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 »

  1. I have never voted labour but this is now tilting me towards that decision or For Britain! These scummy conservatives are ruining our countryside!

  2. Oh dear, looks like more Enemies of Industry subscriptions / donations down the drain (or should we say “down the well”)…..

    • Oh dear, Oh dear, Oh dear…..a now familiar descent into name calling and wishful thinking from “The Enemies of Humanity” Paul…..we can all play that little game cant we?

      Such fun!

      Always a pleasure!

      Have a nice day…..

  3. We know that ATG have shown interest in the treatment of flowback water with their advanced oxidation process, known as Keratox

    Using a unique titanium dioxide (TiO2) catalyst to create Hydroxyl Radicals, the Keratox Advanced Oxidation Solution (AOP) can be used as a final polishing technique to remove contaminants detailed on the OSPAR list of ‘chemicals for priority action’ such as polyaromatic hydrocarbons, BTEX compounds and phenols.

    However the process does not mention radioactive contaminants.

    https://www.google.co.uk/search?tbm=isch&q=keratox+atg&chips=q:keratox+atg,online_chips:ultraviolet+disinfection&usg=AI4_-kSl_cujM7Qc8c3CDJE_wytVIW26RA&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjiyfKU2_veAhVltHEKHUXPAAQQ4lYIKigE&biw=1242&bih=597&dpr=1.1#imgrc=3tXQIBwk5av2eM:

    So where does the radioactive material end up and where are the concentrates?

    • If radioactive material is not separated by the process and the water is reused then the next flowback will contain even more radioactive concentrate. I presume the EA will have all that detail and necessary permits.

      • Interestingly John that’s a question I asked about the new proposed geothermal wells in Cornwall which will be circulating water through some of the most radioactive strata in the country. If I remember rightly the proposers said something like “any radioactive material will be dealt with safely”. Of course the Greens made no objection because this is one of their favourite new ways of rescuing us from fossil fuels.

        BTW, as I understand it, all natural gas is slightly radioactive, whether it be North Sea or Shale Gas, because it comes from underground strata which has some residual radioactivity. This is apocryphal but I’ve heard it said that the dose of radioactivity you get from your gas fire at home is higher that that you’d receive if you stood just outside a nuclear power station. Both completely safe of course because in both cases the amounts are extremely low.

        • The purified gas maybe, but the issue is around the extraction process and the safe storage of toxic fluids returned from the depths after use. Higher concentrations of naturally occurring Radon in the west of the UK is the second highest cause of lung cancer after smoking and that’s the background radiation coming up from the ground. Bringing the various concentrated contaminates up to the surface makes it way more risky. Therein lies the problem of obsolescence and how long toxic waste can be safely stored before the containers deteriorate and begin to leak, not to mention integrity of fracking wells, even decades later. The nasty toxins tend have a much longer shelf life, especially radioactive waste, many 1000s of years. What man-made construction/ container, has ever lasted that long, particularly these days.

  4. Have they changed their QC to try and break their appalling record of losses? I seem to recall another chap who kept appearing, only to clock up another loss.

    A whole lot like the footy industry. Change the manager and expect the mug punters to keep on paying the bills, no matter what the results.

  5. “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.”…

    The issue isn’t that the decision would have been different, the issue is that they didn’t formally assess it in the first place – regardless of the outcome.

  6. John Hobson the gift that keeps on giving. I love the footy analogy as you score more own goals than anybody apart from Danny and Netty.

  7. Jackie-reaction has stated previously that footy is not his cup of tea. But, as usual, the antis still have to comment about things they don’t know about-otherwise they would have nothing to post at all!

  8. Oh yes. I recall his Blue Period, centred around Ladies Undies upon a Fence! Some critics had asked the question-WHY?, but I could see the deep connection with the Tracker Survey, which is another of his favourites, where support for antis was on the decline! Took me back years to seeking to build subliminal messages into pictures. Not quite as powerful as the Scream, but a good attempt.

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