Permit breaches at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road fracking site have risen to at least six, online publication of a report has confirmed.
The document from the Environment Agency said Cuadrilla breached the rules in the way waste was managed at the site.
A warning letter was sent to the company but the Preston New Road community liaison group was not told about the breach.
This evening three councillors complained that this revealed “serious deficiencies in the power of regulators and the completeness of information provided to the group.
In 2017, Spinwatch reported there had been at least five permit breaches at Preston New Road in seven months. These mostly concerned management of surface water.
The most recent breach at Preston New Road was revealed in a compliance assessment report dated 9 April 2018, more than three months before Cuadrilla was granted fracking consent. The document referred to a four-month audit of waste produced at the site.
The Environment Agency (EA) said it was satisfied “overall” with the way audited waste streams were removed offsite to appropriately permitted waste facilities in line with sound waste management practices.
But it identified a breach of Cuadrilla’s waste management plan (WMP) and what it called “areas where improvements should be made to waste management practices”.
Key issues included:
- Drill cuttings not separated from drilling mud, in breach of the WMP
- Waste space fluid and suspension brine not collected separately, in breach of WMP
- Waste stored on at least 22 occasions at an unpermitted site longer than was acceptable
- Waste transported by an unlicensed sub-contractor
- Waste not accurately described
- Information on paperwork confused, missing or invalidated
- No explanation in consignment and waste transfer notes of unexpectedly high water level in extractive waste
A spokesperson for Cuadrilla told DrillOrDrop:
“The Environment Agency (EA) completed a very detailed “cradle to grave” audit of Cuadrilla’s waste management process including auditing our contractors and sub-contractors. The EA concluded in its report that overall they were satisfied that the audited waste streams were removed offsite at Preston New Road to appropriate waste facilities in line with sound waste management practices. We are likewise confident that all waste streams have been treated and continue to be treated fully in accordance with EA permits
“The EA noted a number of relatively minor non-compliance issues, none of which impacted on how the waste should have been or was in fact treated. We have addressed these minor non-compliance issues and made improvements to the processes we have in place at site and with our contractors.”
Community liaison group not informed
The date on the waste audit compliance assessment report coincided with a meeting of the Preston New Road community liaison group (CLG).
According to the minutes of that meeting, the Environment Agency representative, Steve Molyneux, referred to the audit. But the minutes did not record there had been a breach of the environmental permit. The minutes said:
“He [Mr Molyneux] advised that there were no issues regarding current waste management practices, but noted that recommendations had been provided regarding how this could be further improved.”
This evening, three of the six councillors on the community liaison group wrote to the business and environment secretaries to complain about how information was shared with the CLG. Letter to ministers from three CLG councillors
There was a four-month gap between the date on the compliance assessment report and its online publication. Miranda Cox (Kirkham Town Council), Julie Brickles (Fylde Borough Council) and Dawn Ansell (Weeton-with-Preese Parish Council) wrote:
“The CLG had no opportunity to question this development and update residents, which in our opinion is unacceptable.
“If a regulator is not sharing information with the Community Liaison Group there is no transparency in the system. The CLG is therefore undermined as it is clearly unable to provide the open forum for debate that is necessary around a controversial and untested industry.”
The councillors added:
“To compound our concerns further, despite requests from the CLg to have sight on an offsite emergency and evacuation plan, we have been advised to ‘trust’ plans are adequate. Given that Cuadrilla have breached environmental conditions already, we cannot trust their processes and safeguards. We have no confidence in the power of the Regulators.”
DrillOrDrop asked the Environment Agency to comment on the councillors’ letter and to explain why there was a gap of four months between the date on the compliance assessment report and its online publication.
The compliance assessment report said a separate warning letter had been issued to Cuadrilla. This was recently added online with the date 25 July 2018, the day after Cuadrilla was granted fracking consent for Preston New Road. EA Waste stream audit warning letter 25 July 2018 (pdf)
The EA told Cuadrilla to “ensure full compliance with your Waste Management Provisions”. Further checks would be carried out within three weeks, the EA said.
A site inspection on 17 May 2018 to check on compliance with the WMP recorded:
“Extractive waste observed on site arising from drilling operations included oil based muds and drill cuttings. All waste was stored appropriately and in accordance with the waste management plan.”
Cuadrilla said in its Waste Management Plan that drilling muds would be reused until spent or spoilt, to reduce the amount of waste produced by the site.
In the compliance assessment report, the EA said waste drilling muds and cuttings should be separated to allow this to happen.
But it said “significantly higher” amounts of spent fluid drilling muds had been produced onsite than had been estimated in the WMP.
It said 2,500m3 of drilling muds had already been produced per well, compared with the total estimate of 400m3/well in WMP.
The EA said:
“We recommend improvements are made to the efficiency of the separation process, if this is not possible a change is required to the Waste Management Plan.”
Spacer fluid is used during drilling to separate mud from cement. Cuadrilla said spacer fluid would be re-used wherever possible. But the EA said there were no notes for dispatching separated waste spacer fluid and suspension brine. It said:
“These wastes were removed from site described as spent fluid drilling muds and/or as returned slurry cement waste. Please ensure waste spacer fluid and suspension brine are collected and managed separately, not mixed into other waste streams. If this is not possible a change to the Waste Management Plan is required.”
On both these issues, the EA said the WMP had not been followed and it recorded a category 3 breach of the environmental permit.
Breaches are ranked from 1-4, where one is the most serious and four is the least serious. A category 3 breach is described as “a non-compliance which could have a minor environmental effect”.
In the compliance assessment report, the EA also told Cuadrilla that all waste producers had a duty to prevent the unauthorised storage of their waste.
It said the audit had revealed:
“On at least 22 occasions, once waste had been removed from your site, the contractor had chosen to temporarily store it at an unpermitted site for longer than is acceptable for the transportation of waste between producer and disposer.
“This issue was addressed with the contractor. Nevertheless, you have a duty to carry out checks to ensure your waste is lawfully managed, asking the next waste holder where they are going to take the waste, requesting evidence that your waste has arrived at the intended destination.
“We would recommend that check procedures are reviewed.”
The EA also said at least 10% of waste movements from Preston New Road were subcontracted by the primary waste carrier to other companies, one of which was unlicensed at the time.
The EA said paperwork seen during the audit should be improved.
- Operator names were confused on consignment notes
- Non-unique consignment note codes were used on two occasions
- Some consignment notes were missing at the time of collection
- On numerous occasions the consignee invalidated the consignment notes by changing the waste description after the waste was received at their premises
Descriptions of waste
The EA also suggested Cuadrilla was not following regulations which required waste producers to provide accurate descriptions. It said:
“By not adequately following the methodology laid out in this guidance fully waste was not accurately described. The description of the waste should be accurate and should contain all the information that the holder is reasonably in a position to provide to ensure the lawful and safe handling, transportation, treatment, recovery or disposal by subsequent holders.”
High water content
The EA said:
“Approximately 56 loads of extractive waste removed from site were described by the subsequent waste holders as having an unexpectedly high water content (i.e. 90% or more).”
This was apparently caused by artesian flow of groundwater at the start of drilling in June 2017 and water from rainfall. But the explanation was not given on the consignment and waste transfer notes, the EA said. It added:
“greater clarity on the description of the activity that gave rise to the extractive waste would prevent confusion”.
The Green Party peer, Baroness Jones, said:
“Cuadrilla has repeatedly shown contempt for our environment and the local community around its Lancashire site. The irony of a fracking company which criminalises peaceful protest to have itself broken the law is not lost on us.
“The dodgy disposal of waste is just the latest in a long list of corner cutting by frackers in Britain, and it’s time the Government saw sense and dropped its illogical support for a dysfunctional industry. Fracking is dirty, dangerous, expensive and unnecessary. The Government must end its reckless dash for gas and instead invest in cheaper, cleaner renewable energy for the future.”
Updated 11.10pm on 14/8/2018 with extra information on a letter from councillor members of the Community Liaison Group about the sharing of information.
Updated 16/8/2018 to include warning letter from the Environment Agency and reaction from Baroness Jones