Air pollution in North Yorks village changed from rural to urban levels as Third Energy prepared to frack

171010 KM8 Leigh Coghill 2

Heavy goods vehicle transport equipment to the Third Energy fracking site through Kirby Misperton, North Yorkshire, 10 October 2017. Photo: Leigh Coghill

Air quality near Third Energy’s gas site in North Yorkshire deteriorated as the company mobilised equipment and got ready to frack, research has revealed.

Monitoring at the site at Kirby Misperton saw a significant rise in levels of nitrogen oxides (NOx) pollutants, which coincided with increases in lorry movements and the operation of diesel-powered machinery.

The air quality changed from that typical of a rural setting to what you would expect in an urban area.

The study was carried out by University of York researchers as part of a project coordinated by the British Geological Survey. The findings reflect a conclusion of a report by the government’s Air Quality Expert Group. This estimated that UK shale gas extraction could lead to increases in NOx emissions of 1-4% of 2012 the national total.

Third Energy said its environmental statement had expected increased emissions when the Kirby Misperton site became operational but it said the increase had not breached air quality limits. Full statement and other reaction to the report here

171216 KM Eddie Thornton

Third Energy’s fracking site at Kirby Misperson in North Yorkshire, 16 December 2017. Photo: Eddie Thornton

Significant increase in exhaust emissions

The data from the Kirby Misperton monitoring project for 2015-2017 shows that NOx levels at Third Energy’s site, known as KM8, did not exceed national air quality thresholds at any point. But in the second half of 2017 the annual concentration increased significantly.

According to the report:

“There was a noticeable increase in NOx from Autumn 2017 as the site was prepared for hydraulic fracturing operations to begin.

“From 19th September 2017, the monitoring changed at the KM8 site as Third Energy started to bring equipment on to site.

“This led to a greater number of vehicle movements to, from and on the site, and in the local area. In addition to equipment being brought to site there was also an increase in traffic associated with the local protests and policing.”

The research also pointed to the installation and operation of on-site diesel generators as a reason for the increase.

NOx levels at Kirby Misperton Feb 2016 to Feb 2018 UoYork

Levels of NOx recorded at Kirby Misperton from February 2016 to February 2017. Chart: University of York

The report said:

 “These activities changed the emissions at KM8 and marked the end of the baseline period when activities at the KM8 site and locally were relatively benign.”

Third Energy had expected to begin fracking in about November 2017. But after all the equipment was deployed, the government delayed granting hydraulic fracturing consent. This was firstly because of a legal loophole and later when ministers ordered a financial resilience assessment on Third Energy.

So far, the consent has not been granted and Third Energy cleared the site by spring 2018. This was also reflected in the air quality data.

The report said:

 “From the 1st March 2018, the removal of equipment from the site was commenced as operations were suspended, without hydraulic fracturing taking place, following continued delay in receiving final approval to carry out hydraulic fracturing. As a result of this, patterns in air quality again started to change as the site returned towards a more benign state as was the case during the baseline period.”

NOx levels at Kirby Misperton Feb 2017 to Feb 2018 UoYork

Levels of NOx recorded at Kirby Misperton from February 2017 to February 2018. Chart: University of York

The researchers’ conclusions were also supported by important changes at Kirby Misperton in the level of two constituents of NOx: NO and NO2.

A major source of NOx in the UK is road transport. NO is emitted by exhaust pipes and turns into the secondary pollutant NO2, following oxidisation.

In 2016, NO2 was in higher concentrations than NO and made the most significant concentration to NOx recorded at the Kirby Misperton monitoring station.

NOx constituent levels at Kirby Misperton Feb 2017 to Feb 2018 UoYork

Constituents of NOx recorded at Kirby Misperton in 2016 and 2017. Chart: University of York

The report suggests that this was because the monitoring station was on the edge of the fracking site and quite some distance from the nearest main road. The air that reached the monitoring equipment had time for the NO vehicle emissions to oxidise into NO2.

But in September 2017, the trend reversed. NO began to dominate the NOx. This indicated a change in the source of emissions and coincided with the increased activity at the site. The NO vehicle emissions did not have time to oxidise into NO2 before they were picked up by the air monitoring equipment.

The researchers concluded:

“it does indicate that the characteristics of KM [Kirby Misperton] site changed significantly as a result of the preparations being made for hydraulic fracturing-related activities.

“In terms of the impact on residents living in Kirby Misperton, these plots would suggest that after September 2017 (and until end of February 2018) the levels of NOx pollution at the site were more similar to living in an urbanised area, rather than a rural setting with only a few major roads and industrial sources.”

The report added:

“This highlights the importance of measuring the whole shale gas operational cycle for air quality as the preparative operations can have a substantial impact on air pollution.”

Fugitive emissions

180320 KM Eddie Thornton

KM8 site at Kirby Misperton largely cleared of equipment on 20 March 2018. Photo: Eddie Thornton

The latest results also point to potential long-term fugitive emissions of methane (CH4) from the Kirby Misperton gas site or its infrastructure.

The researchers said there were spikes of high concentrations of methane, at more than five times background levels, over short periods of time. This happened mostly when there was a light south-south easterly wind and was accompanied by little change in the levels of carbon dioxide (CO2). This indicated the presence of a non-combusted fugitive methane source in the local area, the researchers said.

The report concluded:

“Given that the existing Third Energy well-head is positioned about 100 m upwind from the measurement site in this direction, we suggest that these enhancements may well represent detection of fugitive emissions of CH4 from the existing conventional gas extraction site, which appear to be a continuous feature across both baseline periods.”

It added:

“These episodic features are worthy of further case study attention during any operational phase and may represent a local fugitive emission source, such as the existing Third Energy conventional gas site and well-head.”

The researchers identified other potential sources of fugitive methane: landfill sites at Knapton and  Caulklands, Pickering gas offtake station and four local gas leaks.

The Kirby Misperton monitoring also recorded low levels of hydrogen sulphide gas (H2S), which smells like rotten eggs. The average level was 1.1 parts per billion (ppb) but on occasions it rose to 22 ppb. This is well below any exposure limits that would affect health, which are measured in parts per million. But the report said:

“Odours have been reported in the village. The dataset has therefore been analysed to try and identify any sources of enhanced H2S, and whether these may explain the reported odour incidents.

“These peaks may not be due to operations at KM8 but may be due to work being conducted on conventional gas wells to the south and west of the site.”

Preston New Road

pnr 171226 Ros Wills 8

Cuadrilla’s drilling rig at its Preston New Road shale gas site near Blackpool, 26 December 2017. Photo: Ros Wills

The York University team has also monitored air pollution at Cuadrilla’s site at Preston New Road, near Blackpool.

According to the report, the results were largely similar in 2017-2018 than in 2016-2017.

Monitoring identified sources of NOx to the south east of the monitoring site, which was probably from traffic on the A583 Preston New Road, the report concluded. NOx and particulate levels were highest on weekdays and in the morning and evening, coinciding with traffic rush hours.

But the report added:

“There is also a strong source [of NOx] directly west of the [monitoring] site. This source was not observed in the previous Phase 2 data (2016-2017) and is most likely due to the developments taking place at the Preston New Road site to the direct west of the monitors.

“Currently this is not having the same scale of effect on concentrations as has been observed at KM in autumn 2017.”

The report also noted there was a large source of particulates to the south east of the monitors, recorded in both 2017-2018 and 2016-2017. This was determined to be a local influence, it said.

On methane emissions, the report identified sources at two local dairy farms and gas leaks from the distribution network. It added:

“There was no detectable evidence of significant emissions to atmosphere from the PNR2 well that was being drilled during period covered by this report.”

“Key to public acceptance”

The report concluded that 12 months of monitoring was enough to give a baseline picture against which any changes seen following fracking could be compared.

It added:

“Credible and transparent monitoring is key to gaining public acceptance of the evidence base on the industry’s environmental and public-health impact.”


Environmental Baseline Monitoring: Phase III Final Report (2017-2018)

18 replies »

  1. PNR looks to be meeting Gold Standards-again.

    Meanwhile, sat. navs. will be adding significantly to local pollution as they identify a rat run along rural roads for drivers.

    One legacy of the Newbury bypass. HGVs pollute far less if they are not slowed and interrupted in their activity. Easy one to solve-injunctions.

  2. This information should be shared with every planning authority that is considering fracking applications. Now there is data to show how much pollution this industry causes.

    • It’s great that you can post such brilliant peer reviewed articles such as appear in the guardian. What next – Gotcha from the sun?

    • Ellie

      The amount of NOx put out by generators or other sources should be and no doubt is considered during the planning stages.

      Interesting to see the comparison between Preston Road and KM site.

      Maybe the spike is due to protesting and policing, as no fracking took place.

      For Preston Road the NOx levels may be overridden by the high volumes of traffic on Preston New Road and the nearby motorway, but one can wonder why one site produces more NOx than another it seems.

  3. When you can’t challenge the facts just rebadge them as fairy stories! Thanks for the signal that facts cause problems. But, I had noted that a long time ago. I wonder if NE has yet?

  4. Desperate times for the frackers at pnr GBK, can’t seem even to test mini-frack without causing earthquakes.

    Cuadrilla seem unwilling to crank up the pressure to full frack as quite rightly they fear total closure should this cause larger intensity earthquakes than they’ve already caused. Not that fracking causes earthquakes of course!

    • Peter – from Drill or Drop on November 14th. The same article says Cuadrilla stopped fracking on November 2nd so it will be intersting to see what happende between 17th October and Novemver 2nd?

      17 October 2018 Link

      Mini frac using 21.4m3 of fracturing fluid without proppant

      Main frack using 296.7m3 of slickwater with proppant. Flow back volume of 24.9m3 stored for reuse. Microseismic events plotted from the mini and main frac stage showed events plotting below the lateral section of the well to a depth of 96.8m and laterally to a length of 191.5m. No induced seismicity noted and no breach of sub-surface permit boundary.
      16 October 2018 Link

      Mini frac of stage 1 of 12.8m3 fresh water without additives or proppant.

      Main frack of 149.9m3 containing slickwater without proppant.
      15 October 2018 Link

      Mini-frac at Stage 1 of PNR1z well. Lasted for five minutes. No proppant was used during this mini-frack. 1.87m3 was pumped into the formation. Purpose was to measure the pressure in the shale formation when injected with hydraulic fracturing fluid. A further 15m3 mini-frac was not conducted. No microseismic events detected beyond the permit boundary.

  5. This is an industrial activity so why do the anti frackers expect absolutely no change in these conditions. Of course it will increase but only under acceptable levels.

  6. That’s rubbish TW , it may be acceptable while there is one site but there needs to be thousands of wells to make any difference to so called energy security .

  7. But, Jono, those “thousands” of wells would not all be built at the same time! House building produces a load of emissions. But, what may be built over the next decade takes place bit by bit.

    Of course, we could always reduce emissions by preventing all that ship building to bring us gas and oil from other countries.

    When I lived in Suffolk we used to watch 5 combine harvesters working together in the field opposite our house with a couple of tractors and trailers taking the grain away to the grain drier. Wonder what those emissions totalled? Shortly after, the BSE sugar beet factory would fire up. OMG lets ban sugar production.

    But, that is the way with activism. Always looking at the wrong end of the supply chain, trying to stop supply whilst demand continues to rise, and then becoming irate when government exerts it’s authority to maintain supply.

  8. “Air pollution in North Yorkshire village changed from rural to urban levels”.

    Thats not the only transformation from rural to urban in our area that we measured. Policing also went from rural to urban levels, from 2 bobbies on the beat to 100 at the well site gates. We went from hearing rural pleasantries to hearing urban style foul mouthed protesters targeting the police with their vitriol. We went from a rural community respecting our local land owners to watching a ‘protest camp’ land grab creating an urban slum. Our rural council tax bills will rise to cover the urban policing levels, disrupted council meetings and our house insurance costs will rise as underwriters see escalating crime rate figures akin to urban strife instead of rural safety.

    I quote: “This led to a greater number of vehicle movements to, from and on the site, and in the local area. In addition to equipment being brought to site there was also an increase in traffic associated with the local protests and policing.”
    Yes, it is hardly a fair appraisal of pollution caused by the industry and supposed methane emissions when the protesters burned extra fuel in their cars, slow walked diesel trucks, burned wood on fires and burned gas to cook and keep warm. Yep, our rural idyll was transformed into a hell hole for the holier than thou virtue signalling urbanites who couldn’t give a damn about our rural community, rural economy or rural poverty. They wanted an urban style party at our expense.

    • Rains Farm Holidays
      Exclusively for Adults only
      Are you dreaming of a peaceful, beautiful place to stay? Rains Farm can offer you wonderful accomodation in a beautiful, tranquil rural setting.
      Just praying they put a rig up across from you Lorraine – perhaps not that’s why your in bed with the frackers

      • Superwhitekirk
        That’s a bit sharp.
        What’s your name, where do you live, what does your business do, and why are you in bed with the Protestors.
        Or you may wish to address the issues raised?

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