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. No, it wouldn’t PhilipP.

    Nature has a habit of producing huge volumes of CO2, which dwarf mans output. Now, if you think you can stick your finger into all the volcanos of the world, good luck with that.

    If you think you will make a difference to the approximate 1% of global CO2 the UK produces and thereby influence global climate change, good luck with that.

    If you think you can reverse the increase in global population rising to 10 billion, and the majority of them being middle classes wanting to buy “stuff”, good luck with that.

    I know. We have to start somewhere. Well, even some cheer leaders amongst the antis don’t seem that enthusiastic to do their bit.

    But, at least you are realistic to mention fusion. Probably 20 years away. Plus lots of gas to drive the switch to hydrogen and issue sorted (even starting to produce hydrogen from plastic, and now robotic collection of floating plastic.) Suspect the Norwegians may invest some of their Sovereign Wealth Fund to drive such developments-the reality of benefits from oil and gas taxation.

  2. This is not exactly Sunday listening or watching, but perhaps necessary and appropriate if we seek to understand how and why we are run by apparently uncaring individuals in governments and corporations and how they feel, if anything, about the consequences of their actions in regard to the health and physical consequences to people and future generations and perhaps even to their responsibility, or lack of it, to the planet when there is so much evidence to support the rapidly deteriorating climate across the world:

    Not pleasant listening i assure you, but perhaps it helps to understand historic and recent trends in politics, corporations, banks and those who seek to profit without responsibility. It might also explain why there is no regret or shame for their actions and why such emotions are are apparently absent. Perhaps we simply dont understand the difference between what most of us see as a responsible outlook on the planets future, regarding the fossil fuel monopoly, and those for whom the only issue is the getting and wielding of power, to coin a phrase, over others.

    This is the follow up report to watch and listen and of course as always, make up your own minds:

  3. That’s true Martin… “Nature has a habit of producing huge volumes of CO2, which dwarf mans output”. And I’ve always said that too. What the gas heads and climate change deniers don’t get is that the incremental base-line volume of carbon molecules in the atmosphere is tilting the whole system into imbalance. The big fluctuations that are part and parcel of natural processes can not return to the same baseline which is now shifting due to man-made impacts i.e. it is no longer a cycle. This is what the scientific observations are pointing to. Of course the ‘cycles’ (or rather patterns of global heat energy and climate) are complex due to variable solar radiation, orbital eccentricities, vulcanism and cosmic events like meteor impacts. Scientists take all of those things into account. But those are things we can’t do anything about, unlike the emissions of CO2 and methane dominating current impacts. The Keeling curve (image attached hopefully) gives a very graphic indication of seasonal variation of CO2 (as a natural cycle) which, as you can see, is much larger that the annual man-made contribution. But just look at how the cumulative effect shifts the whole pattern over time …
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mauna_Loa_CO2_monthly_mean_concentration.svg

  4. Strange that we had vast amounts of CO2 from volcanos whist the dinosaurs thrived and then we had an ice age! All due to nature. I think you will find returns to baselines are shown throughout history.

    So, man made will stop all this natural cycle? Don’t think so. Last time I checked there was talk about another mini cold period due to changes in solar activity and the chance of skating on the Thames! Centuries away? No-suggestion was 2030 onwards.

    But, as one of the saner contributors, PhilipP, you will recognise that we can all select whatever data we want to show whatever we want. Some only do that!

    I have just had a weekend of listening to such about chlorinated chicken being an example of better EU standards compared to USA standards. Absolute fake, spread by Remainers, especially the BBC. This was nothing to do with standards, it was blatant protectionism, lead by France, the largest EU poultry producer. UK abstained because the science was not correct, but it was still voted through. I organised a study tour of French poultry facilities at the time for top UK producers-they all saw for themselves there was no technical basis for the intended ban. They didn’t mind too much, as they, like the French, would have found it difficult to compete because of cheap US soya and maize. Now, much of UK poultry is owned by US and Brazilian companies as that was the next best route into the EU market.
    But, for those who use common sense, swimming pools are chlorinated (often) because some people have dirty bottoms, and to protect others. Same applies to chickens but many times over because they are transported in groups to processing and become soiled, although a Prof. was rented to state this was not the case and all chickens should be clean and tidy as they enter the factory!

    Quite easy to check the facts of that little story, but it is not the sort of story that supplies the right message then. Much easier to excite the anti USA mob, and also to appeal to the Remainers that sensible science is impossible for the UK and EU protects our inadequacies.

    A familiar pattern. “Why have X banned fracking”- a further example from some antis. Often nothing at all to do with science.

  5. Thanks for the pseudoscience guys but mainstream science is not up for grabs like that. Alternative explanations have been exhausted, but not for the gullible it appears.

  6. Another way looking at it in the feedback system maybe. More CO2 lead to warmer temperatures which lead to more water evaporation to form cloud and rain droplets which absorb huge amount of atmospheric CO2 which when rain fall qill be soak into the ground rocks and soil and lock in their. Furthermore, more warm and more rains mean more tree, plant and grass groqth which will absorb further CO2. And the antis may not like it but come to think of it plastic maybe a good thing that lock carbon CO2 in a state that are not released into the air (if you look on the bright side of things. Lol.)

    • Trump employs people like you TW. Interested? You’re guessing right up to point though. There is more precipitation after higher levels of evaporation due to warmer air. Trouble is more parched and baked soil leads to more runoff (less absorption) and hence more dangerous flash-floods.

      • That’s where you are wrong. If there is enough water from rain the soil will rejuvenate.
        I dont like Trump ethic or political dealing so I would never work for him.

  7. I blame the patios and decks, PhilipP. Add those together and the runoff is crazy. All you have to do is check out the history of a field regards runoff and then check it out after a housing estate is built upon it.

    But is that considered? Err, no. All the local internet warriors will state it is climate change!

    But you are right. Trump employs a lot of people. That’s why he will be re-elected.

  8. For those who don’t have time for research, or confused by those who (like the above) prefer to invent science in their heads, a few pointers … water ‘evaporation’ leads to the gaseous state of water which is the opposite process of cloud formation which involves ‘condensation’. Warmer air overall absorbs much higher levels of water vapor content – like a giant sponge – then, when cooling or meeting a cold-front boundary condenses and yields much bigger dumps of rain, snow or other precipitation – all part of the overall global warming trend. Another counter-intuitive point is that water vapor is lighter than air so the combination of warmer oceans and higher levels of evaporation tend to ‘feed’ and intensify tropical hurricanes due to convection effects.

    To say moister air will absorb huge amounts of CO2 is fanciful to say the least. CO2’s persistence in the atmosphere is measured in centuries and there is no sign of a great reduction due to higher levels of water vapor content (from global warming – just look up the Keeling Curve graphs). This would make the the solution to global warming very simple indeed! In fact it wouldn’t even be a problem. In the short space of time that water exists as droplets, or falls as rain (when CO2 absorption is even a possibility) the relative altitudes of the gases and vapors switch around due to their different densities. The absorption rate is minuscule. There’s also the amplifying effect of water vapor in relation to CO2 with respect to ghg heat trapping which is very interesting – as described here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/marshallshepherd/2016/06/20/water-vapor-vs-carbon-dioxide-which-wins-in-climate-warming/#45953c113238

    For anyone who doubts that flash flooding and massive dumps of rain are not reaching newer, more dangerous levels of intensity, or think this is just another kind of climate change alarmism, I urge you to simply sit through almost any of the (largely unedited) user contributed footage, sent from all over the globe to the YouTube channel ‘Climate & Extreme Weather News’ e.g. here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OajQS648aSM … then try and convince me that flash flood are improving soil quality rather than causing rapid topsoil erosion and damage.

    • PhilP. Your point above has failed to account for the fact that as air and water vapour rise in high altitude the temperature cool rapidly form condensation droplet. The upper atmosphere are very very cold due to its interface contact with deep space which is very very cold. The only reason we can survive on earth is actually because we have just the right balance of greenhouse gases to trap the sun warmth. Without the right balance of ghg the earth will be frozen cold.

      • Keep studying this TW. You’ll get it sooner or later. Yes of course temperatures drop with altitude – so why do you quickly rise above the clouds if traveling by airplane? It’s much colder up there so there should be more and more clouds the higher you go according to your theory. It’s not just about temperature, it’s about pressure, saturation, humidity etc. Why also do you think it feels very dry when you when temperatures fall a few degrees below zero?

        • That is my point PhilP. Water vapors traps heat in the lower atmosphere. Those with higher energy state will rise in altitude where it will dissipate heat into the cold deep space and cool to water droplet or ice particles.

    • So, we had no flash floods before youtube?

      Is that a bit like when a tree falls in an unoccupied forest does it make a sound?

      Good job Noah had an alternative to youtube.

      Floods have long been utilised to improve soil fertility in some pretty barren areas. Try the Nile Valley, for starters.

      Think you are in danger of following Jack!

  9. It is also a bit fanciful to think that we as human can dial up or dial down mother nature hurricanes and flash flood. Both of these events have their natural purposes. Hurricane is a natural force that stir up vast ocean nutrients and redistribution of stagnant ocean current. Flood water distribute water over land mass creating river and streams. All these allow life to flourish and growth which absorbed CO2 along the way. Life has always been designed to adapt to these natural event and not to control it.

    • Influence is the correct word, not control. As you seem unwilling to look at even the basic references I’ll consider you lost to science. No doubt you will keep inventing your own version.

    • Cute. ‘Influence’ rather than control – is the word to use. Over 90% of all life on earth was lost to the runaway greenhouse effect at the Permian-Triassic boundary (around 250 million years ago). We are practically matching the steepness of those curves. Adapt? it took around thirty million years for terrestrial vertebrate species to fully re-emerge and recover the lost ground.

      • You consider the other side of the debate lost only because in your own mind you have considered you have won.
        But your example of the runaway effect of ghg during the PermianTriassic period is a proof of mother nature has a negative feedback to bring thing back to equilibrium. If it was a runaway effect as you said then the hot temperature would positively feed on the system and then we should see the same Permian-triassic conditions to continue thereafter and maybe up to the present day. But no, the system has a reset mechamism that brought things back to equilibrium again. And I am sure that reset button was due to the dinosaurs from burning or releasing their gas.

        • “the runaway effect of ghg during the PermianTriassic period is a proof of mother nature has a negative feedback to bring thing back to equilibrium” Sure, if you don’t mind humans bringing about their own destruction then letting millions of years pass for evolution to come up with something as advance.

          Dinosaurs came later by the way, their demise was from entirely different cause (meteor impact). You haven’t really studied this stuff have you? Please stop making it up as you go along.

          You could always do what Martin does and change the subject (just watch), if you feel cornered. 🙂

          • You were doing so well until you tried to deflect to someone else, PhilipP!

            Now we have to remind people about studying stuff, don’t we?

            Have you found out yet which Barclays own Third Energy?

            I suggest let me worry about what I post and you concentrate, a bit more, on your own posts. I know it is a sensitive subject, but then you should have avoided it, shouldn’t you?

            I recall my old Mum saying about my Chad drawings on my exercise books “if you concentrated on the subject you would not be drawing Chad and would be getting better marks in the subject.” The smiley faced Emoji is an exact replica. Nothing changes.

            • 🙂 🙂 Barclays Shmarclays. You worry about your mistakes Martin and I’ll worry about mine (in that case it was corrected on the spot). Still desperate to land a blow I see, but thanks for reading my contribution anyway. I wondered if that would rattle your cage! 😀

              • Just let me know when I make one, PhilipP.

                No blows-just trying to iron out the hypocrisy wrinkles. I know it is a little more difficult if that is done, or the fog is dispersed, but it makes it so much better for the majority.

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