Cuadrilla accepted tough controls on fracking earth tremors six years ago

pnr 181031 Eddie Thorton

Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road fracking site, 31 October 2018. Photo: Eddie Thornton

The fracking company that warned today it was “about to choke” from regulations on earth tremors worked with government officials six years ago to develop rules that were stricter than those used in other countries.

Francis Egan, chief executive of Cuadrilla, complained in the Financial Times that the UK shale gas industry could be “strangled before birth”. In an interview with The Times, he said “we are not getting effective fractures” and that unrepresentative results could “turn off investors”.

Last week, Mr Egan told the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy that the rules on seismic events triggered by fracking needed to be relaxed to make the process commercially-viable in the UK. It looks unlikely that he got the answer he wanted. The energy minister, Claire Perry, said today a change to the regulations would be “foolish” at the moment.

But in 2012, Mr Egan appeared to take a different approach, accepting seismicity thresholds “well below levels commonly used worldwide” and “a much larger factor of safety at this exploratory stage”.

Agreed earthquake limits

In a letter dated 1 November 2012, Mr Egan answered questions put to him by the then energy minister, John Hayes, about changes implemented by Cuadrilla on monitoring and controlling seismic events during fracking.

The questions were prompted by earthquakes linked to Cuadrilla’s fracks at Preese Hall, another site near Blackpool, in 2011. Two earthquakes measured 2.3ML and 1.5ML and were felt by people in the Blackpool area. There were reports of damage on the surface and evidence of deformation of the shale gas well.

Mr Egan told Mr Hayes:

“In conjunction with industry experts and your team at DECC we have developed a “traffic light” seismic monitoring and mitigation system”.

He explained that fracking would be slowed down or stopped if seismic activity exceeded pre-determined levels “such that there are no ‘felt’ seismic events at surface.”

Mr Egan said:

“The concept of a seismic traffic light system itself is not new, having been extensively used for geothermal and other projects worldwide.

“The traffic light levels set for our potential forthcoming fracturing operation in Lancashire have, however, been set well below levels commonly used worldwide to ensure that we maintain a much larger factor of safety at this exploratory stage.”

The letter did not challenge the recommendation on seismicity controls already made in a report for the Department of Energy and Climate Change on the Blackpool earthquake. The authors, Green, Styles and Baptie, had proposed a red traffic light level of 0.5ML.

In December 2012, a month after Mr Egan’s letter, the then energy secretary, Ed Davey, issued a written ministerial statement in which he confirmed the red light should be triggered by events measuring 0.5ML or above. He described this as “an appropriately precautionary approach.” DrillOrDrop report The shadow of Preese Hall

Fracking-induced tremors

Ed Davey’s traffic light system was first used in October 2018 when Cuadrilla started fracking at Preston New Road.

In the past fortnight, there have been more than 30 seismic events recorded near the site on the edge of Blackpool. Cuadrilla has temporarily suspended fracking three times when seismic events passed thresholds in the traffic light system.

So far, the largest magnitudes of tremors during fracking, as measured by the British Geological Survey, have been 0.8ML (local magnitude) and 1.1ML.

Mr Egan has called for the red light threshold to be lifted from 0.5ML to 2.0ML, which he said was used for fracking in some other countries and was below that used in North America.

He told The Times:

“We are not getting effective fractures. We are not getting enough sand into the ground to get a good test.

“We may not want to flow test it because it’s not a totally indicative representation of what this shale rock could do if tested with sensible [earthquake] limits.”

Mr Egan told the Financial Times:

“It certainly looks like it would be — I can’t say impossible — but I could say very difficult to make this a commercial venture if you had to continue operating within a 0.5 red line.”

181031 Emily Gosden tweet

Emily Gosden, of The Times, tweeted that the energy minister, Claire Perry, looked unlikely to review the limits immediately. The minister was quoted as saying:

“We will review this, as I think Sir Ed Davey in his written ministerial statement originally said, who set the guidelines like this, we clearly need to look at this when we get into an operational state.

“But it would be a very foolish politician who would do things that would be considered to be relaxing regulatory standards when we are trying to reassure people about safety.”

DrillOrDrop asked Cuadrilla why Mr Egan offered a traffic light system “well below” worldwide levels in 2012 but was now seeking a level of 2.0ML.

A spokesperson said:

“The traffic light system was setup by DECC. Mr Egan was simply observing in the letter that the concept of a traffic light system is not new and that UK shale has a traffic light system set at far levels lower than those set worldwide. And that opinion has not changed.

“What has changed since 2012 is that we have begun fracking the first horizontal well into UK shale rock and the evidence so far is that the Traffic Light System is working, as we have said before, but the red light threshold is clearly set very low and all the seismicity created so far has a level that is way below anything that can be felt at surface and a very long way from anything that would cause damage or harm. The micro-seismic events have not impacted on well integrity and indeed the larger events at the Preese Hall well likewise did not lead to any loss of well integrity.”

The local Conservative MP for Preston New Road rejected Cuadrilla’s call for a higher red light level.

Mark Menzies, speaking in a debate on shale gas planning today, said:

“For six years the industry was not approaching me, or not approaching anyone, to say that this threshold was far too low.

“We now have calls to say that actually it needs to be a 1.5 or it needs to be a 2 in order to trigger a red event.

“I’m sorry but that ship has sailed. You had six years in order to make the case for that and no case was made.”

58 replies »

  1. If Cuadrilla were a little more transparent by stating what fracturing they have done at what pressure and volume levels, the flowback levels and displayed the (lack of?) fracture growth with the data from the downhole geophone array…

    But no, nothing, just the pathetic bleating from Egan.

    Site an expensive well on a topological low point, on a superficial aquifer, on land subject to subsidence, on top of a composite fault. Then drill off a horizontal well through multi faulted beds through a geology interrupted staggeringly incorrectly in the most dangerous direction with respect to the faulting. Perhaps it would have been wise to have perfected a little vertical hydraulic fracturing on a smaller platform first ?

    Still they’ve all been paid for their gross incompetence subject to bungs from Centrica that us plebs have ultimately paid for in British Gas bills. Just as we plebs have had to pay for the policing costs & legal costs of police raising all those false charges.

    A complete ponzi fiasco and they want to stretch it out a few months more and create bigger earthquakes with lots more toxic fluid migration and create an even bigger legacy environmental mess…to probably still not get successful fracturing…

    Oh my heart bleeds for the poorly treated Cuadrilla.

  2. seems your trying to predict how well a horse will run on a new track fact is you don,t know till you try it & in this case it appears they have set the bar too low I don,t see why they can,t just double it to 1 instead of 0.5 which you can achieve by revving your engine.

  3. Of course they will let you have all of that commercially sensitive data Richard, so that you can tell them what is wrong with it, from your chair!

    So, of course, not a hope in the real world, but an excuse to then say how shocking they won’t be “transparent”.

    Yes, we know how it goes but then we also know how developments are tested with partners and authorities.

    Look at the recent investments into it Mark. The answer is no.

    • And so what do the EA and OGA know?
      What are they told if Cuadrilla bleat on about wanting to raise thresholds?
      All of that ‘confidential’ information is needed if some rational decision is to be made over raising limits.

      So why not tell the plebs? Just like the government stalling and not releasing the 3D seismic data – the government not Cuadrilla. The ‘real world’ here is basically cover up of incompetence by Cuadrilla with facilitation by the government.
      And why is it commercially confident as they hold the licence? Only in that it’s done to cover their own incompetence.
      Government backed the wrong horse, even Third Energy are probably better than this crowd.

      Any numpty can look at the seismic reflection profiles in their hydraulic fracture plan and pick faults that Cuadrilla haven’t plotted. Try it yourself Martin, it’s not rocket science! Geophysics actually is largely an armchair job Martin. Geologists tap rocks and get samples and field interpret. Mudloggers and wireline get the underground samples. About the only field geophysics is the correlation and filtering applied on the geophone array. Again badly done by Cuadrilla as far as picking faults.

      As a former engineer on safety related systems it was expected to be open & transparent and paid to accept correction & criticism and be pessimistic about scenarios. That way, systems tended to work.
      Clearly this ‘real world’ is not relevant to Cuadrilla, the government and maybe you Martin.

  4. On a lighter note…

    How do you become a millionaire out of Cuadrilla?

    Invest 100 million with them. With luck you might get 1 million back.

  5. What’s one plus one?

    Mathematician – Two.

    Physicist – Two but only in the Newtonian world. At the speed of light, it is not a relevant concept.

    Geologist – Three.

    Geophysicist- What do you want it to be?

    Meteorologist- smiles and waves his hands for three minutes and then says ‘Not really sure, but your best bet is the same as it was yesterday’.

    • Politician – That is a very important question, we have set up a committee to decide what form the parameters should be to decide what forum is best suited and a parliamentary department will be furnished with the appropriate personnel, drawn from all walks of life and political persuations, and they will vote on a representative from the vast reservoir of expertise available to commission a survey for a public consultation in a wide ranging non specific open discussion format and a time scale will be discussed for evaluating the data and a new computer operating system will be commissioned at a time when funds become available, The data will be widely reviewed and evaluated to submit to a peer review with sufficient parameters and time scale to reach a position which will then be published and kept secret until the demands to get it released become necessary it will be released in a redacted form with all the nationally sensitive data and references removed to protect the public. A Traffic Light system will then be implemented for whenever the number of digits exceeds 0.5 at which point the adding up of the digits will be halted for 18 hours, unless of course the number appears out of calculating periods.

      That should take around 8 years and the Traffic Light system may be “revised” if the all ready low evaluation range is seen to be of low significance and has not frightened the horses.

      Yours Sincerely,
      Sir Humphrey Appleby
      Permanent Secretary

      [Typos corrected at poster’s request]

  6. Well Richard, that was a lot of something.

    Cuadrilla hold a licence yes. There have invested a lot of money to arrive at where they are. They are not the only ones who are interested in shale gas exploration in UK. Why should they show the sort of transparency you want at this stage, so that others who are behind them in the process can gain an advantage, just so you have some information to pick apart? That is part of the value of their business to the share holders. Perhaps you would like to take it up with Mr. Musk? I am sure after investing $billions of other peoples money to get ahead of Ford etc. he would be quite pleased to open his books to Internet “enthusiasts” who will keep it totally confidential! The plebs are not quite so secure as the official organisations, and once data is outside of a few hands it is out of control.

    If you think that is the real commercial world, good luck, but not one I have worked in. Maybe after a period, when initial development is over, but certainly not at this sort of stage.

    If you are worried about it regarding Cuadrilla, you will be apoplectic when it comes to INEOS!

      • Anti Anti – The questioner clearly does not have the intelligence or the knowledge to understand the answer or the mathematical expertise or intelligence to be capable of understanding the real answers of the real numbers in the real world.

        Number are merely smiley faces made up by the questioners to wrap the questioner up in a comfort blanket. Anyway the numbers are all written by one person who writes all the questions and calculates all the answers and that is all twaddle.

        I once knew an elderly relative who sucked up to a Knight who lived in Monaco, or was it Switzerland, who had a pet dog that bit an old lady who had dyslexia and she spoke to an imaginary invisible person who agreed that numbers don’t exist in the real world, and its all a conspiracy theory to make us use wind and solar and we all know they don’t exist in the real world either.

        Its all an swampie NNIMBY (No Numbers In My Back Yard) fabrication and they are all stinky and nasty and smell of calculators, and the police should lock them all away and throw away the key and anyway we have an injunction that outlaws anyone from counting beyond 0.48, and its now illegal and number surfing and slow calculating is a criminal offence, and they will be arrested on pain of having all your worldly goods stolen and all their badger setts poisoned with mustard gas and all their protests will be a capital offence crime and a contempt of court.

        Calculation proposals have not been written by more than 300,000 people.”

        Fake news.

        300,000 calculations across 2 different numbers is not the same as 300,000 people calculating one number.

        The quality of this so called ‘independent journalism’ is woeful at best and glaringly biased to even dare report anything i don’t agree with.

        Indeed, it’s a certainty that it wouldn’t be 300k unique individuals. Some may also speculate that certain individuals make multiple calculations multiple times.

        The same person may have calculated all three numbers in the series. Or even 1000 persons may have calculated all 300k+ numbers.

        Anyway its all paid for by the Russians and its well known that the Russians hacked into the calculator and made it say “PUTIN THE NUMBER”.

        its all DOD fault for existing in my exclusive universe of having everything all my own way, no matter how selfish and greedy and biased that is, so there!

  7. Well Cuadrilla may want to hide the data so they can suck in alot of investors before telling them it does not work. Maybe just like accepting the TLS level.

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