Cuadrilla has called for an urgent review of the rules on earth tremors caused by fracking after revealing that it fully fractured only two of 42 planned stages at its shale gas well near Blackpool.
In a statement at midday, the company said the regulations on seismic activity induced by fracking had “severely constrained” the volume of sand that could be injected into the shale rock at its site at Preston New Road. Cuadrilla press statement (pdf)
Despite this, the company described the initial flow test results as “highly encouraging” and “great news for the UK”. It projected potential initial flow rates of 3m-8m standard cubic feet per day.
The Preston New Road (PNR) well is the UK’s first horizontal shale gas well to be fracked. It is also the first to operate under the seismicity regulations, known as the traffic light system or TLS. This requires companies to stop fracking if the operation induces earth tremors of 0.5ML (local magnitude) or more.
Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road fracking operation, which began on 15 October 2018, induced 57 earth tremors (DrillOrDrop tremor tracker).
Seismic activity reached the 0.5ML red light threshold during fracking three times. The 0.5ML limit was also passed five times after fracking had finished. The most powerful tremors, measuring 1.1ML and 1.5ML, were felt by people living or working near the site.
Opponents of the company’s operations described Cuadrilla’s comments as “desperation” and said the rules should not be adjusted “at the whim of an industry that has not yet proved its safety”. They accused the industry of “talking up its strong regulations, right up until the point when they found they couldn’t work within them”.
Cuadrilla’s chief executive, Francis Egan, said today:
“We have only partially tested this well, with just two out of the forty one stages installed along the horizontal section fractured fully as designed, and less than 14 per cent of the sand we had planned to inject into the shale rock put in place.
“Nonetheless the natural gas still flowed back from the shale at a peak rate of over 200,000 standard cubic feet per day and a stable rate of some 100,000 standard cubic feet per day.”
Cuadrilla has been taking fracking equipment off the site since before Christmas. The company said the fracked well, PNR1, was now shut in and would be monitored while the test results were assessed. A second well, PNR2, has yet to be fracked and tested.
The statement said:
“Cuadrilla has requested the Oil and Gas Authority to urgently review the TLS to enable the PNR exploration wells to be properly tested and produced effectively, without compromising safety or environmental protection.
“Subject to the outcome of such a review Cuadrilla plans to complete hydraulic fracturing of the PNR1 well, fracture the PNR2 well and carry out flow testing of both wells later this year.”
He added that there was “more than ample evidence to justify an expert technical review of the TLS and, based on the outcome of that review, a revision at the PNR site, without compromising on safety.”
Cuadrilla said ground vibration levels caused by fracking at Preston New Road were up to 30 times lower than limits applied to other UK industries, such as quarrying and construction.
Mr Egan added:
“Cuadrilla and its investors remain committed to this opportunity. The potential for Lancashire and the UK has again been clearly demonstrated by the fracturing and flow-testing carried out at Preston New Road. We look forward to completing the job.
“All we ask now is that we are treated fairly, with comparable seismic and ground vibration levels to similar industries in Lancashire and elsewhere in the UK who are able to work safely but more effectively with significantly higher thresholds for seismicity and ground vibration.”
DrillOrDrop reported last year that Cuadrilla had worked with the government to develop the traffic light system. It had not objected to the 0.5ML limit in correspondence with ministers.
On Tuesday, Ineos, the country’s biggest shale gas licence-holder, described the traffic light system as “absurd” and “unworkable”.
But as recently as 14 January, the energy minister, Claire Perry, defended the 0.5ML limit in a parliamentary answer. In November 2018, in response to media comments by Mr Egan, she said the current rules were “fit for purpose” and there was “no intention of altering” them.
Opponents of fracking have threatened legal action if the traffic light system is relaxed.
The campaign group, Frack Free Lancashire, said this lunchtime:
“Frack Free Lancashire are amazed that Cuadrilla are still lobbying to adjust the seismic levels. Our local MP Mark Menzies has long-championed these levels as an example of the “gold standard” regulations which were supposed to be protecting local communities.
“The existing seismic limit of 0.5ML was arrived at after a scientific inquiry and Cuadrilla themselves claim to have developed the traffic light system in conjunction with the government.
“In spite of repeated claims that fracking would not cause any seismic activity at all, Cuadrillas’s fracking operations last year caused 57 seismic events, 17 of which were in the Amber range of 0 – 0.5ML and 8 of which exceeded the threshold of 0.5 ML.
“When it became evident that fracking in the Fylde is inevitably accompanied by earthquakes, we have seen Cuadrilla and the rest of the industry begin an intensive lobbying process.
“The levels should not be adjusted at the whim of an industry that has not yet proved its safety. In a time where we’re in a climate emergency, there is absolutely no need for a new fossil fuel industry to be pursued.”
Jamie Peters, Friends of the Earth anti-fracking campaigner, said:
“The amount of gas under our feet in Lancashire is irrelevant when we know that they cannot extract it without triggering earthquakes.
“It’s pretty insidious for the industry to suggest that if we want the shale gas ‘prize’, we have to accept weaker regulations. Particularly when that ‘prize’ means more climate chaos.
“The industry talked-up its strong regulations, right up until the point when they found they couldn’t work within them.
“Local opposition to fracking in Lancashire has never wavered and, despite today’s news attempting to give some positive spin to an otherwise flailing industry, the fight to stop fracking will continue.”
Daniel Carey-Dawes, Infrastructure Policy Manager at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said:
‘This is nothing but an act of desperation from yet another a fracking company that knows it is on the losing team. The industry is transparent in its attempts to force the government’s hand over seismicity regulation, but regulation is there for a reason – to protect the public and our environment.
‘The government must not pander to these threats, but listen to the views and concerns of local communities who have genuine climate concerns, but will ultimately pay the price if we roll over and allow the fracking industry to do as it likes.’