Government report revealing shale gas extraction increases air pollution was unpublished for three years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A government report which concluded that shale gas extraction increases air pollution was unpublished for three years and then released just after ministers approved fracking in Lancashire.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This is the latest government report on fracking impacts to be unpublished or delayed.

DrillOrDrop reported in February 2018 on an unpublished report which scaled back estimates on the number of unconventional oil and gas sites there would be in the UK in the 2020s.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

    Plenty of past sections on DOD reporting protestors travelling from all over the country to experience whatever they wish to experience. Last weekend it was a 390 mile round trip from Glasgow.

    We know it is true because we trust in Ruth.

    • Really Martin so the statement by TW is correct because you know that a 390 mile round trip from Glasgow is on a par with the potential pollution from shale and another fossil fuel added to the mix?

      Tell me, do you know how they did this trip? Have you measured their emissions?

      Have you looked to see if they have offset their carbon footprint (maybe they have carbon capture?).

      Your hearsay is just that .

      We know it is true because it is written in your script.

  2. This government clearly withholds reports that contain negative news about fracking and that in itself is a disgrace. We already know air pollution is a killer, that is fact. The government has been found guilty by the courts because it has failed to tackle unacceptably high levels of air pollution. Now, to allow yet another industry close to where people live that will create air pollution and therefore cause negative health is showing a further disregard for public health. Furthermore there have been scientific studies that concluded increased ozone levels, which occur around fracking sites, reduce crop yields by c20%. This government should be ashamed of its callous approach to public health and the environment.

    With regard to Ken Cronin’s comments, he fails to mention that the majority of gas imports to the U.K. (around three quarters) is delivered via pipeline from Norway and Norway is also one of out major suppliers of crude oil as well. He also fails to mention that the demand for gas is continuing to decline as is the demand for oil.

    “Natural gas demand decreased by 3.0 per cent, mainly driven by decreased gas usage for power generation down by 4.1 per cent on 2016. Domestic demand, which is influenced by temperature, was 4.6 per cent lower than in 2016.”

    And of course he fails to mention the increased amount of energy being supplied by renewables.

    Click to access DUKES_PN.pdf

    Finally there is the issue of climate change which the govrmeng is legally accountable for. Yet not only is the government on course to fail the next two carbon budgets but it is also appears to be disregarding the warnings and advice of the CCC, which repeatedly states the government needs to do far more. Indeed, Lord Deben recently stated with things as they stand there is no room for fracking. The government is not above the law and I believe a very angry public will continue to challenge the government in the courts and just as with air pollution levels, there will be a public victory.

  3. Sorry KatT but the minority public victory might have been possible with oil at $40/barrel, but not at $70-$80/barrel.

    You may want to export oil and gas supply to Norway and they are happy to supply both, take the taxation and invest in their superb health service and same with child care. I would like it to be invested here, if tests prove that is an alternative.

    Very little oil coming into Fawley refinery from Norway. Probably less than from Wytch Farm.

    “Ofgem, which has already raised the (price) cap by £57 a year in April, is due to update its level on Tuesday. It is understood to be preparing another increase because of rising wholesale gas and electricity cost”. That’s what the public focus upon.

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