Lancashire residents are demanding to know whether emergency planners have updated the risks from Cuadrilla’s shale gas site following the UK’s strongest fracking-induced earth tremor.
Lawyers wrote to Lancashire County Council yesterday with a series of questions about the risk assessment for the Preston New Road site near Blackpool in the light of the bank holiday tremor measuring 2.9ML.
The industry regulator, the Oil & Gas Authority (OGA), suspended fracking at Preston New Road within hours of the tremor.
Two days later, the British Geological Survey (BGS) increased the intensity rating from “strong” to “slightly damaging” following local reports of cracks to buildings.
An “open-ended” investigation is now underway into the 120+ seismic events recorded by the BGS since fracking resumed at Preston New Road on 15 August 2019. Six tremors were felt, according to local reports. The BGS also raised the intensity of a 2.1ML tremor, on 24 August, from “weak” to “largely observed”.
Lancashire County Council, which coordinates emergency planning at Preston New Road, assessed the risk of operations in 2018 as ‘medium’. This meant the site had a generic emergency plan and did not require a site-specific evacuation plan.
Richard Buxton Solicitors, writing on behalf of residents, asked:
- Has the county council reviewed the risk assessment at Preston New Road since fracking resumed this month?
- If so, when was the review carried out and has the outcome of the risk assessment changed?
- Has the council’s evaluation of the potential impact of seismic activity changed?
The council chairs the local resilience forum, which has a duty under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 to assess, plan and advise on potential emergencies. The act provides scope for emergency planners to review their processes from time to time.
Cuadrilla said it had “verified that the well integrity is unaffected” by the tremors. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said it was “satisfied that there are currently no well integrity issues”.
Helen Chuntso researched emergency planning procedures for a legal case against the county council in 2018, which resulted in a temporary injunction on Cuadrilla’s operations. She said today:
“The fact that HSE say there are currently no well integrity issues does not prevent Lancashire County Council from needing to evaluate the risk if there is”.
Ms Chuntso said:
“It is only right that following the recent seismic events that the risk assessment that underpins emergency evacuation planning is reviewed.
“Following these tremors, fracking is clearly not a ‘medium risk’ activity, and any risk assessment that suggests it is needs to be examined. A ‘medium level risk’ assessment prevents the local residents, schools, hospitals and businesses from taking part in proper site-specific emergency evacuation planning and preparedness.
“Seismic events such as those Lancashire has encountered, create ground movement which could impact the well casing and its integrity, and any increased risk of well blow outs, must now be considered afresh alongside the OGA review.
“Risk assessment is a dynamic process, and in light of new information, the Local Resilience Forum, in conjunction with the regulatory bodies and Cuadrilla, should take this opportunity to honestly discuss the impacts operations could have on the local community and review the risk assessment if it has not already.”
Bob Dennett, a Lancashire anti-fracking campaigner, brought the 2018 legal action against the county council. He said:
“The recent tremors, and the intensity of them, has changed the whole situation with emergency planning at Preston New Road.
“We have always said it is the damage to fracking infrastructure below ground from tremors that most concerns us.
“Where tremors affect the integrity of the well, there is a danger that methane could leak. If the methane does leak to the surface and it ignites then you have a very high-risk situation.”
- A rally outside Preston New Road this afternoon is expected to call for a permanent ban on fracking at the site.
31/8 Quote from Helen Chuntso corrected