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.”


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.


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”.


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. The pro-fracking contributors to this page miss the point on ‘gold-standard regulations’.
    While it is good news (sort of) that these breaches have been picked up, what is very worrying is that they are happening in the first place on what is seen as the flagship fracking site to get this industry going in the UK. If Cuadrilla can’t be bothered to deal with waste water properly when it’s the only live fracking site in the country – and, crucially, is not punished in any way by the regulators for its breaches by the ‘gold-standard’ regulators – what does that tell you about how they will behave when the eyes of the regulators are not on them as much as they are now?
    To just shrug of multiple breaches as ‘nothing to see here’ is simply acknowledging the fact that regulations aren’t being enforced, and when breaches are found there is no penalty to pay. Regulations without punishments for breaches are not worth the paper they are written on. It’s clear that ‘gold-standard regulations’ only work if companies that breach the regulations are prevented from operating.

    • Can I politely suggest that you familiarise yourself with the EA’s enforcement and sanctions policy? You’ll find that sanctions are (quite rightly) reserved for the most serious offences. It says:

      We will mainly direct our regulatory effort:

      • towards those whose activities cause or could cause the greatest risk of serious environmental damage

      • where the risks are least well controlled
      where a breach undermines a regulatory framework

      • where we suspect deliberate or organised crime

      We will take action against law breakers and those directly responsible for risk or who are best placed to control it.

      We will monitor (check) permitted or other activities to assess compliance.

      We will categorise incidents and breaches at permitted sites based on one of the following:

      • our classification systems that assess the impact
      the potential risk to the environment or human health

      • the impact on the integrity of the scheme or regulatory framework

      We will prioritise and pursue investigations that involve:

      • serious environmental harm or harm to human health

      • organised crime

      • overt criminal activity

      • substantial illegal gain

      • threats of violence

      • other aggravating factors

      None of the *technical* breaches recorded in this latest compliance assessment warrant any kind of sanction because the risks posed to the environment and the public are negligible.

      The whole purpose of the enforcement tools available to the EA is simply to bring companies and individuals into compliance – that can be achieved by providing advice and guidance, and warnings, as in this case. Jumping straight to sanctions and prosecutions would be disproportionate and a costly waste of public funds.

      What’s most important? That the EA punishes Cuadrilla and its contractors with fines and prosecutions or that it acts to prevent any recurrence of breaches?

      That’s not to say that these breaches shouldn’t have occurred in the first place – of course they shouldn’t – but I think you and others need to get yourself a sense of perspective.

      • Elegantly penned comment. But flawed. Cuadrilla have now established for themselves a track record of breaches of public and technical concern. In plain English, Cuadrilla have “got form” and been let off with a caution. So my opinion has indeed changed. I cannot trust them as an operator of a complex drilling and production operation. How they regain my trust is unclear.

        • Thanks Robin.

          I don’t think it’s fair to say it shows “Cuadrilla have got form” because, for a start, that would imply it has purposefully engaged in activities that are in breach of regulatory controls or its permit when I don’t believe that to be true at all.

          Then, look at the reported findings. It was a contractor that chose to store waste-in-transit for longer than it should have done, not Cuadrilla. It was a contractor that muddled-up the paperwork, not Cuadrilla. The quantity of muds is higher than anticipated when the EIA and environmental permit applications were submitted – but that’s just the difference between reasonable expectation on paper and the reality in practice; it’s unfair to blame Cuadrilla for the encountered geology, which is what will have determined mud volumes.

          Over the years, I’ve come across a number of unscrupulous businesses that have deliberately breached the rules in order to obtain some sort of gain – Cuadrilla isn’t one of them.

          These breaches should have been avoided, and I agree it looks like they could have been better communicated, but are they indicative of sloppy or intentionally bad practice? No. Did they cause any actual harm or increase the risk of harm? It seems not. Should people be calling for sanctions, fines and penalties? Absolutely not.

          • Interesting. However, Cuadrilla are in my book 100% responsible for blatant failures by their subcontractors – selected by Cuadrilla, overseen by Cuadrilla, paid by Cuadrilla. It clearly does not have proper oversight.
            According to UK regulations, Cuadrilla MUST:
            * complete a waste transfer note for each load of waste that leaves its premises
            * check if its waste carrier is registered to dispose of waste
            * not allow the waste carrier to dispose of waste illegally (and report them to Crimestoppers if they do)

  2. This reads like the sorrowful calamity that we all predicted. And at such an early stage. Lord help us, if they start to frac. Reckless and inept .

  3. You will find the same situations on just about every building site in the country. This one is being monitored extensively and only minor issues identified.

    [Edited by moderator] the system has worked.

    Ellie, you really do need to research how the EA go about their work. They would much rather find minor issues, and ask for them to be remedied rather than act too late and have to issue any enforcement. Exactly what has happened with this site. Job done.

    The majority know this. It is why the anti minority is still a minority.

    • Martin, the EA go about their work according to how government policy tells them to… and their future funding will depend on compliance by senior management. Meanwhile, the underlings (many of them committed environmentalists) will attempt to enforce regulation with scant resources and their hands tied behind their backs.
      You have no evidence whatsoever that the same situations will be found on just about every building site in the country, and even if you did, it would have significantly less impact on the local people, environment and ecosystem in the vicinity.
      It is merely your opinion that these are minor issues. I regard the risk of using unlicenced waste contractors to be significant. As this report, dated Dec 17, has only just come into the public domain, who knows what other breaches have occurred since, and how minor or major they are.

    • Martin, telling people to research how companies like the EA go about their business is a bit of an odd and a somewhat inconsequential statement to make. You should “research” the very well documented science that states that this is an industry that has proven time and time again that it takes regulation and H&S with a very large pinch of salt. You spout your usual rubbish and half-baked opinions desperately trying to defend the indefensible.
      Lastly, saying that the anti’s are in the minority is just utter tosh. There may be few that actually fight with there feet on the ground but the overwhelming support against this industry is continuing to grow.

      Hmm… I wonder how you will feel that when (not if) another Preace Hall happens. No doubt you will still be trying to argue for the importance of this toxic industry for “ENERGY SECURITY” The government recently sat quietly on the paper published 3 days before the summer break that stated; fracking attributes to increases in air pollution. What wonderful “gold standards” the government implement.

  4. Disgraceful. And this is one site under intense scrutiny. I dread to think what will be swept under the carpet if the industry expands to the necessary scale. Allowing unlicensed contractors to carry toxic waste is shameful. This is how contractors in the US sometimes ended up disposing of waste inappropriately. If they can’t get it right on one site when they are under scrutiny then that is yet more proof that the so called gold standard regulations mean nothing. The regulatory bodies in the US struggle to cope with the industry so that does not bode well for England.

    • Martin, assuming you are referring to the government survey, the supporters of fracking are in the minority. There are far more people that oppose fracking than support it. Then there is the 49% or so that are sat on the fence. You keep on repeating that those against fracking are in the minority but that simply isn’t true and will not become true just because you keep repeating it. Those opposed to shale could just as easily claim that the majority, and it would in fact be a higher percentage, do not support fracking because they have not shown any support. The fact is of those expressing an opinion, more people oppose fracking than support it.

  5. Please explain “gold standard regulations” and how these require Cuadrilla to be shut down for minor infringements of the WMP? (The Environment Agency (EA) said it was satisfied “overall” with the way audited waste streams were removed offsite to appropriately permitted waste facilities. 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”.)

    You may want to refer to the following documents while compiling your response:

    Click to access Enforcement-and-Sanctions-Offence-Response-Options.pdf

    I expect all industry and agriculture in the UK would be stopped immediately if the “experts” on this BB ran the country.

    • ‘I expect all industry and agriculture in the UK would be stopped immediately if the “experts” on this BB ran the country.’ if you know this is the case, then why are YOU not doing anything; compare and contrast, that’s you ‘pro-frackers’ have to offer; no solutions.

      For the avoidance of doubt:
      This industry is under scrutiny because of the emerging mess in the US. It is a joke that the EA can be satisfied with operations at this level; are their standards SO low? Fools gold.

      • Sherwulfe – why am I not doing anything? What would you like me to do? Fortunately the “experts” on this BB do not run the country. Hence it is up and running. You are selecting one industry out of many and trying to make a mountain out of nothing. Disposing of excess water is hardly a major issue? Other than extra trucks and costing Cuadrilla more money what is the problem? I don’t see any issues with the EA report and actions. I live in a real and practical world. I am burning gas and using grid electricity – is this what you mean about me doing something?

        You may or may not recall that I don’t expect this to go to full scale development – but I am looking forward to seeing the results of these two wells. I may ask Cuadrilla if I can witness the hydraulic fracture stimulation. They are pretty impressive operations.

        • Paul, you always have an ‘alternate’ to ‘compare’ to, but never address the actual problem.

          ‘You are selecting one industry out of many and trying to make a mountain out of nothing’ – absolutely not Paul, absolutely not.

  6. Reblogged this on dawncoded and commented:
    Oh dear god Highly suspected radiation NORMS and breaching waster water slurry, not looking good now Cuadrilla ‘BOWLAND’ Ltd. You should be ashamed of yourselves & what the hell have you got ‘BOWLAND’ in your title for? The BOWLAND is beautiful countryside and your just poison.

    • NORMS ? Do you really know what you are talking about? If you are worried about NORM from the Bowland Shale where do you think it outcrops? In the middle of the Forest of Bowland. You had better not go to FOB in case you get irradiated…..

  7. Exactly right Paul, the so called gold standard regulations is a nonsense. Utter PR spin. There are regulations end of and a breach is a breach. It isn’t about being an expert it is just that these breaches added to their other breaches, whilst they may not be serious enough to shut the site down, it does show a history of breaches. The EA has issued a warning. Fracking, so far as I’m aware, is the only industry where it is alleged to have gold standard regulations. Perhaps other industries have silver, bronze or tin!! My concern is that this industry can’t get things right when operating on a relatively small scale and out to prove fracking can be done safely onshore. To me it is very concerning that they have allowed unlicensed contractors to handle waste. The significant under estimate of the liquid waste also concerns me. Both have the potential to cause greater harm and impact. It would also be good if the warning letter was made available online. I don’t think this is setting a very good example and it is of great concern how many of these breaches might go unnoticed if the industry expands and which may result in greater harm.

    • I didn’t realise water was dangerous KatC – the excess water is the water people of the Fylde drink and comes down on my garden regularly.

      The unlicensed SUB contractor is a valid issue, easily corrected. This whole thing is a paperwork corrective exercise.

      Check out your local farmers and their paperwork.

  8. KatT-you need to revisit simple mathematics.

    Those who support fracking are not against it. Those who have no opinion are not against it. Those who are anti, are against it. So, those not against it (TWO THIRDS) is a total much larger than those against it (ONE THIRD.) One third against something is a MINORITY.

    You let yourself down by continuing to pedal a mathematical nonsense and to try and misrepresent a classic opinion survey, which clearly shows what many such surveys show, before a product is launched. It just confirms the desperation.

    [Moderator] New government wave survey out this week looking at fracking support and opposition. [/moderator]

  9. Martin, I think it’s more the case that you let yourself down by your constant and very boring “point scoring” focussing on how many are in support or how many are not in support or indeed how many people are…. what ever’s. it’s an industry that should have no relevance in the way we should be getting our energy supply in the 21st century.

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