Regulation

Updated: Cuadrilla warned over another environmental breach at Lancashire fracking site

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Cuadrilla’s shale gas site at Preston New Road, 4 August 2018.

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.

Waste audit

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.”

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Cuadrila’s Preston New Road site, 25 July 2017. Photo: Ros Wills

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.

Warning

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.”

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Drilling rig at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site near Blackpool, 20 June 2018. Photo: Ros Wills

Breach details

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”.

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Unauthorised storage

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.”

Unlicensed sub-contractor

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.

Paperwork confusion

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.”

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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”.

Reaction

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.”

Environment Agency webpage on Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site

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

78 replies »

  1. Gold standard regulation? What is the point of any regulation if breaches occur with impunity? And it’s worth remembering that in the US drilling muds have been found to breach radioactivity standards at dumping sites. Our EA denied flatly this was a problem, but as far as I know NO radioactivity testing has been performed on PNR waste. Where and how drilling cores, muds and wastes are dumped is not an academic issue, if we think ahead to industrial level drilling and waste production.

      • The issue is they have again committed several breaches. The fact they used unlicensed contractors to handle waste is appaulling as that could have had very serious consequences. It is also interesting to note how much more liquid waste they have created. This not only has implications for waste treatment but also it raises questions about the accuracy of the estimates they put forward at the planning and permitting stage. Breaching permits is never OK as it means they are not doing what they should be. Even those that support fracking should realise that this is not good, not acceptable and certainly is not gold standard. Saying there was nothing serious wrong is no defence. A breach is a breach and whenever regulation is not complied with there is always the potential for things to go badly wrong and cause greater impact.

    • The EA completed the audit, they had the staff, it wasn’t self regulation, the system worked.

      They assessed the consequences of Cuadrilla failing to meet the conditions, for what might have happened to the environment and for any work they would have needed to do to deal with a breach or to make the site compliant.

      The EA assessment concluded that the WMP had not been followed and recorded a category 3 breach of the environmental permit, with a CCS score of 4 points.
      Further checks by the EA were also to take place to ensure compliance within 3 weeks of the notification.

      A category 3 breach is described as “a non-compliance which could have a minor environmental effect”.
      So not quite big enough for the EA to take enforcement action to shut the site down like the antis would like.

      The issuing of CCS points helps the EA identify the operators and facilities that pose a higher risk to the environment and where they will need to spend more time regulating and carrying out compliance assessments.

      The Environment Agency adjusts the yearly subsistence charges based on the compliance rating.

      The higher the rating, the more checks and audits will be carried out by the EA and the higher the cost to the company for the subsistence charge.

  2. All seems to be operating correctly. Inspectors inspect, find a minor non compliance and recommend correction. If non of those three happened the antis would say the job was not being done, now they can see it is they still whinge.

    Losing support and sympathy from such nit picking.

      • Because nothing serious is investigated, because EA is in state of denial about potential implications. Why can’t you read and interpret? You are not living in the same world as those who are having to suffer this disgraceful experiment. I include here not only the people living near PNR. I include those living near waste dumps. I don’t know where they are because the fckin EA refuses to divulge the information on grounds of commercial confidentiality. No-one living near a potential dump even knows they may (or may not according to your equally denying mind) be affected.

        [Edited by moderator] You have no reasoned argument. You have not tackled any of the issues. I don’t know why you bother. [Edited by moderator]

  3. The good news of course is that these breaches were identified, so plus points to the EA, but there it ends. With KM8 and PNR proposed as the first examples of fracking in this country since the Preese Hall debacle, it was inevitable that scrutiny would be of the highest order possible, and yet they have still managed numerous breaches. Are these through incompetence, poor training, or just lack of respect for the much vaunted gold standard regulation? With that in mind, what happens if there are so many well sites that complete self regulation and lack of scrutiny allows these companies carte blanche?
    Regulation is important, but meaningless without policing, enforcement and sanctions. Which begs the question: How many breaches before anything more than a jolly stern finger wagging is administered? Do we know what sanctions can be enforced and at what point?
    Given the huge increase in illegal fly tipping in this country and reports from the US regarding the various methods of dumping fracking waste water, I find the charge of ‘Waste transported by an unlicensed sub-contractor’ particularly worrying.
    Building any trust in the government, the regulators and the fracking industry is a long slow process involving competence and continued compliance. When is that process going to begin?

  4. Hi Martin, I am concerned, and many others, when a producer of fluids is repeatedly in clear breach of regulations and fails to monitor its own fluid waste. To gain much-needed friends, Cuadrilla needs to be transparent and not make mistake after mistake. “Once more unto the next breach my friends”. Robin

  5. Over 6 times as much drilling muds produced than expected and at least 56 loads of waste extract with a higher water content, 90% or more than anticipated. Now imagine that should the industry go in to full scale production. And I wonder how many vehicle movements that equates to versus the number submitted in their planning application; surely they have vastly exceeded their planned traffic movements.

  6. If this is how Cuadrilla behave when they know the eyes of the regulators and local community are on them, what would they be like if there were thousands of wells on hundreds of sites across the north?

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