Regulation

Fire service ordered to release emergency planning information for Cuadrilla’s fracking site

180204 PNR FrackFreeCreators - Knitting Nanas of Lancashire

Cuadrilla’s shale gas site at Preston New Road, near Blackpool, 4 February 2018. Photo: Knitting Nanas of Lancashire

An opponent of fracking has won an eight-month campaign to force Lancashire’s Fire and Rescue Service to release information about emergency planning at Cuadrilla’s shale gas operation.

Lancashire Fire and Rescue ServiceThe service was ordered yesterday to answer questions put by Helen Chuntso about the site at Preston New Road near Blackpool.

In response to her Freedom of Information request, the service had twice refused to confirm or deny whether it had the information she asked for. It argued that confirmation or denial would disclose information that could be used to plan an attack on the site.

But the Information Commissioner disagreed and said the Fire and Rescue Service could not use exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act. It was ordered to respond to the request by 10 May 2018.

Ms Chuntso said:

“In the event of an unexploded gas leak, hydrogen sulphide leak or other emergency evacuation scenario, Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service should have the confidence to demonstrate to the public that they have been fully consulted, worked with other emergency agencies to have a plan in place, and be able to evacuate the area.

“After two refusals and over eight months of trying to evade responding to this Freedom of Information Request, Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service are going to have to place this crucial information in the public domain, and potentially risk exposing the myth of how this industry does not have Gold standard Regulation in its safety practices once again.”

Helen Chuntso

Helen Chuntso

The case dates back to July 2017, when Ms Chuntso asked the Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) a series of questions about emergency planning at Preston New Road site.

Her request covered issues including:

  • Did Cuadrilla consult the FRS over emergency response rescue methods?
  • Had joint incident response training exercises been discussed or taken place with Cuadrilla and other emergency responders?
  • Had the FRS been consulted at planning application stage on alarm systems at the site?
  • Did the FRS regularly check alarms at the site, including those for hydrogen sulphide (H2S)?
  • Had the FRS been provided with specific material safety information on chemicals at the site?
  • Had the FRS been warned about explosives and detonators that would be on site during the fracking stage?
  • When was the next review of emergency procedures at the site?

For most of the questions, Ms Chuntso asked “please provide all information that you hold or confirm that no such consultation has taken place.”

On 23 August 2017 and again on 19 December 2017 the FRS refused to confirm or deny that it held the information. It cited exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act on national security, law enforcement and health and safety.

The ruling from the Information Commissioner’s Office said:

“The Commissioner’s view is that the knowledge that would be gained through confirmation or denial in response to these requests would be limited. The majority of the requests are phrased as questions.

“A confirmation or denial in response to these would only give an indication whether the FRS held information that would provide an answer to those questions; it would not provide an answer in itself.

“The Commissioner also notes the considerable volume of information that is in the public domain that describes the fracking process.

“Given what can already be learned from the copious publicly-available information about that process, what further knowledge could be gleaned through disclosure of the confirmation or denial is limited.”

The ICO ruling accepted that Preston New Road “may be targeted for a criminal or terrorist attack and that such an attack would threaten national security and public safety”.

But it rejected the argument that the confirmation or denial of information would make the threat more likely:

“For these reasons, the Commissioner does not accept that provision of the confirmation or denial in response to the complainant’s requests would be more likely than not to lead to a greater threat of attack to the Preston New Road site.”

The ICO also concluded that the FRS should have dealt with the request under Environmental Information Regulations.

The FRS had argued that some Ms Chuntso’s requests were too far removed from the fracking operation itself to quality as environmental issues.

The FRS has 28 days in which to appeal.

  • DrillOrDrop invited the FRS to comment on the ruling. This post will be updated with any response.

Link to original FOI request

23 replies »

    • Jono
      There is a plan ( being a site plan )… see the local consultation forum minutes as this has been raised there and the plan discussed.
      Plus the HSEx have inspected the site, and the requirement for a plan comes under their remit.

      Maybe there is no fire brigade plan in Lancashire for anything and the fire brigade just bumble about looking for smoke, but I doubt it.

  1. Because having a plan in place means acknowledging the risks – and Cuadrilla don’t care about the risks to the community so long as they pass go and collect £200.

    • Ian
      Does that mean that if they have a plan, they acknowledge the risk? They have one, but that may not make everything ok I suspect.

  2. Wonder what the “plan” is for the local petrol station, where the travelling antis top up their vehicles? I hope there is one otherwise their ability to trundle off could be seriously restricted.

      • Crembrule
        Noting you comments were addressed to Martin, I think it was irony.
        However, as you note the onus is on the operator, not for the fire brigade to comply with the relevant regulations.
        More later on this in the context of the question set in the report ( and why the fire brigade do not check the gas detectors on fracking sites, COMAH sites et al, and why that is ok ).

        • Hewes I stated the onus was on the operator of petrol forecourts to produce the Emergency plan, but that there would likely be standard operating procedures for the FRS on a call to a petrol forecourt as that was the case Martin was using to compare with the drill site. The comparison was a little bit to spurious for me but that is Martin’s way.

          If the drill site isn’t classed as COMAH presumably there will also be standard operating procedures in place at the FRS, surely better to answer the FOI request with relevant information even if it doesn’t exactly address the questions raised rather than to clam up and state “national security” as a reason for providing no answer at all. I am intrigued as to why a gas drilling site with a potential link up to the gas main would not be classed as COMAH, can you elaborate?

          • crembrule
            Regulation 3 (3)(c) of the COMAH regs excludes ….activities of the extractive industries concerned with the exploration for and the exploration of minerals in mines and quarries or by means of boreholes.

            However even without that the drill sites would in all probability not trip the Hazardous materials quantity levels listed in Scedule1 of the Regulations. Just as fuel outlets do not.

            Note that Wytch Farm process plant has a COMAH case, but the individual well sites tied back to it, do not.

            Plus, drill sites have their own regulatory requirements ( The Borehole Sites and Operations Regulations 1995 ).

  3. Because I have a life, crembrule, and no interest in wasting other peoples money that could be targeted at education. It’s what I believe they call a vicious circle. Keep wasting money, not enough for education so you end up with more people who want to waste other peoples money rather than feel they have the knowledge to do something constructive.
    Anyway, have a good weekend. I shall be busy digging a soakaway (Cuadrilla-my services are available.) Down to water currently, if I strike oil there will be a real problem as I have yet to produce a plan with the Fire Service. At my age, living dangerously is a short term risk.

    • Martin you asked a question and I gave you an answer and a source where to obtain the additional information you might need.

      Regarding your soakaway lets hope you come up with a better design than the big C designed their surface water drainage.

  4. She also made an application for information on Risk Assesment for Policing Barton Moss IGas Site.
    Basically trying to be annoying as are all antis. Google gives them a false sense of superior intellect.

    • GottaBKidding. Ascertaining the truth about what contingency plans are in place for something that could possibly result in a disaster occurring in close proximity to communities is hardly “being annoying.” The clue is in the name. Freedom of Information. I realise freedom and democracy is rapidly disintegrating in this country, spurred on by a government and industry who care far more about power and money than the wishes and welfare of the population, but Ms Chuntso must have been quite entitled to this informational her request would have been denied. To claim disclosing details risked ” national security” smells of an attempt at a cover up of inadequate planning.

      • Pauline
        The subject crops up regularly in the Community Liaison Notes, although the FRS do not attend it seems.
        Hence questions directed specifically to the FRS may not be answered, although I guess they could be invited to that meeting, and then they could answer a number of questions ( including questions relating to any need for, or how evacuation p,and would work ). Ie more than just one set from one person?

  5. I am not sure why the Fire Service did not reply. The site is not considered of National Significance ( it’s not a terminal where gas or oil,comes onshore for example, and does not have armed police in attendance ), and so far there is no production.

    So, in my opinion, they should.

    However my opinion as to a reply is below ( I paraphrase the questions )

    1. Did Cuadrilla consult the FRS over ER rescue methods
    This should be yes, as any expectation that the FRS will do something in the plan ( whatever that is ) needs their agreement that it is possible.
    2. Joint Incident Response Training
    This should be yes, although the FRS may decide that generic exercises are IK, depending on the risk profile to date ( ie just drilling, not fracked yet. We shall see.
    3. Consultation in planning stage
    This should be yes, although it’s part of the p,an I guess process so it’s not a secret I expect.
    4. Checking Alarms, including H2S
    This should be no, The FRS is an emergence service not a gas detector checking service. The company has this accountability, and they are regulated by the HSEx ( in terms of the ER plan ). They may well ask about them when they visit.
    5. Provision of Safety Information re chemicals used at site
    The answer should be yes, and include all hazardous materials likely to appear out of the ground as best you know. However, the key ability is to produce a list and give it to them if they have to turn up and it is relevant.
    Ie, if they turn up,to help remove protestors from a drill rig ( for example ) the immediate hazards would be more of interest than the full listing.
    6. Warned about plosives and detonators during fracking stage
    This is generic and again they need an appreciations the risk, and in consultation they would say if they need to know in detail. This is not a fracking issue, it’s a perforation issue, which while you need to do,that to frack. You can perforate and not frack.
    7. When is the next review of the ER procedures
    By them or by Cuadrilla?

    My opinions are based on running an ER plan at a COMAH Site.

    As noted at the start, it should not be a secret.

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