Friends of the Earth is taking legal action against the Environment Agency over the way it granted Cuadrilla a permit to frack in Lancashire.
The campaign organisation announced this morning it has lodged an application with the High Court to seek a judicial review of the environmental permit to frack at the Preston New Road site near Blackpool.
It said the Environment Agency (EA) had failed to take the best course of action to protect the environment from the risks of fracking.
Friends of the Earth said the EA had a duty to ensure that the best available techniques were used by the fracking industry. But the organisation said the EA had failed to conduct a best available technique assessment when considering Cuadrilla’s application.
The case being brought by Friends of the Earth is that Cuadrilla should have been required to use a better technique for dealing with waste fluids – known as flowback – generated by fracking.
According to Friends of the Earth, the more ‘flowback fluid’ that Cuadrilla can reuse, the less waste would need to be trucked offsite. There could be more waste and more trucks on Lancashire’s road because the EA failed to ensure the best available techniques were used, it said.
The environmental permit is just one of the requirements needed before fracking can start. Under the Infrastructure Act, the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, has to give the final consent.
Friends of the Earth has asked him to delay his decision on consent while the challenge is being considered by the courts.
Cuadrilla recently finished drilling the UK’s first horizontal shale gas well and is currently working on the second. It has said it plans to begin fracking in July.
10 days ago, the Energy Minister, Claire Perry, responding to a parliamentary question, said the government had not received an application from Cuadrilla for hydraulic consent.
Friends of the Earth campaigner, Helen Rimmer, said:
“All along, the government stated that gold standard regulation will make everything ok, but we believe our challenge shows the opposite. Where fracking has happened elsewhere, we’ve seen instances of damage to the environment. We were told the UK’s regulation would suffice, but already it’s looking more like fool’s gold, than gold standard.
“Greg Clark should not grant fracking consent while significant questions are being raised about basic regulation in the High Court.”
A spokesperson for Cuadrilla said:
“We can confirm we have been granted all necessary Environment Agency permits required for us to hydraulically fracture at our site at Preston New Road, Lancashire.
“We are moving ahead to apply to the Secretary of State for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy for the final consent to fracture the first shale horizontal well, which we completed in early April.
“The Secretary of State will make his decision based on all the information presented to him but we note that the Infrastructure Act clearly states that if the operator has the necessary permits in place this “is sufficient for the Secretary of State to be satisfied”.
“We do have those permits and therefore consider it inappropriate for Friends of the Earth to suggest that there is any reason for the Secretary of State, on these grounds, not to grant consent.”
A spokesperson for the pro-shale group, Lancashire for Shale, said:
“This is just the latest in a long line of stunts designed to delay progress on the basis of yet another spurious claim, and an outrageous waste of taxpayer’s money considering that the Environment Agency, a public body, may now have to incur significant legal expenses to defend this action.
“Lancashire’s economy has already benefited to the tune of almost £9m in supply chain spending since Cuadrilla relocated to Preston and operations began. People and businesses will be rightly furious to learn that Friends of the Earth is trying to deny them further jobs and contracting opportunities with this eleventh-hour legal manoeuvre.
“If it were seriously concerned that the regulator had not followed due process when determining Cuadrilla’s environmental permits, it would have launched this challenge when those permits were first granted in 2015. The fact it has waited until now is a clear sign that it is just gaming the legal system.”
The issue of flowback volumes was raised at the recent inquiry into fracking at Cuadrilla’s second proposed site in Lancashire at Roseacre Wood.
Local engineer, Mike Hill, questioned evidence from Cuadrilla about how it would reduce flowback volumes and, therefore, traffic from the site.
The company’s technical director, Mr Lappin, had said in his evidence to the inquiry that Cuadrilla proposed to shut-in the well to allow the formation to absorb flowback fluid and reduce volumes coming to the surface. He also said the company had considered on-site treatment of flowback fluid but at the time of the original application there was no permitted technique.
Mr Hill said the EA must look at best available techniques for all fracking waste, including the fluid left in the formation, as well as flowback. He said:
“Recycling of flowback is a complex process and one that has proven difficult to master by fracking operators.”
He said potential toxicity levels rose significantly and the efficiency of fracking fell with recycling. He said:
“It would be prudent to plan for traffic levels that include for tankering off all flowback. The traffic levels need to be realistic and include for unplanned weekend and night movements.”