Breaking: High Court quashes Friends of the Earth challenge to Cuadrilla’s fracking permit

PNR 181102 Eddie Thornton

Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road shale gas, 2 November 2018. Photo: Eddie Thornton

The campaign organisation, Friends of the Earth, has lost its legal challenge to one of key consents that allowed Cuadrilla to frack the UK’s first horizontal shale gas well.

In a ruling handed down this afternoon, a High Court judge rejected the organisation’s case that the Environment Agency (EA) acted unlawfully in issuing a permit for the site at Preston New Road in Lancashire.

The case centred on an application by Cuadrilla in December 2017 to vary its environmental permit for Preston New Road. One of the main changes was a request to frack more than one stage of the well in a day. Friends of the Earth argued this was an intensification of the process.

At a hearing in November 2018, the organisation said the EA had failed in its legal duty to promote the use of best available techniques in the treatment of flowback fluid.

This is the liquid which comes back up the well after high pressure pumping of fracking fluid. It is a major form of waste in fracking that can be reused or taken off site for treatment.

Cuadrilla estimated it would generate 22,000m3 of flowback from Preston New Road, based on an assumption that 40% of fluid would return to the surface.

Friends of the Earth argued that the EA should have considered the use of a technique called electrocoagulation. This could clean flowback, allow it to be reused and reduce the demand for fresh water, the organisation said.

Matthew Reed QC, for Friends of the Earth, said the permit variation was a substantial change and the EA should have carried out an assessment of the best available technique.

He said electrocoagulation had been used in the US. In the UK, Third Energy, which planned to frack at Kirby Misperton, had proposed using the technique.

Mr Reed also argued that the Waste Management Plan, which accompanied the permit, should have been be reviewed by the Environment Agency.

Tim Buley, barrister for the EA, said the assessment was not needed because the variation was a “pretty minor change”. It brought the permit into line with the wording in the waste management plan, which had been approved in 2015. He described the Friends of the Earth case as “hopeless” and said the EA did not regard electrocoagulation as a best available technique for flowback fluid.

Nathalie Lieven QC, for Cuadrilla, said the company was already using ultra violet to recycle all the flowback fluid and electrocoagulation was a no more appropriate technique. She added that the outcome of the permit variation would have been no different if the EA had done a best available technique assessment.


Mr Justice Supperstone ruled this afternoon that the Friends of the Earth challenge was arguable. But he said the EA was not under any duty to reconsider electrocoagulation as a best available technique when it granted the permit. Nor was it required to reconsider or review the Waste Management Plan in this case.

He said:

“While the Agency consider electrocoagulation to be ‘a promising technique that could potentially be used alongside other water treatment processes in the treatment of flowback fluid’, it is ‘considered to be unsuitable as a treatment method at the Site [Preston New Road], which is bigger in scale that the operations being conducted by Third Energy at its KM8 site’”.

He said Friends of the Earth’s concerns about allowing multiple fracturing stages each day were not warranted because Cuadrilla was limited by its permit to an allowed volume of hydraulic fracturing fluid.

He also rejected Friends of the Earth’s case that the change to the permit was substantial and that the EA had ignored its representations on electrocoagulation.

The judge said:

“It is highly likely that the outcome for the Claimant [Friends of the Earth] would not have been substantially different if the conduct complained of had not occurred.”


Friends of the Earth said this afternoon it would continue to scrutinise whether the EA was complying with its duty to ensure that fracking operators use the best available techniques.

The organisation’s campaigner, Tony Bosworth, said:

“We’re obviously disappointed that the judge has not upheld our challenge. However we will continue to scrutinise the fracking industry closely. The government claims that fracking has gold standard regulation but there are many examples of shortcomings in the actual regulations and problems in their implementation.

“With scientists warning that there is little time left to get on top of climate change, the government is backing the wrong horse in supporting fracking. The future lies in clean, renewable energy”

A spokesperson for the EA said:

We welcome today’s Court ruling, which affirmed that we correctly made our decision to approve changes to the environmental permit for hydraulic fracturing operations at Preston New Road, Lancashire.

“The Environment Agency is committed to ensuring that shale gas operations meet the highest environmental standards.”

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


53 replies »

  1. “We will continue to scrutinise….closely”.

    That is why FOE lose the vast majority of the cases they bring against the UK fracking (cottage) industry?

    If that is closely, what donations would be required for poorly researched scrutiny?

    We hear about mug punters from the antis, perhaps their relatives are mug funders?

    • Exactly. This entire movement seems to be a complete waste of effort to me. Not having any impact on UK carbon use. If anything, having a negative impact with all the journeys to meetings, to demonstrate and policing costs.

      Focusing on the postive, to me, seems like it would be more productive. Encouraging use of renewables and energy saving (not using so much energy in the first place seems where the UK can gain the most)

      • Exactly Craig. It’s not as if there isn’t a blueprint. Norway very successful regarding renewables and energy saving, largely funded by their sales of oil and gas (much to UK.) Even getting rid of their BMW diesels, that work horse of the anti movement.

        • Norway is a great example, I agree. Sensible people. Here it’s such a shame to see so many committed genuine people wasting time when efforts that could be put to far more effective use.

          I’m 100% with people on climate change. We need a remedy but think this is the wrong fight. It’s a shame that the debate becomes so polarized when actually people aren’t really that far apart on the bigger issue

  2. Hmmm, electocoagulation, for those who didnt know what it refers to, is used as a water treatment to separate out toxic sludge from water for recycling,

    “When you set up this technology, what it does or does not incorporate depends on the goal or purpose of the water after the process is completed,” said Werner-Els. “We’ve had cases where we just had to use electocoagulation — no membranes, no settling tanks, no other steps.”

    The electocoagulation process also renders the sludge inert, making it easy to remove and repurpose or reuse. The ability to recycle sludge, or even water, is the biggest benefit of electocoagulation, especially in the fracking industry, said Werner-Els.

    “There is a site we are working on where they are taking the water they are using in the oil field and are able to reuse it in the drilling process, clean the water, and pipe it to a local area to use for irrigation, all by using electocoagulation,” she said.

    Electocoagulation can also limit the need for injection wells, which are required in traditional fracking practices to dispose wastewater below the aquifer. Using electrocoagulation, fracking wastewater can be treated onsite and used multiple times in the fracking process. The system is portable and can be easily transported from one drilling site to another.”

    In other words, its cheaper than conventional methods.

    So, we then get back to the same subject that all these other methods of recycling waste water and their supposed use off site, and that is of course, who monitors the process, to what degree is the waste water cleaned, how clean is the recycled water if used for irrigation or dumping in waterways, and on agricultural land, and who is responsible for the waste sludge which we presume will now be very concentrated, and where will it be taken, how will it be dealt with and transported and so on down the line.

    Just interesting to say what the process is and why the Friends Of The Earth are quite rightly concerned about it and have challenged it.

    Thank you Friends Of The Earth, we who support you will continue to do so as we always have.

    Nice to have some science and some balance isnt it?

    • We have been through Electocoagulation before PhilC on this BB. EOI should spend their money (donations) on something useful and productive.

      Have they actually won any of these oil and gas cases? I don’t recall that they have. But perhaps you can enlighten us? Perhaps they are just nuisance cases to try and delay things or they are not really interested in saving the planet but just throwing their donations away? Funded by tax avoided funds from Luxembourg? Seems pointless.

      • You are missing the point Paul, do you object to me explaining to those who may not have read previous posts what electocoagulation, actually means, and what the implications are? and that is that this industry has imposed itself upon us with the complicity and connivance of the government and it seems the law too?

        What Friends Of The Earth do on very many issues is with the full support and agreement of their contributors and is hence a worldwide and various support base:

        So, the frankly ill informed and bitchy comments we see above are simply not the case are they? Sorry if that spoils the usual empty rhetoric of your colleagues but we expect little else from the hired PR hotdeskers dont we? Are there any intelligent rational anti anti posters out there?

        Silly question i know, but Hey! Its worth a try?

        The frankly ill informed and bitchy comments we see here only reflect themselves, not any one else.

        I would rather be a Friend Of The Earth and pay for the privilege, than an Enemy Of the Earth and be forced to pay for the insult, any day of the week.

        • Unless the pro-frackers are now making donations to FOE, it isn’t any of their business where FOE chose to direct the money.

          Those who do contribute are mindful of the need to challenge threats to climate change at every level; move on.

        • Have they actually won any of these oil and gas cases? I don’t recall that they have. But perhaps you can enlighten us?

          Simple question but I assume the answer must be no…..

          • Ha! Electocoagulation must be the democratic version! Or would that be the democatic version?

            I just looked at the text of the link, its misspelled there, that’s where i got it from, it seems their spell checker wasn’t up to it either? But Hey! Whats in a name? You knew what i meant? that will teach you not to cut and paste from a cut and paste from a misspelled document!

            Awww! Poor Paul, and i thought you would be clever enough to pick that up all by yourself?

            Never mind you have your word sensitive recidivists to put you right? They needed to score a point, after all, that is what its all about, point scoring…..isnt it?

            Sooo impressed at your literary spell checkers, do they hire out their services to Microsoft? Or is that Micosoft? Facking? Ooops!

            Ha! Ha!

            Since spell checking is the only way the anti antis can score points anymore….sad? Could that be changed please?

            Electocoagulation should be……David will tell you…..Electrocoagulation! Yaaaa!


  3. This is another Example of many an Industry tieing up their Regulator.
    Cheapest Available Technology Not Involving Prosecution.

    Doesn’t mean it is a safe industry in terms of pollution and releasing rock bound posions and cancer causing hydro carbons into water tables.
    Doesn’t address the apparent impossibility to fully clean up fracking water waste to release cleaned pure water back into the rivers at the Waste Water Treatment plants in the UK, approved by the EA.

  4. FOE couldn’t win a raffle if they bought all the tickets(with other peoples money of course)

    • Donate; ‘to present as a gift or contribution’; property is transferred to that who has been donated to, therefore all decisions about said donation are the prerogative of the recipient. The donation cannot be returned if the presenter does not agree with the decisions about said donation.

      Investment; ‘the investing of money or capital in order to gain profitable returns, as interest, income, or appreciation in value.’ – ownership of that investment lies with the investor. Decisions are made by that body which is invested in. The investor may withdraw their investment if they do not agrees with the decisions made on their behalf.

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