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. The amount of times this has happened is unbelievable. Protection of water is vital for life, should be independent with the well resourced scrutiny. The resources should be paid for by taxing the oil and gas industry.

    • Just a reminder that the water at Preston New Road is not potable. However, monitoring should have been in place.

      • Phil,

        The residents of the Fylde are provided with about half their drinking water from the catchment areas between the river Wyre and the river Ribble by United Utilities after treatment of course.

        It’s fair to say that the Cuadrilla test fracking site at Preston New Road is about equidistant between the two!

        I live locally and like many people around here have used bottled water from unfracked sources elsewhere since drilling began in 2017.

        Considering the revelations about the lack of water testing by Cuadrilla, the Environment Agency and Lancashire County Council it looks like I’ll be on bottled for some years yet!

        • Peter I hope your bottled water is not in plastic bottles produced from INEOS plastics? Plastic bottles are a key demand for plastics and one of the main polluters of the planet. And do your waste bottles get recycled to Malaysia (where they are dumped and or burnt in the open)?

          • Good point, ban onshore fossil fuel extraction, thereby reducing the need to buy plastic bottled water due to possible drinking water contamination from onshore fossil fuel extraction, so reducing single-use plastic AND this plastic production from onshore fossil fuel extraction (by Ineos?) at the same time. All round win-win-win!

        • Peter – there are only two pathways for anything that goes into, or out of, the boreholes at PNR to get into the drinking water: (I) evaporation of water after it has been treated; and (ii) combustion of methane. Both processes create pure water that falls as rain. The fluids pumped into the ground will actually make the pore fluids in the subsurface less toxic than they are now. This is pretty basic stuff and to deny the science behind such arguments puts you on the same par as those against fluoride in water, vaccinations, climate change deniers, GM foods, 5G. In other words, you’re no different to Gayzer and his palls.

          To suggest that Cuadrillas testing can impact the drinking water either shows that you are ignorant about the science or you are purposefully trying to mislead/scare people – which is it Peter?

          • Judith scare tactics are peters speciality! Unfortunately we have become too aware of the jumping from behind the couch scare, as this couch specialist has achieved on every post he / she delivers!

            Its quite tiresome, reading information which does allow the facts to get in the way of a pointless story. Again this loses credibility!

  2. This site is a showcase for the UK shale gas industry. It is the exhibition site for gold standard regulation.
    Sadly their performance has been nothing but pathetic. Time for them to pack up and go home.

  3. I will try to send this to James Brokenshire as he ponders overriding local democracy yet again to allow INEOS to frack without him even being at the hearing!!!

  4. Natural Chemical: it not hard to search this!
    Acrylamide is a natural chemical that is formed when starchy foods such as bread and potatoes are cooked for long periods at a high temperature.
    The NHS advice states that it’s possible that prolonged exposure through eating acrylamide-rich food for many years is a potential risk factor, and points out that The World Health Organisation describes acrylamide as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’. But it also cautions that the risk of developing cancer through acrylamide is currently unknown, especially when compared to other lifestyle factors such as excessive alcohol consumption, smoking and being overweight, which have much clearer links.

    • What a pathetic attempt to justify yet another clear breach of conditions. If monitoring such chemicals is unimportant, why exactly is this a condition? It beggars belief that a number of chemicals from a clear list (and not even close together alphabetically) should mysteriously disappear from monitoring results just at the critical phase of activity.
      We must be grateful that these breaches are being identified by the regulators at this site, the ‘most monitored in Europe’. It does, however, beg the question how many are being missed? More importantly, if this industry grows to commercial size, how on earth will these regulators cope with policing this shoddy self-regulation?

  5. Water and air should be safe for all apart from companies with money and an agency ran buy a twisted political system if we are to be free of carbon emissions by 2050 stop fracking for something that will be worthless in 30years time

  6. The review and investigation has not yet been completed by the EA, once completed consideration will be taken as to whether Cuadrilla has breached the conditions of its permit.

    So how have so many on here already been able to make an informed judgement?

  7. John

    I think that the content of this article is self-explanatory, Cuadrilla have once again failed to abide by the rules and regulations.

    The question is, will previous infringements be taken into account or will the industry be able to proceed as they wish?

    We’ve had serious breaches and bad neighbourly behaviour by Cuadrilla before at Preese Hall, millions of litres of contaminated water dumped into the Manchester Ship Canal, Anna’s Road, engineering failure not disclosed for several months, Preston New Road, overnight convoys during curfew and at Preston New Road again, numerous releases of toxic gaseous byproduct contrary to planning regulations.

    None of these have been deemed serious enough to warrant strong punishment but put them together the public are waking up to a pattern of cowboy behaviour that may very well soon cause a real disaster! Just like at Oil and Gas projects worldwide.

    • Bottled water Peter K Roberts:

      “America’s bottled water production consumes 17 million barrels of oil annually: that’s enough to fuel 1.3 million cars for an entire year.
      The US ships 1 billion bottles of water around a week in ships, trains, and trucks. That’s a weekly convoy equivalent to 37,800 18-wheelers delivering water.
      It takes 3 times the amount of water to make the bottle than it does to fill it.
      Americans use about 30 billion plastic water bottles every year. However, 80 percent end up in landfills
      According to the Ocean Conservatory, plastic bottles and plastic bags are the most prevalent form of pollution foundon our beaches and in our oceans. Every square mile of the ocean has over 46,000 pieces of floating plastic in it.”

  8. Would that be the water that was treated to the required standard before it was discharged into the Manchester Ship Canal Peter?

    Millions of gallons of similar industrial waste fluids and sewage from households are treated to the same standard and discharged into streams, rivers and the sea each day.

    I think you need to put the pitchfork and rope away before you hurt yourself.

    • ‘The site is the most monitored in Europe’

      What is he trying to compare it against. Let’s see his list of other Cuadrilla European fracking sites for comparison. Without that his statement is irrelevant.


      Would that be the 884,000 GALLONS of toxic , radioactive waste from Cuadrilla , that went straight through United Utilities waste water treatment plant in Davyhulme , directly in to the Manchester Ship Canal , UNTREATED ??????

      GOLD STANDARDS, don’t make me laugh.

      Yes ladies and gentlemen you couldn’t make it up …….. None of these so called great scientists , or should I say BOZOS could work out beforehand that the treatment plant could not cope with the large volume of toxic, radioactive water, OR COULD THEY ???????

      Could some gruby backroom deal of been done to keep this sordid affair a secret , from the local residents ??????

      • Jack

        Previous regulations classed the Flowback water as industrial effluent and not as radioactive waste, Cuadrilla were legally authorised to discharge it into the Manchester Ship Canal after being processed at the Davyhulme treatment works in Trafford.

        Flowback water is now classed as radioactive waste and requires a permit to be issued by the EA before treatment and disposal can commence, this is following European regulations which came in to force in October 2011.

        The Environment Agency said it would not grant a permit following the regulation change to Cuadrilla until it was sure that the Flowback water could and would be disposed of safely.

        The EA granted a permit to Cuadrilla, so we can assume that the treatment and disposal issue has been resolved.

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