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.
“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.”