Government report revealing shale gas extraction increases air pollution was unpublished for three years

pnr 180721 Ros Wills

Cuadrilla’s shale gas site at Preston New Road, 21 July 2018. Photo: Ros Wills

A government report which concluded that shale gas extraction increases air pollution was unpublished for three years and then released just after ministers approved fracking in Lancashire.

The report for the Air Quality Expert Group was compiled in early 2015. But was not published until 27 July 2018.

Three days before, the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, gave Cuadrilla consent to frack its first horizontal well as Preston New Road – as MPs prepared to leave parliament for the summer holiday.

This is the latest government report on fracking impacts to be unpublished or delayed.

DrillOrDrop reported in February 2018 on an unpublished report which scaled back estimates on the number of unconventional oil and gas sites there would be in the UK in the 2020s.

Earlier, the government heavily redacted a study on the effect of shale gas on rural communities, including house prices. It was ordered by the Information Commissioner to release the full version – but it did so only after Lancashire County Council had met to decide on Cuadrilla’s plans to frack in the county.

180727 air quality

The air quality report, first revealed earlier this week by ENDS, estimated that emissions from a single well were uncertain and affected by geology, regulation and operating conditions.

But it said that a national fracking industry with a central estimate of 400 wells could increase emissions of nitrogen dioxides by 1-4% and volatile organic compounds by 1-3%.

And it warned:

“Impacts on local and regional air quality have the potential to be substantially higher than the national level impacts, as extraction activities are likely to be highly clustered.”

It said US studies had shown significant impacts on both local air quality and regional ozone formation.

The Guardian said today the report was published on the library page of the government’s air quality website and not mentioned on the home page.

The report called for more studies to improve the UK’s base of evidence. It said it was important to understand better how UK regulations would control emissions.

It said a full well lifecycle analysis was needed for a range of pollutants that were relevant to a range of issues, including health, agricultural and natural ecosystems.

It recommended tailored air quality monitoring before, during and after shale gas activities for ozone, methane, particulates, non-methane volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides. It also proposed monitoring of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

The Air Quality Expert Group is a committee to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Its chair is Professor Paul Monks, of University of Leicester.

Professor Monks told the Guardian the conclusions remain valid three years on. He told the paper:

“That hasn’t changed. If you have any industrial process at a local level you are going to get an impact on air quality.

“If you increase the amount of wells you are bound to broadly increase [pollution].”

A spokesman for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said:

“The government places scientific data and research at the heart of its decision.

“The AQEG report reviewed data obtained from the US which might not be applicable to UK circumstances and needed thorough consideration. The report was published as soon as our full sign-off procedures had been completed.”


“Residents just don’t matter”

Preston New Road Action Group, which made several legal challenges against Cuadrilla’s shale gas plans, said:

“Residents living close to the site at Preston New Road site are already extremely concerned about their health and wellbeing after the government’s decision last week to give consent to frack. To now find out that there has been a report in existence for three years, detailing the impacts of this decision on our air quality which was only published after the fracking decision was made is an indication that the government are absolutely determined that shale gas exploitation should go ahead, irrespective of the harm it may cause to people and the environment. It feels as though we just don’t matter.”

“Industry committed to delivering evidence”

Ken Cronin, chief executive of the industry group, UK Onshore Oil and Gas, said:

“This 2015 document acknowledges that the data is out of date and that a number of processes have already been put in place by industry and Government to monitor and publicly report emissions at our sites, which, incidentally, were the subject of the recommendations in this report.

“This monitoring is carefully regulated using environmental permits administered by the Environment Agency. The report also notes – as many reports have done in the past – that the UK has different geology and superior regulation from the countries that data has been collected from to date. There is a need for a UK evidence base under UK regulation within UK geology which we as an industry are committed to delivering.

“We have a choice: import higher lifecycle emission gas from overseas, or produce it here at the benefit of our climate, UK jobs, tax revenues and community investment.”

“Democracy and justice withheld from communities”

Claire Stephenson, of Frack Free Lancashire, said:

“It is simply disgraceful that yet again, democracy and justice has been withheld from our community. How can it be that scientific evidence has been deliberately buried from the public and especially during planning inquiries? This is contemptuous behavior, and sadly, one we are used to seeing from the present government, who put their industry pals before local communities.

“With asthma deaths in England and Wales rising 25% due to air pollution and a government who have already been taken to court three times – and lost – over their failure to act on illegal levels of air pollution, it’s time we held them to account.”

Steve Mason, of Frack Free United, said:

“We are supposed to be cleaning up our air: the next generation depends on us.

“This is yet another example of the clear and present danger fracking brings to us all.”

“Governments should revoke shale gas permits”

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch and Food & Water Europe, said:

“The apparent suppression of this important report has helped the fossil fuel industry’s plans to turn communities into sacrifice zones. This inevitable industrialisation that goes along with shale development and the need to take the cumulative impacts into account was clearly highlighted in several formal comments against fracking plans in the UK.

“However, the UK Government chose to ignore the known risks and instead, gave companies like Cuadrilla and Ineos the go-ahead for their plans to frack – mostly for plastics.

“The public knows the dangers fracking poses to our clean air and water, and its direct connection to plastic production and waste. Communities in Pennsylvania have already experienced dangerous air and water pollution linked to fracking and plastic production. And now, activists in the UK are taking bold action to protect their communities against these threats.

“Companies like Cuadrilla and Ineos would like to stifle this movement, and the current UK Government has chosen to oppose those advocating for a healthy climate and a livable world. It’s time for the government to do the right thing and revoke Cuadrilla’s and Ineos’s permits in light of the now published evidence.”

“Did Minister know about report when consent given for Lancashire fracking?”

Richard Marshall, a campaigner against Cuadrilla’s operation in Lancashire, said:

“To treat a community as an experiment by exposing them to the acknowledged risks of fracking is outrageous and a wanton breach of human rights. The question needs answering as to whether Claire Perry knew of this report before she gave the permission to frack at Preston New Road.

“The fact that the report was hidden for three years hi-lights the lack of credibility and capability of this government. Even Mark Menzies and other Conservative Party members must question this unscrupulous and immoral behaviour and ask themselves if this is really the type of government they want to belong to?”

Joe Boyd, who is challenging at the Appeal Court the protest injunction granted to Ineos, said:

“I am not surprised the report was hidden. It is the latest in a long line of reports hidden or heavily redacted.

“This is an issue we have been raising for a long time about the extra road emissions. Only last year the High Court said the government’s plans to reduce illegal levels of harmful emissions, were so poor as to be “unlawful”

“I hope now that the report is in the public domain, the impact on road emissions from the shale industry is fully detailed in the Final Clean Air Strategy and detailed National Air Pollution programme in March 2019”.

DrillOrDrop is seeking further reaction and this post will be updated as we get it.





31 replies »

  1. Any industry at a local level will create air pollution.

    You certainly get value for money from these studies!

    Sorry, all you farmers, your industry has to be closed down. Many would then starve so no need for any other industry.

    Could we have a comparison regarding air pollution from manufacture of solar panels?

    • If you need to take the agricultural industry to task, or indeed the solar, then Martin, do it; don’t just make trivial comment; two or three wrongs don’t make a right, especially to an asthma sufferer.

      At this point in time, this report is about shale gas extraction; the shocking point here is the holding on of the information, whilst companies are attempting to push this dirty industry on local communities.

    • Would u believe results anyway of comparison to solar power. Or come up with another invalid argument. [Edited by moderator]

  2. Exactly why we don’t want any intensive industry in our rural Fylde, Martin. And you know that you are raising a totally false dichotomy argument which falls at the first hurdle. Apart from talking nonsense regarding farmers.

  3. Not been sleeping that well recently due to rediscovering Tinder after a recent long term breakup, don’t stress guys it was my decision.
    However these particular articles do make for an enjoyable bed time read to send me straight to a dreamy world of no Corbyn fans and no wealthy Liberal Londoners…. Bliss.

  4. Really Alan? And still using mainly horses up there?

    I worked in the agricultural INDUSTRY and lived in parts of the country where you could watch six combine harvesters trundling through a field all night long, grain taken away in a fleet of tractor pulled trailers to the farm with the grain drier going all night. That’s the reality and I have no problem with it, as that is what is required to feed a densely populated island. How much gas used to heat 250k chickens so the barbeques can be lit?

    Neither do I have a problem with that dense population (no slight intended) consuming other products that are manufactured in this country.

  5. I won’t be sidetracked by such rubbish. Have you read the report, Martin?

    There are major issues here which have everything to do with responsibility of government. The technical details is a different issue. What is apparent is that the goverment deliberately withheld this report until they gave Cuadrilla permission to frack. They did this at a time also when, just after break up of Parliament for the summer hols, they would escape questions. And of course by the time parliament reconvenes after the summer recess the only issue on people’s minds will be Brexit and related issues. This is a totally irresponsible way for any government to act. Especially, when as this report shows, it now is fully aware that fracking may have significant impact on air quality and health. In a sentence, the government is deliberately using Preston New Road as a test laboratory and thenearby community as guinea pigs. Worse, I do not believe that the recommendations of this report have been put into effect before rubber-stamping in haste Cuadrilla’s go-ahead. It is a scandal, in my opinion. And that is a political opinion, not a technical one.

  6. Surely the key word is “could”? We need Preston New Road up and running to see what actual data looks like. May be higher emissions, may be lower. Just speculation at this stage.

    • So you’re happy to be a guinea pig by moving to a field next door to Preston New Road. Well that seems to be the approach from this government. They suggest that the study is based on the USA experience and therefore it may not be relevant here. They’ve been saying this about the whole industry for years, and how our world class standards mean it won’t happen. But standards are useless unless there is a means of ensuring they’re adhered to; sadly this government’s austerity programme means the government agencies simply do not have the expertise or the numbers of people to ‘police’ the standards. They simply rely on the industry ticking boxes and sending in regular reports of how good they are. At Balcombe local residents had to buy a meter to measure the noise levels to prove to our wonderful government agencies that the standards were not being followed. Beforehand they simply ignored our protestations. And now, with this latest report, we find that our local council has authorised Angus Energy to drive past our local primary school on their way to and from the Lower Stumble site in their massive HGVs. And if it goes into production, this could go on for decades. And guess what, there is no demand on the operator to monitor pollution levels at the school, which is just a metre or so from the road and downhill. Maybe the council would have decided differently if they had been aware of the contents of this report, although being massively Tory, I doubt it..

  7. Noxious airborne emissions can linger and contaminate crops, land surfaces, pond waters etc, let alone cause irritation and sickness in people. These pathways have been shown again and again (more easy to show than to see what’s going on underground). These serious but secondary matters aren’t mentioned in the conclusions but four out of the five known emissions, stated as having health risk impacts, are covered in the body of the report. No wonder they wanted a cover-up job on this. Then there’s the CH4 entering the atmosphere of course (unwanted greenhouse emissions).

    Good that they mention ‘green’ completions, but also that more UK data is needed i.e. local guinea pigs (humans no doubt)

    • So ‘gold standard regulation’ is

      ‘the ingestion of nitrogen dioxide and volatile organic compounds’

      Time to take an injunction out on persons who knowingly allow the release of nitrogen dioxide and volatile organic compounds into areas frequented by members of the public.

  8. Robin Grayson MSc. Apart from being unacceptably late in being published, a first read of the report reveals weaknesses of major concern to environmental health and public safety. In particular, skipping over the risk from potentially lethal hydrogen sulphide gas (H2S) which is relegated to this anodyne sentence: “Depending on the characteristics of the gas reserve, and the details of the operation, monitoring of other pollutants might also be appropriate, for example chemicals used (or proposed for use) and H2S.” This omission is in spite of enormous amounts of H2S being associated with exploration wells and production fields in the Irish Sea Basin offshore Blackpool; and to the west the existence of the Bowland H2S Province covering a large area of the Bowland Basin typified by more than 40 documented surface seeps of H2S emitting stinking hydrogen sulphide for hundreds of years. Secondly, the report plays great attention to national picture which of course proves that fracking will only make a small contribution to the national levels of air pollution. This is something of a smokescreen as a modern-day revival of the “dilute and disperse” justification for coal burning power stations having tall chimneys. While the report rightly emphasizes the importance of future fracking sites being clustered, it fails to present any models or forecast maps for Preston New Road which could and should have been produced, based on low, medium and high projections of air pollution. Many of the authors are from organisations capable of producing such GIS maps, taking into account the local meteorological conditions, so there is no shortage of expertise on this matter.

    A major shortcoming of the report is that the authors failed to explore the vital need for Setback Zones around all onshore oil and gas drilling rigs. Such zones are essential because, as any petroleum geologist will admit, the drilling is essentially wildcat drilling, in other words drilling into rocks known only from geophysical data (seismic lines etc) and the main purposes of exploration is “To boldly go where no man has gone before”. The onshore UK is notorious for drilling proving unexpected geology, such as the Holme Chapel #1 well near Burnley in Lancashire where we proved unexpected slate (oops!) and in the East Midlands where the Egmanton wells proved unexpectedly thick Carboniferous (oops!). Demarcation of Setbacks should consist of three circles:

    ONE-THIRD-of-a-MILE SETBACK: Justification: IMMEDIATE EVACUATION ON FOOT in response to SUDDEN H2S EMERGENCY: Workers, police, security, visitors, residents and protestors EVACUATE WITHOUT VEHICLES. Compulsory Training repeated regularly by the above, plus standby of emergency services.

    THREE-QUARTERS-of-a-MILE SETBACK: Justification: FAST EVACUATION in response to a DEVELOPING H2S EMERGENCY: Workers, police, security, visitors, residents and protestors EVACUATE WITHOUT VEHICLES. Compulsory Training repeated regularly by the above and by emergency services.

    ONE-AND-A-HALF-of-a-MILE SETBACK: Justification: RECOGNITION OF LONG-TERM HARM TO THE HEALTH OF LOCAL COMMUNITIES FROM DRILLING AND FRACKING ACTIVITIES especially for vulnerable groups. This should allow for a) free comprehensive medical insurance for monitoring & treatment of residents, pets & livestock; b) free comprehensive measures to mitigate smells, noise, vibration, lights, acid rain, dust etc.; and c) full financial compensation without demur for any reduction of property values.

    In conclusion, while the report appears comprehensive, it fails to adequately address many of the air quality issues associated with oil and gas drilling, notably H2S.

    • Robin Grayson MSc – was there any H2S in the Cuadrilla Bowland Shale well flowed at Preese Hall site drilled and hydraulically fracture stimulated in 2013? I understand that flow rates were significant albeit the testing of the well was curtailed due to the seismic events. Presumably gas was sampled, and if not, H2S detection equipment will have been on location.

      To add to your “geological surprises” there was also Roddlesworth 1 drilled in the mid 1980’s by Amoco. The target reservoir sandstone was found to be glass like silica with zero porosity, while cutting the TD core (for BGS / DofE presumably) the core head had to be back reamed off the core as it would not break until a fracture wherby the corehead came free luckily with sufficient core in the barrel to satisfy the BGS or DofE requirements.

    • Robin, I have pointed out before that the natural seeps of H2S are due to reactions with groundwater. The sour fields hosted in Permo-Trias, under the Irish sea are conventional hydrocarbon fields in porous reservoirs ,which have also had groundwater ingress. By its very nature, black shale is not porous, gas does not flow freely & groundwater has not entered it. So I think your analogues with conventional fields and reservoirs, and surface grounwdater seeps carrying H2S are not good ones. As regards Holme Chapel 1 , this was a wildcat well drilled many decades ago, without the high quality seismic now available. Much more is now known about the subsurface. See http://pg.lyellcollection.org/content/24/3/287 for example.

      • Nick, first of all congratulations to you and your colleagues on your terrific new paper: “Shale gas resources of the Bowland Basin, NW England: a holistic study.” Huw Clarke, Peter Turner, Robert Marc Bustin, Nick Riley and Bernard Besly Petroleum Geoscience, 24, 287-322, 29 May 2018, https://doi.org/10.1144/petgeo2017-066, and for making it available to the public free of charge at http://pg.lyellcollection.org/content/24/3/287.

        As regards the unexpected results of the Holme Chapel #1, it was accurately predicted by the Wellsite Geologist using nothing more than a pencil and ruler, awareness of the regional geology and a copy of the 6inch:one mile BGS map. The Deerplay and Thieveley Faults were each encountered at the depths predicted by the Wellsite Geologist, so too the Dinantian carbonates and basement. The “unexpected results” were due to the seismic lines being kept strictly confidential by the geophysicists, and the company believing the seismic showed a huge Clitheroe-style reef hopefully containing lots of oil as in USA waulsortian reefs. Only after drilling were the seismic lines shown to the Wellsite Geologist. The postmortem confirmed the huge reef was merely an artifact on the seismic lines being along roads. Of interest, copious amounts of dead oil were present as hard black gilsonite beads in vuggy secondary dolomite associated with the faults. Efforts were made to reinterpret the dolomite as being a dolomitized reef, but the cuttings proved we drilled down the fault zones! In due course, drilling was scheduled to stop but, realising we must be close to basement, I persuaded the night shift to keep drilling to daybreak – and sure enough we recovered chunks of slate in the junk-sub basket. The seismic was OK for its day, but the seismic interpretation was utterly wrong.

        As regards the Bowland H2S Province, with more than 40 H2S springs now recognised we can be sure the Province exists. How it formed is of course a matter of debate. Phillip Murphy, Simon Bottrell and Kay Parker present recent evidence that leakage of natural methane might be involved: Sulphur springs of the Craven Basin, NW England: indicators of natural methane leakage? Quarterly Journal of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology, 47, 81-88, 24 January 2014, https://doi.org/10.1144/qjegh2013-003. In my opinion, a precautionary approach by Cuadrilla is essential as pockets of H2S may occur during vertical drilling and again during testing and fracking. It is reckless to infer no H2S is present at depth because none has been found yet. Rather like the last words of the man who jumped off the top of the Empire State Building and a second before the hit the pavement he was smiling and his last words were: “so far so good”. Why has Cuadrilla failed to publish its site-specific emergency procedures for blow-outs and other emergency scenarios?

  9. Quite frankly the content of the actual report says that real time England data is required, as opposed to actual evidence from mature fracking zones overseas. So to create this database the residents of the Fylde around PNR are going to be exposed to the full fracking process and monitored for health, property and environmental damage afterwards!
    That’s ok then, nobody gives one for those thousands of families whose wellbeing is being put in hazard on the roulette wheel of oil and gas industry profits!

    • It is corruption through and through. We residents are being treated like mushrooms kept in the dark and fed bull*!*

    • “Thousands of families”. Sure about that? Might there be more pollution from standing traffic waiting for the protesters to move? Slow walking vehicles doesn’t increase pollution? A complex area but the only air pollution from Cuadrilla so far might have come from delivery vehicles and site generators etc. Would guess that this is insignificant compared to the normal traffic volumes going slowly along Preston New Road.

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