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. Friends of the Earth really are a waste of space. If anyone really wanted a decent oppositon to fracking, or anything, then they must be giving up on FotE. After that ASA nonsense where they couldn’t even support claims about groundwater contamination, health impacts, asthma, cancer etc and then all these losses – its really very clear that they’re now just supporting their own existence and trying to use it to raise cash to fund themselves and their, it has to be said, very nicely paid jobs.

    • Phileas Fogg and Passepartout trying valiantly to keep the steamer going, but the decks and most of the structure now gone and water coming in.

      Should have relied on oil or gas!

  2. I look forwards to a government and FOE supported electrocoagulation plant to handle INEOS frack flowback.
    If anyone can make it work it would be INEOS, fully supported by FOE, frack free wherever and so on.
    Tho I think that the challenge has less to do with the availability of an industrial process for few tanks of frack waste, than a desire to stop fracking per se.

        • we all dream, but for myself they tend to be more about my children and everyone else’s children having a wonderful future just like Greta Thunburg has asked for?

          Or are you just playing with words again?

          Any answers to the questions i asked you earlier?

          No? I didn’t think so.

          So, do we give our children a future, or do we allow a few miserable fossil fuel recidivists to steal it from them? It is they who will have to deal with the legacy from all this pollution and of course that rather relies upon our efforts and that of Friends Of The Earth to take it back for them?

          Or is that too much for that weaponized narrative to encompass?

    • Phil C
      Other than the rhetorical ones you have put in your reply above.
      You need to be clear on what is a question and what is your opinion or musings on a subject.

      • What rhetorical question?

        No, wrong hewes62, you need to be clear, something you seem intent on avoiding, you replied to the question (or was it you?) but said nothing and answered no questions as usual.

        it is clear you are merely playing with empty words, fun, but ultimately a waste of time and space, if you had any intention of replying you would have done so by now.

        i thought that was your game, but it was worth establishing it thoroughly, thank you for clarifying that at least.

        As usual, thats your lot, if you are just playing word games ad infinitum then i am sure you have many PR hotdesk recidivists to play with…..though perhaps you should confine yourself to mono syllables?

        Maybe our children will be more responsibly adult than to play games with their future and take the future of their children more seriously than you display here.

        i intend to give them that chance and so does the Friends Of The Earth, in spite of such as these recidivists.

        Apparently something you are not willing to do.

        • Phil C

          It is still not clear what your question was.

          I myself may not make a point when posting, but as you have challenged me to answer a question, can you frame it as such? ( that’s a question ).

          Or will you frame it as such that i need to choose from your replies have already provided?

      • Phil C

        I am musing on words you used, so if we are playing with them, guilty as charged.

        Happy to give children a future, I have children, but you have already answered your question with your view on fossil fuel, a view that a few fossil fuel recidivists will steal it from them. Hmmmmm. Life is not what happens here on DOD.

        • MACBETH
          She should have died hereafter;
          There would have been a time for such a word.
          To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
          Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
          To the last syllable of recorded time,
          And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
          The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
          Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
          That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
          And then is heard no more: it is a tale
          Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
          Signifying nothing.

          • ‘Twas brillig and the slyvy toves did gyre and gimbale in the shale
            All mimsy were the anti frackers and more the yellow shirts ourgrabe.
            Beware the fracking my son, or actually anything involving fossil fuel, or the Tory party, police, OGA, EA, HSE, or as fits your view of life.

            Penned in the spirit of the above posts.

            • Ohhh! Bitter! And still empty rhetoric, but now, lets see…

              The Clean Renewable Market –

              Evening by evening
              Among the brookside rushes,
              Claire bowed her head to hear,
              Theresa veiled her blushes:
              Crouching close together
              In the cooling Westminster weather,

              With clasping arms and cautioning lips,
              With tingling cheeks and finger-tips.
              “Lie close,” Theresa said,
              Pricking up her brexit head:
              We must not look at NIMBY men,
              We must not buy their cakes:
              Who knows upon what fuel they fed
              Their hungry thirsty diesels red?”

              “Come save us,” call the FOE
              Dancing down the glen.
              “O! cried Claire, Theresa! Theresa!
              You should not peep at NIMBY men.”
              Claire covered up her eyes,
              Covered close lest they should look;
              Claire reared her travelling circus head,
              And gurgled like a poisoned brook:

              “Look, Theresa, look, Theresa,
              Down the glen tramp protest men.
              Against the secret injunction
              One hauls a caravan,
              One bears a drone,
              One lugs a golden future promise
              Of many centuries worth.
              How fair the future must grow
              Whose fortunes are so luscious;
              How well the future children must grow
              Through those golden renewable riches.”

              “No,” said Theresa, “No! No! No!
              Their offers should not charm us,
              Their peaceful gifts would harm us.
              The future is ours to waste,
              They must not have a say!
              We speak with empty mocking words
              Their future we must steal away”

            • Well, good morning everyone, its Sunday again, and it is the 13th supposedly fracked Sunday since Cuadrillas fracking efforts began, but as we know now that activity has failed miserably and the equipment is off site and heaven alone knows what is going down, or not going down, now.

              And who would have predicted that? Certainly the over polished crystal balls of the protagonists here were whooping for joy to see such fun, and then fell silent and petulant one by one as the truth dawned. And now they are reduced to mere sniping and growling at anyone who dared to raise a smile? Or a song?

              And it is the second frack free Sunday of 2019. After all those predictions of all being full gas a head in 2019, Cuadrillas much vaunted fracking exploit has been reduced to a mere “shimmer” and not a glimmer of gas other than some very mysterious tankers flitting back and forth?

              The weather will be getting colder according to the forecast, and not a whiff of fracked gas, so what to do today?

              Lets see, this occurred to me during the police scandal of targeting and throwing disabled and elderly persons to the ground, but i think it also applies to the dreadfully dire attitude of the anti anti PR hotdeskers here, who seem to have descended even further below the pale horses probably out of desperation and frustration at the failure of their illusive rice bowl industry than before?

              The Police:

              “Every Breath You Take”

              A little altered to suit the times….

              Every breath you take
              Every move you make
              Every bond you break
              Every step you take
              We’ll be watching you.

              Every single day
              Every word you say
              Every game you play
              Every night you stay
              We’ll be watching you.

              Oh can’t you see
              You’re wrong to be?
              How my poor heart aches with every step you take.

              Every move you make
              Every vow you break
              Every smile you fake
              Every claim you stake
              We’ll be watching you.

              Since fracking failed you’ve been lost without a trace.
              You dream at night, you can only see your farce.
              You vent a flare but it’s gas you can’t replace.
              You feel so cold, and you long for the banks embrace.
              You keep crying save me, save me, please….

              Oh can’t you see
              You’re wrong to be?
              How my poor heart aches with every step you take.

              Every move you make
              Every vow you break
              Every smile you fake
              Every claim you stake
              We’ll be watching you.

              Every move you make
              Every step you take
              We’ll be watching you…

              We’ll be watching you

              Every breath you take
              Every move you make
              Every bond you break
              Every step you take
              We’ll be watching you.

              Every single day
              Every word you say
              Every game you play
              Every night you stay
              We’ll be watching you.

              Every move you make
              Every vow you break
              Every smile you fake
              Every claim you stake
              We’ll be watching you.

              Every single day
              Every word you say
              Every game you play
              Every night you stay
              We’ll be watching you

              Every breath you take
              Every move you make
              Every bond you break
              Every step you take
              We’ll be watching you.

              Have a good Sunday with family and friends, and lets see if next Sunday will be frack free?

  3. In reference to the headline story , just as a point of interest.

    The same EA gave the thumbs up for an incinerator to be built in an area that had already been shown to brake legal guidelines for air quality……
    Davyhulme , Manchester.

    The permit also granted the operator, consent to use, what was considered by many to be, JUNK, poor quality ” BEST PRACTICE ” techniques/ technology when filtering what comes out from the chimney and not the ” BEST AVAILABLE ” techniques/ technology that would of done a much better job , but at a higher cost for the operator.

    Please see, Breath Clean Air Group

    For future reference, please remember , Best Practice and Best Available techniques/ technology are NOT the same .

    It does makes you wonder , is money more important than public health ???????

    • Apparently yes Jackthelad, the entire experience this far with this government has been that such as the EA and every other “regulating body” that they are just crippled rubber stampers for the fossil fuel industry paymasters to perpetrate anything and everything in the name of fulfilling their prime directive, that of establishing a corporate control, manipulation and ownership of every aspect of the British life from the top down.
      But those who could at the very least speak plainly here, merely “muse” and play endless empty word games of no consequence or content, just to spin out these pages with empty meaningless rhetoric, while the futures of us and our children are being stolen from us as we look on.

      And the devil take the the hindmost.

      Money talks but what does it say?

      That we are owned and paid for slaves, we just are not allowed to know it yet. I would rather support the FOE and let them fulfil their perspective on matters, if only to bring issues to the public attention, than have this cloyng Enemies Of The Earth hegemony rubber stamp upon anyone who dares stand up for us all.

      Still it is interesting to see in doing so, that these puppets reveal themselves in the light of day, and their true motives of empty prevarication isn’t it?

      [Comment corrected at poster’s request]

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