Residents demand answers on emergency planning at fracking site after recent tremors

pnr 190828 Ros Wills

Fracking equipment at Cuadrilla’s shale gas site at Preston New Road, 28 August 2019. Photo: Ros Wills

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”.

181005 Helen Chuntso at PNR

Campaigner and researcher, Helen Chuntso, outside Cuadrilla’s shale gas site at Preston New Road, 5 October 2018. Photo: Bob Dennett

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.”

181011 Bob Dennett

Bob Dennett outside the Royal Courts of Justice, 11 October 2018. Photo: DrillOrDrop

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.

Details of tremors induced by fracking at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site 15-29 August 2019

31/8  Quote from Helen Chuntso corrected

16 replies »

  1. ““The fact that HSE say there are currently well integrity issues does not prevent Lancashire County Council from needing to evaluate the risk if there is” I assume this a misquote of what Ms Chutso said, as the HSE report that there are no well integrity issues. Regarding the need for the risk assessment to be re-evaluated, it would appear that the current risk assessment is working as the OGA have suspended fracking operations & are conducting an open ended assessment of the seismic events that have recently occurred. It would seem to me that a solicitor’s letter is premature at this stage.

    • Dr Nick

      The risk assessment for the ER plan should be reviewed in light of any new information which turns up, but such a review may not give the result some may expect …

      Since the site was considered to be a medium risk, there seems to have been two bits of new relevant information for the risk assessment ( which covers, drilling, fracking, testing and “waiting”.

      1. That the well does not flow without gas lift ( being the first well ).
      2. That fracking has produced seismic activity in excess of the Cuadrilla assumptions ( primarily frequency ).

      1. Low flow

      In the case of low or no natural flow, , it would indicate that the consequences of loss of well control may have been lower than thought. It is difficult to have a blow out from a well that will not flow.

      However it would be prudent to retain the existing risk profile as Cuadrilla expected better results from the Second well.

      2. Seismic activity

      In the case of seismic activity, the council would probably consider two aspects

      1. The likelihood of increase seismic activity from fracking requiring a change to the existing generic response for non frack specific seismic events in the fylde ( as the consequences are not site specific )

      I suspect the council would say no, as their existing plans cater for the activity encountered, and that fracking has been suspended.

      2. The likelihood that the seismic activity will increase the risk ( probability and consequence ) from events on site that require an emergency response.

      I suspect that the council would say that there has been no increase in risk as the well integrity has been maintained and the expected consequences of loss of well control would be an absence of a blow out ( for reasons as noted above ).

      No doubt the council would confer with the various regulator authorities should fracking ever restart, but they may prefer to wait for the outcome of the review first, so see if any more relevant information is forthcoming.

      Hence I would not consider that the tremors have materially changed the whole situation relating to ER planning while fracking or producing at Preston New Road, other than to point to a lower risk than if fracking had been successful.

      Just my opinion.

      • I suspect that a key element going forward (though not necessarily directly for the Emergency Planning) will be the fact that Cuadrilla’s environmental statement clearly states that with the “mitigation” provided by the TLS in place the worst case scenario was 1.5 Ml.

        As this has been proven to be a huge underestimate (25 times in magnitude, 125 times in terms of energy release) it calls into question the grating of planning permission in the first place.

        • Refracktion

          Page 363. 119, and Page 364 Point 120 of the Environmental Statement will be of key interest I suspect

          Click to access PNR-ES.pdf

          The worst case 3.1 Scenario is discussed ( assumed if the mitigation measures do not work ).

          I think it calls into question the effectiveness of those measures rather than the granting of planning permission, as the permission relies on the assessment?

          • Yes the permission relies on the assessment which very clearly states that with the TLS the worst case would be a 1.5ml.

            119 is very clear that a 3. 1 is only discussed for theoretical purposes in the absence of the TLS being properly implemented. Questions about the protocol for trailing events in Cuadrilla’s flow chart aside, nobody is suggesting it hasn’t been properly implemented, yet we had a 2.9.

            • Refraction

              My thoughts were that the granting of planning permission would not be called into question. More likely that the seismic activity risk mitigation plans would be questioned. This in terms of their development, application, use and update across time.

              This, in my opinion, is the get out clause for the regulator, who can now refuse ( or not be convinced it will work ) further fracking at Preston Road based on the information they have, vs the assumptions in the frack plan and linked docs.

              Banning fracking incurs a cost, but the failure to frack shale sufficiently to get the gas, while inducing seismic events of a strength forecast without mitigation measures sounds like TBF.

              Just my opinion.

        • Refracktion, on the subject of 25 Times the magnitude and 125 times the energy release, can you confirm your bubble graph reflects this scale?

          • You are actually talking about 2 different scales there. Magnitude and Energy Release.

            It does say quite clearly on the chart that “Bubble size relative to a 0.0. Ml event”

            However, for clarity:

            The size of the bubble in the bubble chart I provide for DoD plots the seismic event *magnitudes* relative to a 0.0 Ml event.

            A 0ml would thus plot a value of 1
            A 1.0 Ml would thus plot a value of 1.0 (te scale is logarithmic)
            A 1.5 Ml would thus plot a value of 31.62
            A 2.9 Ml would thus plot a value of 794.33 which is 25.12 times the magnitude of 31.62

            The formula used is 10^(Event magnitude – Chosen comparative magnitude)

            The scaling in the chart (i.e. the actual bubble size) is auto-scaled by Excel in order to be able to visualize the points within the available space.

            The difference in Energy Release can be calculated using 10^((M1-M2)*1.5)

            The major issue with updating is not complexity but trying to keep up with all of the trailing events.

            I hope that clears up your question.

        • Risk assessments are premised on a best guess of what may happen in any particular scenario. in this case, the initial risk assessment was drafted on the basis of what MAY happen if there were seismic events. there had been none of any significance so the true situation was not known. Now that there have been “significant” seismic events, we know as a matter of fact what effect this has in terms of an emergency – none. No gas leakage, no explosions, no evacuations needed. If the risk assessment is revised, it may well be that it is revised downwards to low??

          • “there had been none of any significance so the true situation was not known” – Well apart from the 2.3ML at Preese Hall in 2011.

            We now know that the effect of a 2.9ml is that it mobilises the local population against fracking.

  2. Another none story.[Edited by moderator]Ms. Chuntso obtained an injunction? And then what? Waste of everyone’s time and money.

    The situation with regards to the ERP does not change. However as Cuadrilla’s operations are shut down and most likely will stay that way permanently there is no need for LCC to do anything.

    There is no increased risk of “well blowouts”. The risk was and is very low and a “blow out” at PNR would not impact anyone other than those on the wellsite and it would be of very short duration.

  3. Does anyone know who the residents referred to in this article are? I’ve not seen anything locally about anything mentioned in the article and the action seems to have been raised by someone who isn’t local or a resident.

    That’s absolutely fine but the article headline is a little mis-leading if this action has been instigated by Ms. Chuntso and not local residents as the headline states.

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