Minister urged to delay fracking in Lancashire until emergency plans are published

PNR 180607 Ros Wills 4

Rig at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road shale gas site, 7 June 2018. Photo: Ros Wills

The government has been urged to delay a final decision on fracking near Blackpool because of local concerns about a lack of information on plans to deal with an emergency.

In letters to the Energy Secretary, Greg Clark, campaigners, residents and a councillor have said fracking consent should not be granted for Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road shale gas site until they have more details about the arrangements to protect local people.

The writers have called for an investigation into whether an emergency evacuation plan is needed for homes surrounding the site and three nearby schools.

Greg Clark speakingMr Clark (left) has also been urged to state publicly that he is satisfied the local emergency services are sufficiently prepared to deal with a well blow out or leak of dangerous gases.

The issue has been taken up by the Conservative MP for the area, Mark Menzies, who has written to the Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service (LFRS) about local concerns.

The Green Party co-leader, Jonathan Bartley, also said he would raise them today at a meeting with Cuadrilla.

The letters to Mr Clark follow a formal request from Cuadrilla for consent to frack the UK’s first horizontal shale gas well at Preston New Road.

They also come after numerous public requests for information have failed to establish what procedures would be used in an emergency.

Correspondence seen by DrillOrDrop indicates that there are no specific evacuation arrangements for buildings around the site nor a specific plan to deal with the effects on the surroundings of an unplanned release of gas. The Health and Safety Executive told us it had not been consulted on an emergency plan for the area outside the site.

Arrangements appear to rely on a generic emergency plan, not publicly available, developed by the Lancashire Local Resilience Forum. This is a group made up of the “blue-light” emergency services, NHS organisations, Lancashire County Council and the Environment Agency.

pnr 180531 Ros Wills 3

Cuadrilla’s shale gas site at Preston New Road, 31 May 2018. Photo: Ros Wills

“Refusals, delays and evasion”

Residents and campaigners have spoken of their growing frustration at the lack of information about emergency planning for Preston New Road.

They say they have requested information through the community liaison group for Preston New Road and formally through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests but have received no useful responses.

Helen Chuntso: “proper communication needed”

Helen Chuntso

The environmental campaigner, Helen Chuntso, has made FOI requests for details about the emergency plans to Lancashire Police, the county’s Fire and Rescue Service and the Police and Crime Commissioner.

In one request, she asked Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service (LFRS) about how it proposed to deal with hydrogen sulphide, a highly toxic and flammable gas, sometimes found in natural gas. She specifically asked about the LFRS use of monitors, alarm systems and Hazmet suits.

The LFRS refused to answer her request, citing national security among other reasons. She asked for an internal review of the decision and the request was again refused.

Ms Chuntso made another FOI request to the LFRS about whether it had been consulted on emergency responses and rescue methods. In eight questions, she asked the LFRS to provide information or confirm whether such consultations took place.

The LFRS again twice refused to respond, once more citing national security as one of the reasons.

DrillOrDrop reported in April 2018 that the Information Commissioner had ordered the LFRS to confirm or deny whether the consultations took place. Since then the LFRS has said it will appeal against the Information Commissioner’s ruling.

Ms Chuntso also put questions to Lancashire Police (links here and here) about evacuation drills, risk assessments and emergency responses. The police have failed to respond within the time specified in the freedom of information legislation.

These requests (links here and here) were also put to the Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner. His office said it did not have this information.

Ms Chuntso told DrillOrDrop

“There needs to be public engagement on a plan for the evacuation of thousands of schoolchildren and residents for up to 3 miles from the wellsite.

“Any plans which the LRF [Local Resilience Forum] thinks are adequate need to be properly communicated to the public, so everyone can scrutinize them and discuss the impact on public health, and local business, and be prepared.

“The repeated refusal of Category 1 responders [“blue-light” services and local authority] to communicate on this matter displays a contempt for public safety.

“This disregard for true community engagement is the hallmark of this industry’s activity.

“One year on from the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, Greg Clark would be on very dangerous ground if he were to grant permission to frack in the UK whilst inadequate emergency evacuation plans are in place.”

Ben Dean: “allay local concerns”


Another campaigner, Ben Dean, asked the LFRS in an FOI request to answer yes or no to whether it had done a risk assessment on potential well leakage of hydrogen sulphide from Preston New Road to the surrounding atmosphere.

The LFRS refused to answer. It said:

“Confirmation or denial of whether information is held would undoubtedly compromise both national security and undermine law enforcement and public safety processes. Therefore, it is our opinion that for these reasons the balancing test for not confirming whether or not any information is held is upheld. However, this should not be taken as conclusive evidence that the information you requested exists or does not exist.”

In another request, Mr Dean asked:

“Is there an evacuation plan in place for the evacuation of local school children and residents in the event of a well blow-out or dangerous gas leakage. Yes or No”.

The LFRS refused to answer.

In an email to the Energy Secretary, Mr Dean said:

“After an internal review I received a disgraceful 15-page letter quoting every available FOI exemption regulation the FOI officer could find.

“This sort of response has to be a very serious concern to you, as you carry the ultimate responsibility for granting Cuadrilla consent to frack.”

He said:

“The Lancashire emergency services say the Lancashire Resilience Forum would cover an emergency at Preston New Road. This plan though is a ‘secret plan’ and from other FOI responses from third parties that I have seen (these FOIs are in the public domain on the ‘What do they Know’ website) there is no evacuation plan should there be an emergency at Preston New Road.”

He urged Mr Clark to:

“Pause from making a decision whilst a Designated Independent Person investigated the emergency preparedness for an emergency at Preston New Road, including whether there needs to be an emergency evacuation plan, taking in to account that fracking sites in the United States tend to require evacuation plans.”

Mr Dean also asked the Secretary of State:

“Please allay the local community concerns by providing a public statement that, having communicated with Lancashire emergency services, you are 100% satisfied with their emergency preparedness to cover a well blow out and/or a leakage of dangerous gases.”

He likened Preston New Road to the Chester University science park near the Stanlow refinery at Ellesmere Port. Earlier this month, Cheshire West and Chester Council refused retrospective planning permission to use the site for education. The Health and Safety Executive advised the council that students would be at risk if there was a toxic gas release or explosion from the refinery.

Mr Dean told Mr Clark:

“You are faced with a very similar scenario in being the ultimate decision maker to permit Fracking to commence at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road Development near Kirkham in Lancashire.”

Miranda Cox: “more needs to be done to explain safety measures”

180419 RW inq 2 Miranda Cox

Miranda Cox, a member of Kirkham Town Council and the Preston New Road Community Liaison Group (CLG), has also written to Mr Clark.

In her letter, she said:

“For over a year the Preston New Road Community Liaison Group has been asking for details of an emergency plan.

“Members have been made aware of several frack well blow outs across the world and, in particular, a really tragic one in the USA about four months ago that killed five workers and resulted in an air and ground exclusion zone.

“Given the Preston New Road sites proximity to domestic residences, schools, businesses and a busy arterial road many people are naturally concerned about the potential for accidents.

“Last June the Chair of the CLG asked specifically that Cuadrilla share an emergency plan with members to allay fears. The issue of the emergency plan, or lack of, is revisited at every CLG meeting and the request has been repeatedly evaded.”

Cllr Cox said the CLG had been told the site would be covered by a generic plan. But she told Mr Clark:

“Fracking cannot be compared to other sites.  The nature of its activity could result in seismic activity miles from site and a rig blow out would not be contained within the pad itself.”

She added:

“As the PNR site progresses towards the fracking stage we have stressed that more needs to be done to explain safety measures, rather than the glib comment that ‘all need to be ready to react to the emergency services’.

“Our community includes vulnerable and isolated elderly people, school children, police officers on duty at the site and those protesting outside, all of whom Cuadrilla claim will be away from harm.  However, gas emissions, quakes and explosions are not contained by security fencing.

“The regulation being touted by Government is not sufficient, as we have already experienced in Lancashire, and certainly counts for nothing once an accident has occurred.

“We have experts in our communities whom are being ignored and side-lined.  We need to operate a precautionary principle rather than make apologies when it is too late.”

Who is responsible for emergency planning?

Civil Contingencies Act

The Civil Contingencies Act established the responsibilities for emergency planning.

It identified Category 1 responders as the “blue light” emergency services, along with organisations including local authorities, NHS hospital trusts and the Environment Agency.

Guidance from the Cabinet Office, based on the Act, states that there is a duty on these organisations to:

  • Provide advice and information to the public
  • Warn them about emergencies.

The guidance says Category 1 responders had a duty to:

“Make the public aware of the risks of emergencies and the planned response.”

It added that this duty was:

“based on the premise that a well-informed public is better able to respond to an emergency and able to help minimise the impact of an emergency.”

There was a need to “avoid unnecessary public alarm” but it added:

“Research shows that the public have an appetite for information and are more likely to be alarmed if they feel that they have insufficient information.”


Mark MenziesLocal MP, Mark Menzies, told DrillOrDrop ,

“Last week I wrote to the Chief Fire Officer for Lancashire, Chris Kenny, to raise this important issue.  I am currently awaiting his response.”

DrillOrDrop sent this article to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, Lancashire Police and other members of the Lancashire Local Resilience Forum.

Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service and BEIS did not respond. Lancashire Police said Lancashire County Council would comment. A council spokesperson said:

“Under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, Lancashire County Council, as a Category 1 responder, contribute to a risk assessment process undertaken through the Lancashire Resilience Forum (LRF).  A risk assessment has been carried out for Preston New Road, using the Cabinet Office guidance. The outcome of this risk assessment was an overall risk rating of Medium – which means the level of risk does not warrant specific planning and can be covered by generic arrangements.  The risk assessment will be reviewed at appropriate intervals in line with robust processes in place through the LRF. More information relating to this can be found at

“Lancashire County Council’s Health Safety and Resilience Service has recently updated the templates and guidance to aid schools in developing appropriate and effective emergency/contingency plans. It is recommended that schools have an emergency plan in place and should take the appropriate actions to ensure these are completed.”




66 replies »

  1. Very predictable, and very desperate.

    If there wasn’t a robust emergency plan set up, how long does it take? Certainly not long enough to delay anything.

    Meanwhile, synchronised jumping up and down is being practiced to claim a seismic event.

    • Well done Helen Chuntso and Ben Dean and Mark Menzies and Miranda Cox for all your hard work in highlighting this total failure of the government, police and Fire services in providing publicly available and practical emergency procedures local to such a site.

      I would say that not only should the full and detailed up to date information be available to the local councils, ambulance and medical services, schools and public, they should be tested and practised, just as emergency building procedures are practised, to ensure they are efficient, and effective in operation in the real world, not just on paper locked away from the public view.

      All that must be done before any such permission to start site operations.

      That is just common sense, and will show just how seriously the government, the fire and medical emergency services and the police take this matter.

  2. I wouldn’t have thought an emergency plan could be written until it is known what the flow rates are going to be from the wells. It certainly won’t be needed during drilling as no permeability means no flow. If I was a local I’d be a lot more worried about the massive gas lines that pass under the Fylde.

    • Daniel
      The risk goes up when they frack, even though they are not sure what will turn up in terms of pressure and flow.
      The Emergancy Services have a plan to deal with evacuation of the public from events that need if. That is why they are called Emergancy Services.
      Heaven only knows how Lancashire have got themselves in this mess.

    • Like the well head, all gas pipelines are designed and maintained to a very high standard. No need to worry about this.

  3. The Government suspended fracking in Lancashire. They did so after Cuadrilla induced seismic events from relatively small fracking treatments. The well was distorted from those events.

    The same company now asks the Government to be allowed to try again on a larger scale.

    The Government should put in place maximum safety measures.

    It would appear that is not the case.

    I wonder if Mr Clark would be concerned if Cuadrilla wanted to frack a few hundred metres from his family home?

    I suspect he would.

    • acuchen
      The Lancashire Emergency plans can be viewed on the council website, under Emergency Planning.
      It may be worth you reviewing which plans have restricted access due to national security.
      If you feel,that all such restrictions for COMAH, Nuclear et al are a crock, then you can take this issue with the council. The restrictions are not specific to fracking or oil and gas extraction, and have been there for many years.

  4. With all of the safety equipment that a modern well head has, might the risk of a gas escape be “highly unlikely”? When was the last UK well head leak out of all the thousands that have been drilled? Not in my lifetime! Just scaremongering.

    • When was the one and only UK shale gas fracking operation?

      It was in 2011

      Is causing 50 seismic events including 2 earthquakes and buckling the well by a company who claims to be experts in the industry to be classed as a safe technical success?

      No it is not

      Is proposing future thresholds of 2.6 magnitude a sign that that this industry is going to cause more earthquakes?

      Yes it is

      Proven facts that the industry is a high risk business

      • Fracking is an established technique in the UK. Elswick has been safely operating for nearly 25 years. Fact

      • From the very same report : –
        “Based on the induced seismicity analysis done by Cuadrilla and ourselves, together with the
        agreement to use more sensitive fracture monitoring equipment and a DECC agreed induced
        seismic protocol for future operations, the authors of this report see no reason why Cuadrilla
        Resources Ltd. should not be allowed to proceed with their shale gas exploration activities and
        recommend cautious continuation of hydraulic fracture operations, at the Preese Hall site.”

  5. Don’t forget the proximity of the Nuclear power station at Sellafield and the Nuclear reprocessing and waste storage site at Clifton to Preston New Road fracking site!
    I wonder how their safety is included in any emergency planning?

    • Peter
      Heysham and Springfield Fuels have ER plans under REPPIR, and are closer than Sellafield.
      Information on these plans can be found in the Lancashire Council Emergancy Plan Section of Emergancy Planning.
      If you live within the Public Information Zone of those facilities you will be aware of what action to take should there be an off-site event, If you are outwith that Zone, but by living in Lancashire in a proximity to those sites and are concerned about the potential effects of an event, then the information document ‘Nuclear Emergencies. . Information for the public’ published by Public Health England. There is a link to that information through the above web site.

      • That’s interesting Hewes, and if these plans are public, why not for PNR and shale gas extraction – I believe this is the point of the article in all its splendor!

        • Because the likelihood is “very unlikely”. Gas cannot escape due to the design and maintenance of the well head and associated equipment. It is a sealed system until gas is allowed to flow through for testing reasons. Then it is fully under control.

        • Sherwulfe
          Those plans ( being the bit applicable to you if you live in a Public Information Zone ) are Public, but what the blue light services do is not. Access to them is restricted, as noted.
          That restriction applies across the board, and is not specific to fracking ( ie it has been in place across multiple governments ).

          In addition COMAH and REPPIR specifically require an offsite plan, should one be required by the risk assessment.

          The PNR site is not covered by either set of regulations and as such there is no requirement for such combined plans. It is covered by the Borehole Sites and Operations Regulation 1995. However there are requirements in the Regulations and guidance, specifically under Site Planning and Design, and The arrangements for attendance of emergency services and site access, that cover such issues as the impact of an event on the site and on the surrounding population.

          So in my opinion, the issue is that there is a request to make public, plans which are not generally made public, and for more information to be made available on the required site risk assessment and safety plan ( required under the above regs ) relevant to ER requirements offsite.

          Neither it seems are forthcoming. For the blue light services because the plans cover many events, and for Cuadrilla, for reasons up to them.

          However, a gist of what they are should be available for people to mull over.

          Certainly the blue light services have plans for evacuation of schools etc from multiple events no doubt, but do they want to make them public? We shall see.

  6. 7 days notice of starting to frack has to be lodged with Lancashire County Council.
    Shamefully the public don’t get to know till after the event!

  7. So correct me if I’m wrong but what about the same issues at Preese Hall & Anna’s road, are we to believe & accept that those two sites didn’t have an offsite an emergency plan in place? What kind of monkey set up are we folk in Lancashire having to deal with here?
    I think Cantdrilla should be in the circus business, not the fracking business..clowns!

    • It was confirmed by the Green Party today that all risk assessments are in place! So, what is the issue now?

    • Lady Dawn
      No need to be corrected, just look at the council Emergency Planning interesting Website to see which sites have offsite plans specific to the site, and how the council manages offsite response for all other risks.

      This information has been available for years, but I guess more people are interested now.

      • What is baffling to me is WHY is the Lancashire Resilience Forum refusing to disclose its Community Risk Register?

        A copy of the 2013 register can be found online – it is a common sense document that clearly records the response measures that would be implemented in various emergency scenarios.

        Why on earth won’t LRF publish its CURRENT risk register and earn the trust of the public?

        • Benjamin

          There is a lot of baffling stuff going on here.

          But a review of the register, even in its available form would be a decent read for many who want to expand their knowledge in the subject.

          Of note

          1. Major fires from industrial sites are covered as are fires from high pressure gas pipelines ( high risk for the former and medium for the latter ). HL7 or HL 8 would fit the bill. This would be similar to an ignited gas blowout from a gas well, but maybe in medium risk as I doubt the inventory in a well is as much as a high pressure gas pipeline.

          2. Earthquakes do not make the list ( as far as I can see ). This is for any expected without fracking, and as frack earthquakes are under the green light system it seems reasonable.

          I would add that here in Lincolnshire we had a 3.9 Earthquake on 9th June that went unremarked on DOD and did not lead to a request to suspend all onshore and offshore oil and gas drilling until it was fully investigated. It caused a twitter storm. No ER services were required. The last big event was in 2008 in Market Rasen when there was a 5.2.

          But yes, bafflingly the council seem shy of talking and the other side seem keen to ignore existing information or consider existing ER provisions and why what they have may be suitable.

          • I should add that unignited gas leaks are not well flagged.
            But I did note that the highest risk in Lancashire was a large ammonia release, which is not something I have heard about here on DOD.

    • Because the systems are sealed and hence the likelihood of gas escaping in “extremely unlikely”,

  8. Does the site, by virtue of the activities performed and substances stored, fall in scope of the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999 (COMAH) as an top-tier Installation?

    If the answer is no, then no off-site emergency plan is needed on the basis that it doesn’t have the kind of risk profile that warrants it.

    My gut feel is that it won’t be covered by COMAH at all. Schedule 1 Part 2: Named substances contains an entry for natural gas. If the site has more than 200 tonnes of natural gas *present* on it at any one time, it would be a top-tier COMAH site. If it has more than 50 tonnes *present* on site at any one time, it would be a lower-tier site.

    I can’t see how it would ever be possible for even 50 tonnes of gas to be *present* on site – it flows from the well and is either put to flare during the initial well test or exported to grid, so is never actually stored.

    And even if it were deemed a lower-tier Installation, an off-site emergency plan still wouldn’t be a requirement.

    Of course, BEIS officials, in consultation with the Competent Authority will already know all this, and will therefore probably ignore these latest demands.

  9. iN view off all the issues and failures on the concerned bodies dealing with these issues another planning regulation should be that no sites should be allowed within 4miles of properties if this a suggested exclusion zone..How long would it take for an example to evacuate the 169 properties on Carr Bridge Park .Where would they evacuate to what risk assessment to help the ill and infirm residents .Along with all the schoos and other properties in the area . Other worries are the M55 .and the A583 Preston New Road traffic safety concerns if something goes wrong .all these people need to be informed of an emergency plan in great detail

    • Valerie Ankers.
      If you look on the Cuadrilla site, all risks are documented and assessed. Hence, the need to undertake an evacuation is very low due to the methods of work and safety control systems. Just look up the history of onshore drilling and you will struggle to find any such incidents in the UK over the last few decades. That’s the risk assessment process dictating what plans, if any, are required for the expected scenarios.

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