Legal

Environmental regulator defends decision on fracking waste at Cuadrilla’s shale gas site

pnr 181128 Ros Wills 1

Fracking equipment at Cuadrilla’s shale gas site at Preston New Road, 28 November 2018. Photo: Ros Wills

Friends of the Earth has accused the Environment Agency of failing in its duty to ensure that best techniques were used to deal with waste fracking fluid at Cuadrilla’s shale gas site in Lancashire.

The campaign group said the regulator should have considered measures that could have reduced the impact of fracking at the Preston New Road site on the environment and local people.

It said the Environment Agency (EA) should have assessed whether the best available techniques were being used to treat flowback fluid, the liquid waste that comes to the surface after fracking, when Cuadrilla applied to vary its environmental permit in December 2017

At a hearing at the High Court today, Matthew Reed QC, for Friends of the Earth, said the EA had failed in its duty under the Mining Waste Directive to assess whether better techniques were available for onsite treatment and reuse of flowback fluid.

Mr Reed said a technique called electrocoagulation, which removes heavy metals and suspended salts, allowed flowback to be recycled and reduced the amount of fresh water that had to be added to fracking fluid. It also reduced the need to transport waste offsite for treatment.

He said the Environment Agency should have considered the appropriateness of electrocoagulation in the on-site treatment of flowback fluid at Preston New Road.

Mr Reed said electrocoagulation had been used successfully in the US and Third Energy had proposed it for the fracking site at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire. The technique had also been referred to in a European Commission Best Available Techniques Reference, or BREF, document.

He said the permit variation, which among other things allowed Cuadrilla to carry out more than one fracking stage per day, was an intensification of the activity. The best available technique assessment should have been carried out because it was a substantial change.

But Tim Buley, for the EA, said the assessment was not required because the variation of the permit was a “pretty minor change”. It brought the permit into line with the wording in the waste management plan that had been previously approved in 2015, he said.

Mr Buley described the Friends of the Earth case as “hopeless”. He said the EA did not regard electrocoagulation as a best available technique for dealing with flowback fluid.

The court heard that Gary Edwards, a senior adviser at the EA, had said electrocoagulation was as a promising potential technique. But trials had “highlighted a number of factors that are likely to prove challenging to a full-scale flow process”.

Mr Buley added that Third Energy had dropped electrocoagulation because there was uncertainty about the volume of flowback fluid at Kirby Misperton. Friends of the Earth’s argument that this demonstrated the value of the technique could not stand, he said.

The European Commission BREF document described electrocoagulation as an emerging technique, not a best available technique, Mr Buley added.

Nathalie Lieven QC, for Cuadrilla, said the Friends of the Earth case “made no sense whatsoever”. She said it was “inconceivable” that the EA would conclude that electrocoagulation was a best available technique and should be required at Preston New Road.

She said Cuadrilla was already using ultra violet to recycle all the flowback and electrocoagulation would be no more appropriate. The fracking fluid used at Preston New Road could tolerate high levels of salinity so there was no need to remove the total dissolved solids, which was one of the benefits of electrocoagulation.

Ms Lieven said the use of the technique in the US “tells us nothing” because the fracking fluid and geologies were different to those at Preston New Road. The reference to electrocoagulation in the BREF document did not make it a best available technique, she said.

The outcome of the variation decision would have been no different if the EA had assessed whether electrocoagulation was now a best available technique, Ms Lieven added.

Mr Justice Supperstone reserved judgement in the case.

Reporting on this case was made possible by donations from individual DrillOrDrop readers

42 replies »

    • But not more embarrassing than the fact that Cuadrilla have failed in fracking a well and getting any gas out over seven years. Doomed they are, Doomed, as Frazer would say. More legal challenges, even if they fail, are just more nails in Cuadrilla’s coffin. As you well know.

      • Alan – you really don’t have a clue do you? Cuadrilla are doing an amazing job at trying to understand the subsurface at a great cost to them. If it was my desision, I’d be putting far more energy into the fracks so we could actually find out the full potential of shale gas in the Fylde. I know you will winge about that stategy but then you won’t be able to produce any evidence that taking that path would have any adverse affects.

        • As they did not carry out a 3D survey before they fracked Preese Hall I hardly think,

          ‘Cuadrilla are doing an amazing job at trying to understand the subsurface at a great cost to them’

          Even with their lack of experience you would think they would have tried to get it right on their first attempt to promote their cause.

          You would also think that as’

          ‘Members of Cuadrilla’s management team have each played leading roles in the drilling and/or hydraulic fracturing of more than 3,000 natural gas and oil wells across the world.’

          at least 1 of them would have heard of 3D imaging.

    • I thought that Cuadrilla got poor gas flow results from Preese Hall and had to trigger a 2.3 magnitude to get even that.

      Asking to have a threshold of 2.6 magnitude equivalent after causing a show stopping 2.3 magnitude paints a very clear picture on what’s going on.

      The 0.5 magnitude story did however keep mug punters parting with their hard earned cash.

    • Martin – it’s odd that they keep whining about earthquake risk but for some reason can’t find an example where that is an issue. Surely after 2 million frackjobs they could find one example.

      • ‘it’s odd that they keep whining about earthquake risk’

        More confusion by the anti antis.

        It was the BGS who suggested the 0.5magnitude threshold. Cuadrilla have been quoting that figure for years.They never challenged it. Now they can’t do what they have agreed to.

        I can imagine the investors will be getting very annoyed at not being told how much gas could be produced at 0.5magnitude.

        • ‘can’t find an example where that is an issue’

          It was clearly an issue for Cuadrilla. If I remember rightly after triggering 2 earthquakes the Government shut them down.

            • Every frack job triggers tremors – the seismicity is nothing more than anyone who knows about this subject would expect. There’s no failure in that.

            • So Green Judith you seem to be saying Francis Egan either doesn’t know much about this subject or he’s been very misleading over the last 6 years to the Energy Minister, the media and the public.

              Which is it?

              (PS We know you think he’s lovely so no need to tell us that again)

            • Refracktion – I’ve no idea – ask him – I’m not his spokesperson. However, terminology could be an issue. Most seismologists who I know wouldn’t consider events that cannot be felt at the surface as earthquakes. So it could quite easily be down to the difference between micro seismic events and earthquakes. As I’m sure you know, there is no reason to worry about fracking-related earthquakes. The only people who mention it do so to scare the gullible into objecting against shale gas production

  1. “there is no reason to worry about fracking-related earthquakes. The only people who mention it do so to scare the gullible into objecting against shale gas production”

    There was EVERY reason to worry about fracking related earthquakes at Preese Hall, only they didn’t find out for 6 months that the well had been damaged — very sloppy! Even if you can’t feel an earthquake on the surface the earth 2 km down SHIFTS and a pesky little concrete/steel pipe is no match to that. BTW. Natasha Engel woud be proud of your gullability.

    • Ellie – it’s a good job that you’re unfounded theory on the impact of earthquakes on borehole leakage is wrong otherwise oil and gas would be gushing along the casing of the millions of oil and gas wells drilled in seismically active areas. Luckily, borehole damage is always extremely localised and leakage by the mechanism you propose never occurs.

    • I can assure you Ellie that Judith Green knows a lot about this.
      Perhaps you could explain why the potential microannulus (and that is all it is) could lead to pollution due to pressure differential driven advection? That is not a serious engineering issue, as noted in the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2012. Please feel free to get technical. Judith and I can deal with that very well.

      Its a made up concern from people who have no knowledge of how wells are sealed, or how they flow.

      • Most people on this BB won’t have a clue what a micro annulus is. Something that came about to explain poor CBLs – apply a bit of internal casing pressure and hey presto the CBL looks great – micro annulus gone….

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