Water monitoring at Cuadrilla’s fracking site missed key chemicals – regulator

pnr 181225 Ros Wills4

Coiled tubing tower at Preston New Road, 25 December 2018. Photo: Ros Wills

The Environment Agency has ordered urgent action after monitoring at Cuadrilla’s Lancashire fracking site earlier this year missed results for key chemicals.

The environmental permit for the site at Preston New Road requires Cuadrilla to monitor substances in groundwater and send the results quarterly to the Environment Agency (EA).

But, according to a formal report from the EA published yesterday, the results for January and February 2019 did not have data for five of the required substances: acrylamide, fluoride, total alkalinity, and the carbon-13 isotopes in methane and carbon dioxide.

These results were for the first months following fracking at the site, which took place from mid-October to Mid-December 2018. Acrylamide is derived from polyacrylamide, the additive in Cuadrilla’s fracking fluid.

The permit also requires Cuadrilla to tell the EA immediately if a permit condition is not met. But the EA said Cuadrilla did not disclose the missing data or the reason why it was missing. The omission was spotted when the EA reviewed the groundwater monitoring reports, it said.

Potential contamination of ground and surface water is one of the main reasons mentioned by people when they say they oppose to fracking. About a quarter of people gave this reason in the most recent government survey of attitudes to fracking.

The Preston New Road environmental permit required Cuadrilla to drill four groundwater monitoring boreholes and take samples before drilling at the site near Blackpool could start.

The permit lists 46 substances that Cuadrilla must monitor to “confirm that there is no pollution of groundwater”. Monitoring is among the measures in the permit which the EA said were designed to protect local groundwater (decision document).

The EA said yesterday:

“We have required that an urgent review is carried out by the operator [Cuadrilla] and will consider this as part of our investigation.”

Once the review is received, the EA said it would consider whether Cuadrilla had breached the conditions of its permit.

The EA reported in May 2019 that Cuadrilla had breached its permit over venting unburned methane at Preston New Road. There were also breaches reported in December 2018, August 2018 and September 2017.

As part of the review, the EA said Cuadrilla should disclose whether any other substances had been missed in monitoring ground or surface waters. It must submit all the dates since October 2018 (the start of fracking at one Preston New Road well), when the company received groundwater monitoring results.

The EA wants to see Cuadrilla’s quality control measures on groundwater monitoring. It also asked for details of when Cuadrilla became aware that the monitoring data was missing and what action it took.

The EA said it understood that Cuadrilla had changed the groundwater monitoring contractor towards the end of 2018. It said the review should include requirements in the new contract for the missing substances and any changes in techniques from the previous contract.

A spokesperson for Preston New Road Action Group said this morning:

“Local residents who are aware of what the potential impacts of fracking can be, need to be certain that the monitoring is rigorous and that any anomalies will be acted on.

“Previously it has been found that Cuadrilla had problems with methane monitoring. We now find there is missing analysis for acrylamide, also during a key period of time. Can these just be unfortunate coincidences? That is hard to believe. How can we be expected to feel safe during any future operations?”

A spokesperson for Frack Free Lancashire said

“Once again it is demonstrable that the much-lauded “gold-standard, robust regulations” exist in name only. This is a serious breach that no doubt, Cuadrilla will get away with, without any or minimal penalty.

“The regulatory system is beneficial to big business because it is simply cheaper and easier to deal with any breaches rather than abide by the regulations.

“Local communities are not reassured in any way, that this polluting industry can be managed safely.”

Nick Mace, environmental and permits manager at Cuadrilla, said that a very small number of data points recorded and reported each month were missed out during a short period of time. The vast majority of parameters were monitored and reported compliantly.

He said:

“The site is the most monitored in Europe and Cuadrilla takes its environmental responsibility extremely seriously. We are confident that the data gap has been addressed, and that no environmental harm has occurred and are working with the Environment Agency on their investigation.”

Categories: Regulation

30 replies »

  1. I’ve not gone through the fine print of this story but on a quick scan of the arguments, it isn’t clear to me which contractor was collecting these data. I know that BGS were monitoring some of the groundwater chemistry and they are very good. It seems like people could be blaming Cuadrilla for employing the best in the business who just happened to have not delivered what all stakeholders had expected. However, it’s not the end of the world given that the fluids injected by Cuadrilla will have made the subsurface less toxic.

  2. What could possibly happen to our health if some of these chemicals are getting or could get into our water supply?

    • Kenneth: look up the chemicals and see… in its environment down in a well!
      There are a-lot of assumptions on the chemicals used, but remember we are breathing toxins everyday.

  3. peter you do know that lavatory water has been reused and recycled since time began!
    Did you know that the amount of water on Earth is always the same?

    Scientists have discovered that every drop we drink has been in a continuous ‘water cycle’ for billions of years.
    So the next glass you drink could have gone through a dinosaur, or your next door neighbour – or both.

    • Eli-Goth: I don’t think facts are things that influence what Peter writes. There are about 10% maximum of the population that have reasonable understanding of science and in doing so also critically appraise evidence. The other 90% make their opinions on their feelings/values and then cherry pick science to back up those opinions. It’s pretty clear to see which of these groups that Peter fits into.

  4. Well all I know is Mother Earth is now awake.
    Mankind has abused her to such an extent we are now going to reap what we have planted.
    All the scientists reports, blah blah government intervention into whatever fracking does to cause earthquakes ground movement land heave / slip.
    Reassurance that a certain level of whatever has not been breached.
    It’s all irrelevant… in search of the almighty dollar we as a race will destroy ourselves.
    It may be coming sooner than we all think.
    One things for sure no human has lived long enough to fathom the impact of so many living creatures who have no predator.


    If this was not a grubby backroom deal regarding the disposal of this Fracking wastewater.

    Then why go to all the bother of physically transporting the waste from the Cuadrilla site to United Utilities in Davyhulme for processing . Any scientist working for either company that was worth his/her salt would of made crystal Clear that the Davyhulme treatment plant COULD NOT PROCESS such waste .

    That could be the reason , why it went SECRETLY through the treatment plant and directly in to the Manchester Ship Canal ( UNTREATED .)

    What I can tell you, is that the residents and councillors on both sides and the local MP went BALLISTIC when this was uncovered at a later date

    This Toxic Fracking wastewater was meant to be treated ……. But it wasn’t.

    After this incident , this loophole in the law was changed .

    • Jack, there was no grubby backroom deal or conspiracy.

      The waste was treated according to the regulations at the time.

      When the regulations changed, so did the waste permit and the methods of treatment and disposal.

  6. So who was the original groundwater monitoring contractor and why and when was the change made?

    Who is the replacement groundwater monitoring contractor and why was this contractor selected?

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