and controls are VERY different to milk. Take a look at hazard signs on lorries on our motorways and you will see that industries manage to transport hazardous materials pretty efficiently and in huge volumes.

    Each industry is required to meet stringent transport regulations in the UK depending on the material being transported. Moving cobalt around the world-especially if it crosses water-is an interesting one. So, “alternative” energy has the same issues to manage.

    Well paid jobs for specialist, trained, transport operatives. Thought this industry would not create any?

  2. Including emergency plans, Paula. Do you think if there was a spillage of radio active waste on the M6 there are no emergency plans?

    I used to ship products to be added to animal feed in UK and abroad, and all transportation required to be furnished with declarations including emergency plans to deal with any incidents. The category of transport hired, and thus the training of the drivers, would often be determined by such factors.

  3. It has been reported in DoD and elsewhere that the Transport Management Plan has been breached at Kirby Misperton many times by HGV site traffic. Numerous different routes have been used, yet no enforcement has taken place. Even worse the actual TMP route only comprises a very short prescriptive stretch and therefore the site traffic can arrive and leave, after adhering to the short TMP stretch, many different ways. HGVs have after the TMP had complete freedom and have used many routes, including ones not suitable for HGVs. It is nonsense to even think all these routes have been “assessed”. And in a rural area with very limited emergency service provision there is inadequate cover. It is not unusual for emergency vehicles to have to travel 30 miles to the scene of an accident/incident and on single carriage roads. Further, these tankers travel through small villages and market towns so the public is potentially at greater risk. This is another reason why this industry is not suitable for the densely populated U.K.

    • I can confirm that KatT is entirely accurate in her post. Worth adding that the alternative routes being used include several very tight right angled bends, one of them in the middle of a small village and with no visibility. Also a very old narrow grade 2 listed bridge at an awkward angle to the main route, which has frequent parapet damage. Sadly it has no weight limit, but is clearly vulnerable to extremely long and heavily loaded articulated lorries. None of the alternative routes have been assessed for suitability or safety and no consultation with the villages enroute has been carried out. Not quite a sterling example of gold standard regulation protecting the environment and populace. It rather begs the question what sort of TMP’s and enforcement could be in place for hundreds of well pads in remote rural locations.

    • Kat
      Are you in a remote rural area, where Emergency Provision is limited, or in a densely populated area?
      I take you point, but Kirby Misperton is within 2km of a main road, and a spot of dual carriageway.
      Future pads, if any, may be further off the beaten track.

  4. Don’t worry. We’ve got world class gold standards. There will be no accidents, just as there have been no accidents to date on onshore oil and gas sites. Well, none anyone would admit to, until some while afterwards, maybe.

  5. Oh I see KatT-in these rural areas there are not deliveries of red diesel to farms, oil for grain driers or domestic heating? Sorry, that is not a reason, it’s an excuse without justification.

    Depends on your definition of hazardous Sherwulfe. Low levels of cobalt added to a vitamin/mineral premix require skull and cross-bone warnings on all packaging and documents, as it is classified as a potential carcinogen. (Anyone told Mr. Musk that he could face a few cases of litigation in the future?) Truck loads of organic acids and formaldehyde have their own, serious, hazards-but so do salmonella and mycotoxins. Bentonite (used as a binder to harden animal feed pellets) was seen as pretty bland, whereas a few tonnes of NaCl falling into a water course could be a real issue.

    • Thank you Martin; the knowledge that cancer causing chemicals added to, and bacterial and toxins created in the manufacture of bulk feeds for animals fills me with dread; but that’s for another blog.

  6. This report sounds like an excellent initiative of ‘stating the bleedin’ obvious’. Welcome to have it in black and white though. Just the law of averages and knowledge of human nature decrees that there will be spillages, whether by accident, incompetence, negligence or just profit based cutting of corners. No amount of regulation will stop some of this happening and the more wells, the more traffic, then the more incidents will happen. I’m sure both pro and anti frackers must accept the news that accidents and incidents are going to happen; that the number of them will increase in proportion to the number of wells and increased number of lorry journeys; and that rules, regulations and inspetions need to be beefed up to have some semblance of control. I trust ‘the authorities’ will confirm that the required level of scrutiny and regulation, along with the manpower and funding will be in place to ensure the promised level of gold standard regulation?

    • Just in case anyone thought that the proliferation of fracking is either safe or can be controlled by safety regulations and emergency precautions. Accidents are caused by many things, tiredness, lighting and road conditions, ice, water, snow etc, lack of maintenance, narrow roads, poor visibility, lack of sight lines and inadequate or removed signage, other drivers, the health or otherwise induced attention span reduction, pressure to “get the job done” cost restrictions, salary and inadequate contracts, speed and restriction conditions being ignored, “shortest distance” time and cost restrictions, congestion and hold ups, traffic black spots and peak traffic times, overloading, inadequate security and labelling, simple lack of regulations and or regulations that have no appreciable penalties and hence can be ignored. Inadequate road construction and rutting, bow wave effects, deterioration of what structure there is, inadequate width or lack of passing bays, other traffic and pedestrians, bicycles and walkers, children and animals. low sun, reflections, overhanging width that clips other vehicles, overhanging objects, low height bridge clearance, temper, road rage, alcoholism, drug use, not just the HGV/LHV drivers, but other road users, dangerous driving, driving without due care and attention, and that is without even thinking about the danger too much, think of some others.

      ( )

      ( )

      (×920.jpg )

      Think of your own insurance? Do you notify your insurance provider that you regularly use a route, or routes, that are congested with thousands of hazardous waste carriers? What about your children to they go to a school whose location and travel route is congested by hazardous chemical waste trucks who drive too fast and are clipping the travel time restrictions or are ignoring them all together? What about your house insurance and mortgage conditions? Do you declare the proximity of hazardous waste sites and travel routes?

      Interesting isnt it? What do you think the answers will be? Withdrawal of insurance cover? Mortgage payment demands? Move to a frack free area and then find they follow you and set up exactly the same hazards in your new location? Where is frack free? What about horizontal bores? Under your home, your children’s school, your place of work? Who provides you with support in those circumstances?

      • Some excellent points raised here PhilC.

        In today’s world insurers are constantly finding ways out of paying up. This is something that should be researched, particularly after the comments made from the NFU and farming insurance.

        Some mortgage companies are already requesting search results showing fracking operations to assess the risk. At the moment I know of one case and the mortgage was accepted due the site at the time not having permission to frack, not sure how many PNR mortgages have been checked? It would be difficult to test as I don’t expect many will call their providers to check in case the news affects their ability to sell?

        • Hi Sherwulfe, worth saying isnt it? Yes precisely, as you say its a disincentive to enquire at all, because the simple act of enquiring can lead to suspension of insurance cover and withdrawal of mortgage assurances?

          That seems to be how the entire onshore industry operates?

          Impose an industry on you that effectively removes and compromises your entire (wrongly) assumed illusion of rights to personal and collective safety and freedom and then penalises you for raising your head above the PR parapet
          Then as soon as you do actually cotton on to the whole nasty little game and object to it, the whole machine of control and power and manipulation descends upon you for daring to actually stand up and say “No”.

          They walk away frack free, and you find yourself stuck with all sorts of childish tabloid labels just for daring to ask pertinent questions?

          Its Catch 22 isnt it? Damned if you do and damned if you don’t? Or perhaps in the case of the whole fracking fraud debacle, Catch 666?

          There has to come a time, when we have to re-examine the entire edifice of establishment and its disregard for anything but its own agenda?

          That time is now, the entire fracking debacle has served that one thing for us, it has exposed the whole sorry self serving mess that it is.

  7. I am afraid that is chicken feed to the amount of methane in the atmosphere already. I don’t have a figure for the precise amount, but just about every swampy piece of land throughout the whole world leaks methane into the atmosphere. So we are probably talking hundreds,if not thousands of tanker loads per day, not surprisingly methane is ever present in our atmosphere. Methane, itself, is not poisonous to humans. The odd tanker here and there is not going to make much difference… Bit of one of those alarmist things spread throughout the snowflake generation

    • “They walk away frack free, and you find yourself stuck with all sorts of childish tabloid labels just for daring to ask pertinent questions?”

    • ‘I don’t have a figure for the precise amount’ – so VW, instead of conjecture and dumbing down, how about doing your homework and writing a piece about this; if not am happy to dismiss your diversion as, well, just that, a diversion……

    • Vernon
      The report is about spills to the environment both on the site ( within the footprint of the membrane ) and offsite from tanker movements to and from the site. They use data from milk and fuel tankers in the main, which seems relevant in these cases.

      Tanker movements to the site are fuel, oil, and chemicals to it, and wastes ( primarily frack return water ).

      The report does not cover methane leaks from the wells and connecting infrastructure.

      Note that the report is written by an organisation funded by the O&G industry in the main. So INEOS have paid a bit towards the publication of the report.

  8. Talk about nonsense research. The chances of accidents on the road are the same for every industry. Petrol tankers carry huge amounts of highly explosive fuel every day. Current evidence demonstrates if that one in five protests camps will result in a serious caravan fire causing far more risk to life

    • For those who have not done their research on fracking and transport here is what New York State have to say.

      There is obvious high risk from this volume of transport.

      Can the anti anti fracking minority put forward reports that prove this report incorrect?

      The potential transportation impacts are ominous. Assuming current gas drilling technology and a
      lower level of development than will be experienced in Pennsylvania the Marcellus region will see a
      peak year increase of up to 1.5-million heavy truck trips, and induced development may increase
      peak hour trips by 36,000 trips/hour. While this new traffic will be distributed around the Marcellus
      region this Discussion Paper suggests that it will be necessary to reconstruct hundreds of miles of
      roads and scores of bridges and undertake safety and operational improvements in many areas.
      The annual costs to undertake these transportation projects are estimated to range from $90 to
      $156 million for State roads and from $121-$222 million for local roads. There is no
      mechanism in place allowing State and local governments to absorb these additional
      transportation costs without major impacts to other programs and other municipalities in
      the State.

      .For discussion purposes this point is illustrated in Figure XX which illustrates a hypothetical
      development and refracking scenario assuming peak annual well development of 1,440 (like that
      experienced in Pennsylvania in 2010), full field development in 13 years, a refracking period of 5
      years, and 3 fracks per well. In this example truck trip volumes from gas development average
      approximately 1,100,000 trips per year over a 21 year period with peak year volumes of roughly
      1,500,000 trips.

      Click to access Transportation-Impacts-Paper-LEAKED%5B1%5D.pdf

  9. Err, no Sherwilfe. It may come as a bit of a surprise but moulds, causing mycotoxin production, are inherent in many animal feed ingredients, and also within human foods, and have to be mitigated against. In countries with warm, humid climates mycotoxins can kill huge numbers very quickly, and unfortunately, do so. Equally, salmonella, and other bacterial contamination, can also be a problem in animal feed ingredients, and human foods, that needs mitigating against. (If you wish to exterminate all wild birds within the UK you will probably still not stop that, because the rodents will make up the gap.)

    Today, the largest use of cobalt is probably within “alternative energy” systems, so be careful what you wish for.

    But an interesting exercise as it has shown that some who are not involved in these industries on a daily basis can be pretty confused as to what the realities are, but that’s what keep a lot of discussion boards excited, if uninformed.

    • You shouldn’t waste your time posting on here Martin, you should be out there stopping the rodents!

      It will come to pass, and certainly new research is moving this way, that we have all been poisoned by these ‘additives’ just as some poor bastards were affected by DDT before the plug was pulled (in this country at least).

      I wonder what our next generations will think of us creating products sold as food, wrapped up in toxic plastic, containing empty calories and poisonous waste; that’s if they get the chance to be born?

      I find myself wondering if there are only a few on this planet that understand what food and energy should be for; not profit, but to sustain life.

      • Agreed Sherwulfe, any sane person would see that, to remove the criminal hand to mouth existence so that we can move on and evolve as a species. To make basic the requirement for clean food, clean water and clean renewable energy a human right of attainment and an inalienable resource that cannot by any means be overturned, is the only intelligent way forward, all else is stupidity and insanity of monumental proportions.

        The present dog eat dog insanity prevents any forward movement or advance in intelligence and sane renewable progress in all aspects of human civilisation. People are too busy trying to scratch a living from the mud that is polluted by the insane exploitation greed and avarice and self interest that we see clearly illustrated and displayed every day on these pages.

        They like it this way, just so long as they stay “on top” and far worse is committed to keep them there. time to change that elitist dirt bag attitude and return some sort of direct accountability for actions to the world.

        Then we can at last change this present suicidal self destructive insanity and we can all contribute to a better civilised future for all, not just obscene greed and wealth for a few exploiters.

        The result of that will be a massive transformation of the human race, and hopefully some sort of renewable future for us all.

        Nothing on this planet will ever improve one iota until that has been done and “dusted”

        We either do that peacefully and intelligently now or we do it the hard way, and that wont be pretty.

        I would rather we change our suicidal self destructive ways now by mutual agreement, its not rocket science, before it gets necessary to do it the hard way. It is a choice, the result will be the same, in the matter of fracking and its attendant avoidances of the word, it is better to make it a “soft fraxit” now rather than a “hard fraxit” later.

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