Anti-fracking campaigners have reacted with concern to news that the British Geological Survey (BGS) signed a non-disclosure agreement with Cuadrilla over access to operational data.
The i newspaper revealed last night that the 11-page agreement gave the BGS access to specified Cuadrilla information from the Preston New Road fracking site near Blackpool.
But under the deal, the BGS could release the data only with Cuadrilla’s permission and it must destroy confidential documents at the firm’s request.
According to the i, the BGS and Cuadrilla discussed how they could keep the agreement confidential.
The news came as the latest fracking operation at Preston New Road caused more than 80 small earth tremors.
At least two were felt by people living in the area. Since work began on 15 August 2019, the company has been required to stop work twice because of earth tremors.
A spokesperson from the campaign group, Frack Free Lancashire, told DrillOrDrop:
“It is most concerning that Cuadrilla have been revealed to have a secret agreement with the British Geological Survey. This flies in the face of the transparency and ‘putting Lancashire first’ community engagement that Cuadrilla claim to operate under.
“Cuadrilla are failing to adhere to the ‘good industry practice’ stipulated by their industry body, UKOOG, as they continue to refuse to provide the specified daily report that includes the volumes of proppant and fluid pumped, chemical volumes used and a summary of injection pressures and depths.
“Questions must be answered about the British Geological Survey and their alleged position of impartiality, whilst colluding under a secret confidentiality agreement with private fracking company, Cuadrilla.
“Our perception of the British Geological Survey is now tainted and trust has been lost.”
Tony Bosworth, a campaigner with Friends of the Earth, told the i:
“We need complete transparency about fracking’s impacts on the environment.”
And Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace UK, told the paper:
“A confidentiality agreement will do little to increase confidence in an unpopular and mistrusted industry.”
Cuadrilla confirmed there was a confidentiality agreement with the BGS but said this was “fairly standard practice between private and public sector organisations”. The company said:
“Cuadrilla is committed to open and transparent operations.”
A company spokesperson added:
“This agreement does not in any way impact the BGS in its publishing of a range of monitoring data.”
The BGS publishes online registers of earth tremors across the UK, including one for seismic events induced by human activity, such as fracking.
A statement from the BGS said:
“Guidelines from the Information Commissioners Office encourage public authorities, like BGS, to work with industry and, where appropriate, to main a degree of confidentiality. Otherwise in some instances it would make it very difficult for industry to work very closely with local/public authorities.
“Wherever possible BGS makes all public information available, and this is standard policy.
“As an example borehole and seismic data is made publicly available through the National Geoscience Data Centre (NGDC).“
The organisation told DrillOrDrop this week about the source of the data for tremors caused by fracking at Preston New Road.
“We use raw data from a combination of BGS and Cuadrilla [seismic monitoring] stations.
“However, our data processing and analysis is completely independent. Our analysts review all the events that we detect to determine event locations and magnitude without input from Cuadrilla or other third parties.
“Any events for which there is strong evidence that they are related to hydraulic fracturing operations are then added to the list.”
The BGS said the data was “manually reviewed” by an expert before it was published.
According to the i, the confidentiality agreement required the BGS to:
- Keep private any confidential information passed to BGS relating to Cuadrilla’s operations, processes, know-how, designs, trade secrets or software
- Erase all of Cuadrilla’s confidential information from BGS computer systems at Cuadrilla’s request
- Destroy or return all documents and materials containing or based upon Cuadrilla’s information at Cuadrilla’s request
The paper quoted from email correspondence from a BGS official to Cuadrilla about the non-disclosure agreement from July 2019:
“We have had a request asking a number of questions about our relationship with Cuadrilla and, in particular, requesting a copy of the NDA we signed. I am just thinking about legal grounds for non-release and just wondered if your legal guys had any thoughts?”
- The non-disclosure agreement came to light in a response by the BGS to a request from the i using the Environment Information Regulations.
Updated with statement from BGS