Politics

Earthquakes top fracking questions to minister

Westminster

Photo: DrillOrDrop

The regulation and impact of induced earth tremors accounted for more than a third of the parliamentary answers about fracking from the energy minister this week.

Claire Perry answered at total of 13 questions, of which five were on seismicity. Four of these were from the Conservative Lee Rowley and one from the independent, Frank Field. (See transcripts at the end of this post)

Their questions come in the light of calls by the shale gas industry to relax the regulations on earth tremors induced by fracking. This followed a total of 56 tremors linked to fracking at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site near Blackpool from October-December 2019.

The most government’s recent public opinion survey of fracking, the first carried out since fracking in Lancashire, showed a 14% rise to 40% in the concern about earth tremors among people who opposed fracking.

Ms Perry confirmed again there were no plans to review the regulations on fracking-induced seismicity, known as the traffic light system.

But Mr Rowley is to introduce a 10-minute rule bill later this month to upgrade the regulations to legislation so that they cannot be weakened. Friends of the Earth has launched a petition against any relaxation of the regulations.

Emissions and acid

Of the remaining nine parliamentary answers this week, two were about fugitive emissions and two on waste disposal (see transcripts at the end of this post).

There were also one each on independent inspection of well integrity, liability for damage, regulation of acidising and research funding.

On methane emissions, Ms Perry said venting of fracked gas was allowed under environmental permits only for safety reasons and when carrying out maintenance operations.

The Environment Agency is investigating methane venting at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site. Data shows that the gas was released on several occasions from November 2018-January 2019.

On acidising, Ms Perry said this covered a number of techniques used to clean wells to improve productivity. She said there were 78 onshore oil and gas sites permitted by the Environment Agency in England. Some of these sites would be allowed to use acidisation.

Government policy on fracking

The government is to be questioned in the House of Lords on Tuesday (12 March 2019) about the High Court ruling that elements of its fracking policy were unlawful.

Lord Justice Dove ruled that Paragraph 209a of the National Planning Policy Framework, which gives government support for fracking, had been adopted unlawfully. Ministers had failed to take into account scientific developments which questioned “low carbon” claims used to support of fracking, he said. The judge also ruled that the government had failed to carry out a lawful public consultation on the revision of the National Policy Framework.

Questioned this week about the ruling, the leader of the house, Andrea Leadsom, said the government was “determined”, that in the move towards a carbon-free future, the UK would continue to rely heavily on gas for some years. She added that fracking offered a UK-grown source of gas security and huge opportunities for economic growth.


Transcripts

Updated 12 March 2019 with transcript of reply to question by Andrew Rosindell

Fracking-induced earth tremors

Question by Lee Rowley

28 February 2019

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which (a) companies, (b) organisations and (c) Government Departments are liable for compensation claims for damage as a result of induced seismicity from hydraulic fracturing operations.

Reply by Claire Perry, energy minister

07 March 2019

As part of the Oil and Gas Authority’s (OGA) assessment of an application for hydraulic fracturing operations, the OGA requires the operator to have in place the necessary funds or an insurance policy (including third-party liability) that will cover unforeseen events. All companies on a licence share joint and several liability for obligations and liabilities that arise under it throughout the lifecycle of the licence.

Question by Lee Rowley

28 February 2019

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, with reference to the traffic light monitoring system for regulating fracking-induced seismicity, for what reasons red events are allowed as part of an operator’s hydraulic fracturing plan.

Reply by Claire Perry

07 March 2019

Under the Traffic Light System (TLS), regulated by the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA), if a seismic event of magnitude 0.5 or above is detected (a “red event”), injection must be paused and pressure in the well be reduced, followed by monitoring for a minimum of 18 hours to determine the cause of the seismic event. This precautionary threshold is set at a level well below what could be felt at the surface.

This threshold and pause in operations allows the OGA to review the event to ensure it is in line with the geological understanding set out in the Hydraulic Fracture Plan (HFP), which must be agreed with regulators before operations can commence, and that the risk of induced seismicity is being appropriately managed by the operator.

Question by Lee Rowley

28 February 2019

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, with reference to the traffic light monitoring system for regulating fracking-induced seismicity, for what reason trailing events of over 0.5 magnitude are not categorised as red events.

Reply by Claire Perry

8 March 2019

The Traffic Light System applies to seismic events recorded during injection or pumping operations, therefore red events are categorised as those of magnitude 0.5 or greater occurring during these operations. However, the Hydraulic Fracture Plan (HFP) for Cuadrilla’s operations at Preston New Road stipulated that any trailing event recorded at magnitude 0.5, or above, also required an 18 hour pause to allow for monitoring and assessment. The HFP must be agreed between the operator and regulators ahead of operations commencing.

Question by Lee Rowley

28 February 2019

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what the evidential basis is for the decision to suspension hydraulic fracturing operations for 18 hours as a result of induced seismic activity of >0.5 magnitude.

Reply by Claire Perry

8 March 2019

Following minor seismic events at Preese Hall in 2011, an expert scientific review recommended that a traffic light system (TLS) be put in place, under which hydraulic fracturing operations should be paused if a seismic event was detected at or above a precautionary threshold of magnitude 0.5. The intention of the TLS was to minimise disturbance to local communities and to avoid harm to people or the environment. The TLS was developed in consultation with industry.

The Oil and Gas Authority monitors seismicity as part of their regulatory duties at shale gas sites and requires certain controls and requirements to be adhered to as set out in a Hydraulic Fracture Plan (HFP) which must be agreed between the operator and the regulators before operations can start. The TLS did not specify a pause period after a 0.5 magnitude event, however as a part of the HFP for their first well at Preston New Road, Cuadrilla proposed that they would pause for a minimum of 18 hours should a seismic event greater, or equal to, the 0.5 magnitude threshold be detected. The regulators considered that this was reasonable to allow them sufficient time to analyse seismic data and minimise the risk of trailing events.

Question by Frank Field, Birkenhead, Independent

25 February 2019

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what assessment he has made of the adequacy of regulations governing earthquakes as a result of fracking.

Reply by Claire Perry

5 March 2019

The Traffic Light System for monitoring induced seismicity was introduced after consideration of advice from three scientists, following operations at Cuadrilla’s Preese Hall site in 2011. The level of magnitude 0.5 at which operators must pause operations, was set in consultation with industry as an appropriate precautionary measure. These regulations have been working as intended and there are no plans to review the traffic light system.


Fugitive methane

Question by Lee Rowley

28 February 2019

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, whether the cold venting of fugitive gasses is allowed to occur at hydraulic fracturing operations.

Reply by Claire Perry

7 March 2019

Management of fugitive emissions from shale well sites is regulated by the Environment Agency through the environmental permit. As part of the permit application, an operator will need to describe in their Environmental Risk Assessment, Waste Management Plan and in an Emissions Monitoring Plan how they will manage on-site fugitive emissions.

The environmental permits issued to date for sites that involve hydraulic fracturing only allow the venting of natural gas for safety reasons and when carrying out maintenance operations. Venting during routine operations is not permitted by the Environment Agency.

All environmental and waste permits in relation to Preston New Road can be found on the Environment Agency site.

Question by Lee Rowley

28 February 2019

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what regulatory conditions are in place to detect unrecovered fugitive gas and fluid from hydraulic fracturing operations.

Reply by Claire Perry

7 March 2019

Management of emissions from shale well sites is regulated by the Environment Agency through the environmental permits. The permit sets out legally binding conditions on a site by site basis for how activities must be carried out so that the environment is protected.

Operators are required to carry out emissions monitoring, including monitoring of methane to air before and during shale gas operations. They also need to have an agreed gas management plan for leak detection and repair for the lifetime of site operations.

The Hydraulic Fracture Plan sets out how an operator controls and monitors the fracturing process. It needs to be approved by the Environment Agency and by the Oil and Gas Authority. The Environment Agency has to be satisfied that the operator has the controls in place to know where fractures go, where waste fluid is left behind underground and that groundwater protection measures continue to operate effectively.

All environmental and waste permits in relation to Preston New Road can be found on the Environment Agency site.

Question by Andrew Rosindell, Romford, Conservative

4 March 2019

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what steps are being taken to prevent methane leaking from the fracking site operated by Cuadrilla at Preston New Road.

Reply by Therese Coffey, environment minister

11 March 2019

The environmental permit issued by the Environment Agency (EA) sets legally binding conditions to control both fugitive emissions (leaks) and point source emissions (from flaring).

The levels of methane in the ambient air are monitored at the site boundary by the operator and independently ‘off site’ by the EA and the British Geological Survey. In January, in line with strict requirements of the site’s permit, the operator notified the EA when methane levels were detected above the reporting thresholds at the site boundary.

These thresholds are set at a precautionary level to ensure a substantial level of protection. The EA’s assessment is that emissions have been well below the levels that would constitute a risk to people or the environment. Cuadrilla has an approved programme of activity to detect and repair leaks. The EA audited this on 15 January 2019 and no non-compliances were found.

There is no evidence to indicate that methane is currently leaking from the site. The notified levels are understood to have been as a result of short term operation of the on-site flare.

The EA is currently reviewing and auditing the operations of the flare and it will subsequently report its detailed assessment and findings.


Well integrity inspection

Question by Lee Rowley

28 February 2019

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, for what reasons shale gas regulators do not conduct independent well integrity reports for hydraulic fracturing operations.

Reply by Claire Perry

07 March 2019

The Infrastructure Act 2015 makes it clear that hydraulic fracturing activities cannot take place unless an independent inspection of the well has been carried out by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). My rt. hon. Friend the Secretary of State will not issue a Hydraulic Fracturing Consent unless he is satisfied this has happened. Specifically, the Secretary of State will require a certificate from the HSE confirming that an inspection of the well site has been carried out by its inspectors.

To this end, every shale well site will receive an on-site inspection by the HSE as well as the Environment Agency in the exploration stage. Through notifications and weekly reports made by the well operator, the HSE also inspects well design and monitors progress to ensure the operator manages risks effectively throughout the life cycle of the well. The HSE’s inspection of these notifications and weekly reports, which occurs before and during construction, is carried out by specialist wells inspectors. Any significant changes to well construction are subject to the same scrutiny.


Liability for damage

Question by Lee Rowley

28 February 2019

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which (a) companies, (b) organisations and (c) Government Department’s will be liable for the long-term (i) decommissioning of hydraulic fracturing wells and (ii) associated effects of hydraulic fracturing operations in the event that the licensed operator goes out of business.

Reply by Claire Perry

7 March 2019

To date, only two wells in the UK have been hydraulically fractured, at Cuadrilla’s sites at Preese Hall and Preston New Road in Lancashire. The well at Preese Hall has been fully plugged and abandoned, while Preston New Road is still operational.

Hydraulic Fracturing Consent (HFC) will not be issued unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that it is appropriate to do so. My rt. hon. Friend the Secretary of State is entitled to refuse HFC and/or, in certain circumstances, can impose conditions to provide additional protections. As set out in the Written Ministerial Statement [HCWS428] of 25 January 2018, as a matter of policy the Government will look at the financial status of all companies wishing to carry out hydraulic fracturing operations, including their ability to fund decommissioning costs. Suitable conditions may be put in place to provide assurance that these costs can be covered.


Waste

Question by Lee Rowley

28 February 2019

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what processes hydraulic fracturing operators have to follow to dispose of waste; and what the final resting location is for hydraulic fracturing waste.

Reply by Claire Perry

07 March 2019

All oil and gas exploratory sites need to hold permits under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016. Any company managing extractive waste is required to draw up a Waste Management Plan that has to be approved by the Environment Agency.

The Waste Management Plan describes the processes and the types of extractive waste that will be generated at the site and sets out how the operator will monitor, manage, minimise, reuse, recycle and safely dispose of the extractive waste at an appropriately licenced facility.

All environmental and waste permits in relation to Preston New Road can be found on the Environment Agency site.

Question by Lee Rowley

28 February 2019

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, whether shale gas regulators have an agreed process for safe disposal of flowback from hydraulic fracturing operations.

Reply by Claire Perry

7 March 2019

Flowback fluids are deemed to be a mining waste under the Mining Waste Directive and require an environmental permit for management on site.

A company wishing to use hydraulic fracturing would need approval from the Environment Agency on its proposed methods for safe reuse and recycling as part of its Waste Management Plan. The Environment Agency and the European Commission have provided guidance on appropriate methods and techniques. This assessment is made on a case by case basis.

The Environment Agency has adopted a precautionary approach and does not allow the re-injection of flowback fluid for disposal underground.

All environmental and waste permits in relation to Preston New Road can be found on the Environment Agency site.


Acidising

Question by David Drew, Stroud, Labour

4 March 2019

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, whether the consent process for acidising is the same as for fracking; how many applications for acidising have been granted in the last five years for which figures are available; and what health and safety critieria have to be met as part of that consent process.

Reply by Claire Perry

7 March 2019

Acidisation refers to a number of techniques used to clean wells to improve productivity. Activities at oil and gas sites (including acidisation) are controlled under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016 and regulated by the Environment Agency.

When assessing an environmental permit application the Environment Agency considers the proposed activity, the chemicals and products used in the process, waste management and the environmental setting. The permit ensures that there are appropriate mitigation measures in place to protect people and the environment. If the proposed activity poses an unacceptable risk to the environment it will not be permitted.

There are currently 78 onshore oil and gas sites permitted by the Environment Agency, some of these sites will be allowed to use the acidisation technique as part of their processes.


Research

Question by Bill Wiggin, North Herefordshire, Conservative

27 February 2019

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, how much funding has been allocated to research on fracking in 2019.

Reply by Claire Perry

7 March 2019

We are committed to ensuring a rigorous, evidence-based approach to oil and gas extraction, and other sub-surface technologies such as geothermal heat. Fundamental research is the responsibility of research councils – independent from Government in their decision making – who are funding a number of relevant programmes.

The Natural Environment Research Council’s Geo Energy Observatories (UK GEOS) is a government funded project (£31m) with two world-leading centres for research, technology and monitoring of the subsurface that will provide open-data for academia, industry and regulators. Researchers will be able to use the observatories to determine the effect of subsurface energy technologies like those used in geothermal and shale gas extraction. UK GEOS could capture valuable data on nearby shale sites if operations go ahead. It is anticipated that the facilities will be operational by autumn 2019.

NERC and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) have also invested £8 million in a research programme on unconventional hydrocarbons in the UK energy system: environmental and socio-economic impacts and processes. The outcome of this research programme will be to update the independent scientific evidence base to understand potential environmental and socio-economic impacts of unconventional hydrocarbon development.

A list of the successful bids, details of their funding and timescales of the research can be found here.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy also currently grant funds a research consortium led by the British Geological Survey (BGS) to deliver an environmental monitoring programme in and around the first shale sites in Lancashire and North Yorkshire where applications for shale gas wells have been made. Since January 2015, researchers have been gathering baseline data on a number of environmental parameters including ground water & air quality, seismicity, radon and ground motion.

This information is made freely available to the public and supports peer-reviewed science. It will also inform future best practice, enable new technologies to be developed, and develop the UK skill base. The cost to grant-fund this programme is £1 million for the 2018/19 financial period.

Since 2015, the Department has also funded a research consortium led by Bristol University with the aim of developing a better understanding of natural induced microearthquakes and the application of microseismic monitoring to the oil and gas industry, to support regulatory decisions and improve public engagement. The cost to fund this is £19,000 per annum.


Government policy

Extract of statement by Andrea Leadsom, leader of the house

In response to a request from Labour’s Valerie Vaz about the High Court ruling on the National Planning Policy Framework, 7 March

The hon. Lady asks about fracking. She will be aware that the Government are determined that, as we move towards a carbon-free future, we will need to continue to rely heavily on gas for some years. Gas is the cleanest carbon fossil fuel and it is essential that we take our gas security seriously. Fracking offers not only a UK-grown source of gas security, but huge opportunities for economic growth in those areas that have it.

10 replies »

  1. ‘but huge opportunities for economic growth in those areas that have it’.

    Not according to a recent in depth report,

    “based on given set of hypothesis and past decade’s average gas price of $6.52/Mcf, none of the development plans hold enough probability of adding value”

    https://www.mdpi.com/2079-9276/8/1/5

    Even with the scenario of constant drilling and re fracking every 4 years or so when you look at gas price trends (page 12 below) there is very little chance of making a profit in the next 7 years based on the mid range scenario.

    https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/663101/BEIS_2017_Fossil_Fuel_Price_Assumptions.pdf

    The Government has woken up to the seismic con they now need to do some number crunching. And remember EY have stated in their comprehensive study that 1 multi well pad costs £330,000,000 to bring on line, a figure far in excess of the figures quoted in the feasibility studies.

    Cash cow? Not a chance.

  2. Lee Rowley asks some excellent questions and Claire Perry provided some well fidged answers.

    As an example, in relation to Third Party Liability Insurance for damage occurring by Earthquakes, Cuadrilla only hold £25,000,000 any one occurrence or series of occurrences arising out of one event (normally defined as a period of 72hours).

    This seems to be a very low level of cover considering the potential risks of damage to property, infrastructure and business interruption in inmediate areas surrounding the PNR site as well as the potential for pollution clean up costs and environmental damage liability.

    In addition Insurers may well include overall policy limits on events across all policy sections to protect their aggregation of losses, meaning that the £25,000,000 limit of cover could also include Cuadrilla’s own properry?

    In the event of a moderate seismic event triggered by the feacking activities then all these losses named above would likely cause much higher levels of damage than is currently insured.

    Perhaps a future question should be ‘How has the Dept assessed that a level of £25,000,000 Third Party Liability Insurance is sufficient to meet ALL losses caused by a seismicity event and who would meet the costs of any uninsured losses over and above this limit?’

    • To put Cuadrilla’s Third Party Liability Insurance into perspective. The cryptosporidium outbreak in Lancashire a few years ago, which left United Utilities 750,000 customers without safe drinking water for several weeks, cost UU over £25,000,000. It also caused immense disruption to private users, hospitals, dentists, care homes and the many businesses that rely on UU.

  3. The short extract from Andrea Leadsom, Leader of the House, l find very disturbing!

    The Government is obviously blind to reality!

    Experience at PNR and Preese Farm over the last decade evidences that:

    Even attempts to frack just ONE well at minimal pressure causes multiple earthquakes, some well above the accepted safety level. Fracking propaganda machine then goes into action refering to lack of surface disturbance when the real cumulative damage is deep below ground to well integrity. Imagine the effect of thousands of full pressure fracking attempts riddling our Countryside and Communities.

    Gold Standard Monitoring is an illusion dependent on wind direction being convenient to the very few pieces of gas emission detection equipment placed close by and the honesty of the fracking operator self reporting the content of these emissions. Independent monitoring has recorded major problems with toxic emissions around PNR over the last several months!

    Local democracy has been disrespected by Government using UNLAWFUL tactics to disregard the effects the expanded fossil fuel industry would have on CLIMATE DESTRUCTION!

    Local communities have been bullied and confused by untrue fracking propaganda and violent police actions against their Human Rights to protest!

    A totally corrupt industry dependent on a desperate greedy Government to enable it to continue to threaten our Community wellbeing against all conscience and emerging science.

  4. ‘Since 2015, the Department has also funded a research consortium led by Bristol University with the aim of developing a better understanding of natural induced microearthquakes and the application of microseismic monitoring to the oil and gas industry, to support regulatory decisions and improve public engagement. The cost to fund this is £19,000 per annum’

    £19,000 pa….well that shows just how high this is on the government’s agenda!

    • Hi Sherwulfe,
      This issue is just one that the government do NOT want be given priority and neither do the filthy frackers!

  5. Amazingly wonderful that all these MPs are now asking questions, especially Conservative MPs. How depressingly predicably compacent are the answers! As if anyone can place any trust in the regulators! What a further waste of money, research on unconventional oil and gas! And what the hell is a ‘natural induced microearthquake’. Is this the latest fake term in this moribund goverment’s lexicon of fracking and acidising terminology?

  6. So despite being permitted using ‘unlawful’ process, Cuadrilla have delivered new stock of fracking related equipment to PNR again during curfew with Constabulary facilitation.
    Despite unmonitored amounts of unidentified gases being released into the air above and around PNR, putting workers, police officers and the general public potentially in danger of health damage in time to come?
    Really the Establishment are truly evil!

  7. More questions and supplementaries than answers (or lack of answers) in this pathetic lot of obfuscation and avoidance. Who will insure against potential seismicity damage claims after Cuadrilla’s two attempts at fracking? Could Third Energy afford the costs of any damage or decommissioning given the state of their finances? Therefore how could they be granted HF permission on the basis of financial security – other than hoping above hope that they find lots of easily recoverable gas i.e. putting the cart before the horse. Final resting place for hydraulic fracturing waste? – not answered. Process for safe disposal of fracking flowback? – not answered. I won’t go on!

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