Councillors and campaigners in Lancashire are calling on the government to halt fracking at Cuadrilla’s shale gas near Blackpool following a series of earth tremors of increasing strength.
The 30-strong Labour group on the county council, is writing to the Local Government Secretary, James Brokenshire, today to call for a suspension.
The group’s leader, Cllr Azhar Ali, told DrillOrDrop:
“We are asking him to intervene and stop fracking until there has been an independent inquiry into the earthquakes. We cannot wait for a major incident to take place.”
This afternoon, the campaign group, Frack Free Lancashire, called for an immediate stop to operations at the Preston New Road site as the magnitude of the events increased and the number rose to 30:
“Frack Free Lancashire is concerned by the increasing frequency and intensity of seismic events accompanying fracking operations at Preston New Road. It is now calling for an immediate moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in the Fylde.”
The calls came as Cuadrilla said the regulations on seismic events linked to fracking should be relaxed.
The current regulations, known as the traffic light system, require companies to pause fracking for 18 hours, reduce pressure in the well and check well integrity if there are tremors during operations of at least 0.5ML (local magnitude).
The regulations were introduced after fracking by Cuadrilla at Preese Hall in 2011 was linked to 50 earthquakes, including two measuring 2.3ML and 1.5ML. The wellbore was found to be deformed following the larger earthquake. DrillOrDrop report
“2.0 limit would provide more than adequate assurance”
Cuadrilla’s chief executive, Francis Egan, told today’s Times that the scientists who proposed the 0.5ML threshold had said it could be adjusted upwards over time:
“It may well be that we have reached that time not only for the UK shale gas industry, but also to address the concerns of local people who are becoming increasingly worried by reporting of tiny movements in the earth, which occur thousands of times across the UK every day as if they were harmful earthquakes.
“We appreciate the requirement for a conservative approach and will follow the traffic light system. That said, we consider that a red light limit of circa 2.0ML would provide more than adequate assurance that no harm or damage could arise from fracking.”
Cuadrilla has stopped fracking at Preston New Road three times since the earth tremors began on 18 October 2018.
The company has described the events as “micro-seismic”. Although the magnitude of many of the tremors was low, it has been increasing. The measurement, recorded by the British Geological Survey, has risen from 0.5ML on 24 October to 0.8ML on 26 and 27 October and 1.1ML yesterday (29 October).
“Self-regulation has not reduced earthquakes”
Lancashire County Council Labour group said in a statement:
“Cuadrilla have stopped fracking for short periods following some of the earthquakes only to start up again with a few days. However this self-regulation does not appear to be reducing the size or frequency of these earthquakes.”
Frack Free Lancashire said:
“Residents experienced previous property damage from Cuadrilla’s operations in 2011, where an earthquake effectively shut down this industry due to damage to the wellbore which was reported to have led to a loss of integrity.
“With history seeming poised to repeat itself, a moratorium on fracking in the area is the only sensible course of action.”
Frack Free Lancashire said:
“Eminent geologists have warned that events of the magnitude experienced over the last two weeks could be the precursor to a more major seismic event like those that occurred at Preese Hall in 2011.
“These caused damage to the wellbore and led to a seven-year interruption for the UK fracking industry.”
“Government responsibility to suspend fracking”
In June 2015, the county council, then controlled by Labour, refused permission for fracking at Preston New Road. That decision was overturned in 2016 by the then Local Government Secretary, Sajid Javid, on the recommendation of a planning inspector.
Lancashire’s Labour group deputy leader, Cllr John Fillis, said:
“The government who overturned Lancashire County Council decision to refuse fracking at the Preston New Road site now have to take on this responsibility. The government has a duty to protect local people and suspend Fracking not only on this site but across the county.
“We need an independent enquiry as under self-regulation these seismic events have increased in size and frequency. With Cuadrilla putting profits before the safety of local people. In order to assure local people Fracking should be suspended until the enquiry report has been published to enable everyone to consider its findings.”
“This is not just about the Preston New Road, Fracking site. The government is supporting fracking right across Lancashire and is consulting on changing planning laws to prevent local people and councils from blocking these developments. The people of Lancashire deserve answers to their genuine concerns.”
Frack Free Lancashire said today:
“The democratic decisions that have been taken by our representatives on fracking, and even the overturning of these decisions by the government, were all conducted based on a set of assumptions which presupposed the existence of a tight regulatory framework. This framework included this traffic light system with today’s limits.
“These regulations were put into place explicitly to protect the community and not to make the fracking companies’ job easier and more profitable. The suggestions from Cuadrilla and others in the industry that the regulatory goalposts should be moved simply because they are unable to manage their operations to stay within them is totally unacceptable. If the industry is unviable outside of this existing regulatory framework then they should pack up and leave.”
“Weakening regulations are completely unacceptable to communities”
Frack Free Lancashire referred in its statement to correspondence from the energy minister, Claire Perry, which suggested that the traffic light threshold could be increased, and to a round-table meeting she held with the shale gas industry.
“Our government’s behind the scenes dealings with the industry, which seem aimed at weakening the protections suggested by the review into Preese Hall, are a further sign that our “gold standard” shale gas regulation is a tawdry imitation of what we have a right to expect.”
The group also rejected Mr Egan’s call for a higher threshold for the traffic light system:
“A quake of 2.0 Ml is 32 times larger than one at the existing limit of 0.5Ml and 178 times larger in terms of energy release. Such a change would be completely unacceptable to communities and should be rejected out of hand by our regulators.”
“No well integrity issues”
Some of the site regulators, the Environment Agency, Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) and Health and Safety Executive, distributed a newsletter this afternoon about the earthquakes at Preston New Road. it said:
“Our assessment confirms that there have been no well integrity issues and no environmental permit boundary breaches.”
“The OGA is continuously monitoring operations to ensure they remain in accordance with the operator’s hydraulic fracturing plan (HFP).
“Provided that the event is in line with the agreed HFP and the risk of induced seismicity continues to be appropriately managed, then operations may resume.”