Research

Cuadrilla’s fracking site released climate-changing methane into the atmosphere

pnr 181102 Cuadrilla Resources

Gas flares at Cuadrilla’s fracking site at Preston New Road near Blackpool, 2 November 2018. Photo: Cuadrilla Resources

Data from Cuadrilla’s fracking site near Blackpool has confirmed that the company vented the powerful greenhouse gas, methane, while it was testing the well last month.

According to monitoring by the British Geological Survey (BGS), methane concentrations at the Preston New Road site peaked several times at about 400% above typical levels.

Cuadrilla released its own methane monitoring reports this week and said in a statement there had been three short spikes in the records in mid-January 2019:

“this was a controlled release of methane through the flare during the well testing phase.”

The gas failed to burn, the company said, and was emitted into the atmosphere.

The well test, which sought to measure the flow rate of shale gas, followed a problematic period of fracking last year. The company said it fully fracked just 5% of the well, blaming the rules on induced earth tremors. Despite this, Cuadrilla said gas had flowed at a peak rate of more than 200,000 standard cubic feet per day.

Venting unburned methane is prohibited in the environmental permit for Preston New Road “except where necessary for safety reasons”.

Nick Mace, Cuadrilla’s environmental manager, said the releases were “very low in absolute volume” and short-term spikes in data were “not uncommon because of background methane”. He said there were no health consequences from what he described as “very short-term emissions of methane at these low concentrations”.

DrillOrDrop twice asked Cuadrilla what volume of methane had been released into the atmosphere. The company has not replied.

pnr 190215 Ros Wills3

Preston New Road, 15 February 2019. Photo: Ros Wills

Data details

Cuadrilla’s monitoring reports, compiled by the consultancy GGS, contained graphs but not the raw data.

The British Geological Survey (BGS), however, published round-the-clock sampling results from its separate monitoring project carried out with the University of Manchester.

The BGS said the typical methane concentrations at the Preston New Road site were 1,857-2,544 parts per billion (ppb).

During the period 1 December 2018-17 January 2019, the BGS recorded concentrations of methane exceeding 10,000ppb four times on two dates. Methane exceeded 9,000ppb nine times on a total of three days, and exceeded 8,000ppb 19 times on a total of four days.

 

None of the 68,604 BGS readings were as low as 1,857ppb, the bottom of the typical range. More than 3,573 readings, about 5%, were above the top of the typical range.

Some of the peaks were for a matter of minutes but there were periods which exceeded typical levels for at least an hour.

The BGS has conceded that the south easterly wind direction during December 2018 did not help monitoring emissions from the shale gas site. But in January, the wind direction meant that the sampled air had passed directly above.

According to the BGS, the results showed “clear enhancement in methane concentrations, relative to baseline (pre-operational) conditions”.

A report on the BGS research said the enhanced levels of methane happened during periods of relatively high wind speed and were not associated with increased concentrations of carbon dioxide. This is key because higher levels of carbon dioxide would indicate that methane from the well was being burned in the flare.

According to the BGS report, methane levels peaked in the period 11-17 January 2019 and on 7 December 2018.

The report concluded that the source of the methane appeared to be intermittent and episodic. But it said it was difficult to say whether the variation in methane concentrations was because the source strength changed or because the wind speed and direction varied.

It concluded:

“the absence of concurrent enhancements in carbon dioxide concentration suggest that the observed emissions took the form of non-combusted methane”.

It added:

“All the available evidence indicates that these were as a result of emissions of non-combusted methane from the site.”

“Non-combustible mix”

190114 methane monitoring ggs

Methane chart from GGS report on monitoring at Preston New Road shale gas site on behalf of Cuadrilla

Cuadrilla confirmed in its statement this week that it had pumped nitrogen gas into the Preston New Road well to lift the shale gas and stimulate flow rates – known as a nitrogen lift.

The company said for a short period the nitrogen and methane formed a non-combustible mix in the flare at Preston New Road. Cuadrilla said:

“the flare pilot light was ignited to try and combust the mixture and propane was also added for the same purpose, but the methane and nitrogen gas mixture could not be burnt.”

The gases were released into the atmosphere.

Cuadrilla expressed its data in parts per million (ppm) and said the highest spike was 30.5ppm. It said this was “less than half of the highest level recorded during the baseline period”.

On another occasion, in October 2018, Cuadrilla said methane spikes were linked to emissions from a storage tank.

Problems with venting

In the short-term, methane warms the planet by 86 times more than carbon dioxide, making it a potent greenhouse gas.

Venting and other fugitive methane emissions from well sites, could, if high enough, negate the carbon benefits of gas, compared with coal.

The industry organisation, UK Onshore Oil and Gas, says on its website:

“Flaring and venting are only used when absolutely necessary”

It added that both flaring and venting release greenhouse gases, sulphur dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.

Earlier this month, DrillOrDrop asked the Environment Agency (EA) whether there had been venting from the Preston New Road well.

The EA said it would treat our question as a Freedom of Information request and it has not yet replied. But, we understand that the EA confirmed in response to an FOI from Mike Hill, a Chartered Engineer who lives near Preston New Road, that there had been venting at the site in November 2018.

Reaction

Mr Hill has been calling for a more comprehensive and more extensive monitoring programme by the regulators, including the BGS and EA, since 2012.

He detailed this in Briefing Notes to ministers at the then Department for Energy and Climate Change, outlining a system that would be wind direction independent and entirely independent of the operators with real time publishing of data to the web.

He said today the BGS data did not include levels of other gases, which from peer reviewed studies, are likely when fracking. There is a real possibility that venting could have also have released radon, sulphur dioxide or BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene), he told DrillOrDrop. There are known carcinogens amongst them, he said.

Mr Hill said:

“I suspected cold venting long before the Environment Agency admitted this because, ironically with such poor recoverability and inefficient fracking, then the need to burn the gases at 800 deg C+ becomes much more difficult.

“The BGS report admits that its monitoring was not particularly effective unless the wind happened to be blowing in a certain direction.

“When the wind was in that direction, the BGS saw a significant increase in methane levels, up to 400%.

“Bearing in mind methane is a much more damaging greenhouse gas than CO2, then these fugitive emissions could easily wipe out entirely all the benefits of gas over coal, as has been studied in the US. This would, in effect, make shale gas “dirtier” than coal in terms of greenhouse gas impact, the exact opposite of what the government tells us.

“The increase in methane also begs the question what other potentially very dangerous gases are being released and in what quantities? Is this happening much more than we realise when the wind is not “blowing in the right direction?

“The risk to the population downwind increases significantly with venting. Places including Wrea Green, Kirkham, Wesham, Elswick and Roseacre are all very much in the firing line.

“Without effective plume distribution modelling and an independent air emissions monitoring system similar to the one I proposed in 2012 then we are clearly operating in an opaque environment and one that is not making use of science, as the energy minister, Claire Perry, suggested.

“We are literally and metaphorically putting our fingers in the air and hoping the wind in not blowing in our direction from the fracking pad.

“This is an absurd situation and it makes me frustrated because I predicted this and indeed the earthquakes issue some seven years ago and told the government. and public so in meetings. The government listened but did not act.   There is a real possibility that the children of the local schools and local residents are having their health put at risk.

“I am not stating that the risks are high or that Cuadrilla has vented BTEX or other gases.

“But we do need independent evidence that it has not done so and we do need a system that can detect these gases so that precautionary measures up to and including evacuation can be made at local schools and areas as and when required. Certainly, the topic is worth additional investigation.”

A spokesperson for the local campaign organisation, Preston New Road Action Group, said:

“The recent spikes in methane are of major concern to the residents living close to the site at Preston New Road. Even after only a partial frack we are seeing impacts on the air we breathe. We should be reducing gases that contribute to climate change rather than increasing them. We need to be protecting our environment for the generations to come, proceeding with fracking will not help with this.”

Updated 2/3/2019 with reaction quotes

100 replies »

  1. Meanwhile, with regard to emissions:

    Drax has admitted its Moorhouse Bioenergy plant in Louisiana, produces particulate emissions about four times higher than permitted!! (produces around 500k tonnes per year of wood pellets-Drax burns 7m tonnes-all imported.)

    It has applied to the regulator to continue emitting higher pollution levels for up to a YEAR due to having to restrict output without that leeway.

    Very “alternative”. Oops.

    Makes Cuadrilla look almost Gold Standard!

    • At last the great Biomass con is being outed officially.

      So coal out of the energy mix by 2025, U.K Nuclear on the decline and now Biomass will die overnight as soon as its emissions are recorded and not ignored hiding under the green umbrella, ie more CO2 output than coal. The rise of the electric car and the huge reduction in petrol and diesel, even more electricity demand…

      What will replace these in the energy mix???

      Gas…

      https://www.newscientist.com/article/2195495-eu-sued-for-making-global-warming-worse-by-subsidising-wood-burning/

      • The rise of the electric car will be an excellent way of driving down emissions whilst using the surplus night time electricity produced from cheap onshore wind and offshore wind power. As gas demand in the UK is predicted to drop our massive North sea gas reserves will last longer.
        Any anti antis written to our Government yet to voice their concerns that we export more of our home grown North sea gas than we import in LNG?

        • Come on John, even you don’t believe the old surplus wind at night rubbish. As for cheap? Why didn’t you give it reliable as well. Totally incorrect. I have installed Offshore wind, maybe you have data to back cheap up please…

          Again I have worked in the North Sea for over a decade, have you googled something to put the U.Ks mind at ease. Maybe Norway, Qatar, Russia, Egypt, U.S.A, Holland etc etc didn’t realise we don’t need their gas after all.

          Tired old tripe from a deluded anti…

    • Excellent point Martin. Don’t you agree that highlights the fact that all our energy provision must be properly regulated and keep within well evidenced emission levels, whether PM or GHG? This can only be achieved by taking note of the science and by having robust regulators, capable of effective monitoring, policing and enforcement. Maybe this sort of abject failure of both companies and regulators in the US is condoned from the highest level and perhaps explains why we have been told that evidence from the US fracking industry is inadmissable in formulating our own regulation.
      Returning to the subject of the article, it appears from the evidence that Cuadrilla clearly vented Methane (and likely other harmful gases) to the atmosphere. This may be a small event in the grand scheme of things, but would be disastrous for climate change and entirely contrary to the claim of gas being a lower carbon bridge fuel than coal if the fracking industry ramped up to commercial levels. I sincerely hope the industry claims of effective green completions can be evidenced and delivered, or we will need a huge amount of ongoing monitoring to keep them honest – and that comes at a high price. These Methane realeases are yet another example of the industry not living up to its own claims. Is it any wonder that people having fracking wells imposed on them from distant govt level are concerned about the health and air quality effects they may have/are having?

      • No, Mike. It points to the UK accepting responsibility for the energy it consumes and controlling the production of that energy, and work towards that. Currently, the antis are happy for our energy to be produced somewhere else with standards that are below UKs, even though they dress that up as something which is not happening and is not scheduled to continue. I would have thought the VW debacle would have shown that without hands on control and supervision there are big issues that outweigh a puff of methane-that was identified and will now be monitored even closer.

        • Ah, so we’re clear Martin that you do not agree that all our energy provision must be properly regulated and kept within well evidenced emission levels, whether PM or GHG.
          Who are these ‘antis’, that you appear to think all share the same view of ‘our energy to be produced somewhere else with standards that are below UKs’. Come on you ‘antis’, speak now to prove Martin right.
          Apologies for introducting one of your classic distraction techniques, but many of our food imports effectively export our GHG impacts from home to abroad too. Not only that, but those imports consume huge amounts of water elsewhere that those countries really can’t afford to lose, but that’s the reality of our corporate world and uncontrolled free market economy. Most people live in blissful ignorance.

          • Tell me how you regulate Donald, Mike. Is the UK not buying both oil and gas from USA?

            If you want a specific example- how about John and his infamous “there is plenty of cheap oil and gas available around the world” Oops. Fact, not distraction. (There are plenty of others who have followed the mantra of not allowing more sites as there are plenty already. Even had banners printed.)

            You are correct about food, but that is what the majority want. They wish to eat fresh French beans or courgettes in winter and have no thought for how they get on their plates (air freight from Kenya, or truck from Spain-as examples.)

            I grow my own in the summer, preserve for the winter and/or eat winter veg. (Just planted my broad beans.) Many would like to do the same, but allotments are difficult to obtain and expensive. Our local land that was earmarked is now covered with-a SOLAR FARM! And, it has a 99 year lease. The siting of the solar farm has opened the flood gates, and the first housing development is now 50% complete on neighbouring agricultural land. Just had an E-mail invite to view the show house. The Council have re-opened their search for land but they still have to fit in another 100+ houses, so I wonder what will take priority?

            Do you really believe many cared about where their red roses come from for Valentines Day? Probably Kenya again. Would you rather the Kenyans did not produce products for export so they could expand health care and keep children alive? Profitable agriculture in these countries invariably leads to investment into modern irrigation also, which is more efficient in water conservation.

  2. Quick solution/step forward. Lets convert Drax to gas.

    Probably only a short pipeline needed.

    7m tonnes of pellets imported per year. That is a whole lot of shipping and rail. And a whole lot of renewable energy subsidies.

    • The UK exports around 1.5 bcm/year of gas to the Netherlands, directly from UK fields in the North Sea. Those who want to convert Drax to gas could try and rally support to try and divert some of our North sea gas exports.

      • John Powney – this is totally misleading, which I’m sure you know full well. You need to look at imports minus exports to get the true situation regarding the UKs need for gas. The only reason why the UK would export gas is that in summer we do not have storage capacity for production from low permeability reservoirs or for associated gas from oil reservoirs. These cannot simply be switched off until there is a need for the gas and even if they could they can’t supply the gas at the rates that are needed for peak consumption. The whole argument you present seems totally dishonest and is aimed at convincing the gullible that the UK doesn’t need to import gas – it does

      • Misleading as always John,

        Everything you need is in the spreadsheet ET4.3 John via the following link:

        https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/gas-section-4-energy-trends

        The UK actually exported 83,000 GWhr of natural gas in 2018; of this 60% went to Belgium, 27% to Ireland and 10% to the Netherlands. We imported 524,000 GWhrs of natural gas of which 96,000 was LNG – a small amount of this was re-exported.

        Whilst some UK natural gas may be exported directly to the Netherlands and Norway from the production platforms this will be due to geographical location and pipeline infrastructure i.e. it can only go there, most comes out of the central UK gas transportation system which included in 2018 – 362,000 from Norway, 30,000 from Netherlands and 35,000 from Belgium (which has ZERO indigenous gas production).

        The answer of course is that most if not all of our gas exports come from Norway / Netherlands / UK mixed. I agree, let’s stop exporting to Netherlands – we will only import 22,000 GWhrs from there going forward.

        To assist further have a look at page 4 of:

        https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/669709/Physical_gas_flows_across_Europe_and_diversity_of_gas_supply.pdf

        Back to ET4.3 John – note in the exports in 2018 we exported some LNG. As far as I know the UK does not liquify natural gas so these exports will be imported LNG re-exported – just like most of the rest of our exported gas is imported, not from UK fields. But please correct me if I am wrong, particularly re the LNG.

  3. Your last sentence sums up the approach, Judith. It supports why the majority have not been mislead.

    There are not that many gullibles-the turbines have chopped them up.

    • Good to see the anti antis at last recognising we export huge amounts of North sea gas. Something the UK shale gas start up companies never mention.

      • Oh and here’s one to dispel American shale ponzi John. Extract from today’s FT.

        ExxonMobil and Chevron, the two largest US oil groups, have sharply lifted their expectations for production in the American south-west’s Permian Basin, the heartland of the shale boom, in the first half of the 2020s.

        In a presentation to analysts this week, Exxon is revising up its projection of oil and gas production in the Permian region of Texas and New Mexico from 600,000 barrels equivalent a day to 1m in 2024, while Chevron has lifted its estimate from 650,000 b/d to 900,000 b/d in 2023.

        The revised projections demonstrate the company’s confidence in the continued growth of US oil and gas production, and also reflect the way that the shale industry, which was pioneered by small and mid-sized companies, is increasingly being dominated by larger players.

        • Interesting about Exxon but you forgot to print how much it costs to extract compared to what it’s worth. I presume you do understand what ponzi means.

          • I presume you do understand, apart from other benefits, USA is funding a $200 BILLION investment into 333 new chemical plants thanks to this “ponzi” scheme?? Seems to be worth a little more than it costs to extract.

          • Exxon – Ponzi scheme ha ha John.

            https://www.chron.com/business/energy/article/Exxon-s-full-year-profits-jump-13580139.php

            Production in the Permian Basin soared 90 percent from the same time last year in the fourth quarter. Overall production rose about 5 percent the fourth quarter – hitting 4.1 million barrels of oil equivalent per day, the first time production has hit about the 4 million mark in almost two years.

            Exxon and Chevron continued to significantly ramp up operations in the Permian basin in Texas and New Mexico, one of the hottest oil fields in the world. Exxon now has 38 rigs running in the region, and the company unit responsible for shale production reported its third-straight quarterly profit.

          • John

            http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/Ponzi-scheme.html

            The term seems to have expanded to encompass any business where expense exceeds income, such that the business relies on continual injections of cash to keep going. In addition the need for it to be secret has been dropped ( as the company accounts are visible ).

            So any business relying on regular injections of cash to keep it going. A good description of British Coal, British Leyland, China, Welsh Gold, offshore wind. … so on and so forth.

            Maybe a new term is needed to describe a Madoff style scheme as the term has been hijacked it seems, in the name of good click bait.

  4. But, the green bottles keep falling off the brick wall.

    Paraphrasing the Donald:

    “Is the wind blowing, because I would like to watch some TV now!”

  5. Good job you guys weren’t making policy around the WWII period! Britain would have been still flying the Bristol Gladiator (biplanes) throughout. You have no sense of how things are changing, rapidly.

    • Then we developed jet engines PhilipP.

      Where does that fuel come from? Oops.

      In WW2 we managed to get a few drillers from USA to help produce oil in the UK, because as importers we were very vulnerable. Oops.

      In Germany, they had the same problem, but had no reserves under their feet. Oops.

      If we were making policy around the WW2 period, PhilipP, we would have recognised the importance of energy security. Those who controlled the oil, were the ones who won. Oops.

      You seem to have an uncanny knack of taking the wrong turn.

      (Wasn’t it the Gladiator that helped sink the Bismark? Also a chunk of the Italian fleet?)

      Things changing rapidly? You mean reaction has traded in his 3 litre diesel?

  6. Biplane, just like the Gladiator, which also flew from aircraft carriers.

    But rather apt.

    Faith, Hope, and Charity in Malta. (Sounds like a good motto for the antis.)

    • Good idea. The valiant few battling against tyrannical looters and polluters.

      I did of course mean Gloster Gladiators earlier.

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