Regulation

Cuadrilla warned over three more permit breaches at fracking site

pnr 190823 Maxine Gill 10

Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road fracking site, 23 August 2019. Photo: Maxine Gill

Cuadrilla has received an official warning over failing to monitor groundwater properly at its Preston New Road fracking site.

An investigation by the Environment Agency (EA) found that the company had breached three conditions of its environmental permit, including at a time when fracking was underway.

This is the third formal warning reported by the EA in just over a year at Preston New Road.

In the latest breaches, Cuadrilla failed to monitor for key substances in groundwater and then failed to tell the EA about the missing data. It was also accused off poor communication and supervision of the company doing the monitoring.

Local campaigners opposed to Cuadrilla’s operations questioned how the data could have been missed when, as the company often states, Preston New Road is one of the UK’s most regulated sites.

The EA said there was no environmental impact from the most recent breaches, which were classed as category 4Hthe least serious.

But it said:

“We have spoken to the company’s management team directly about our concerns and the seriousness of ensuring their monitoring and quality assurance is robust and beyond reproach.”

A follow-up audit carried out in August 2019 showed that Cuadrilla had put in place the corrections that had been asked for, the EA said.

A report on the investigation, published today, concluded that the company breached the permit because it:

  • Collected an incomplete set of samples for groundwater analyses between December 2018 and May 2019
  • Failed to notify the regulator of missing data
  • Had inadequate communication and training in relation to supervising contractors on sampling requirements and quality control.

Breach details

The environmental permit for Preston New Road required Cuadrilla to check for a range of substances in groundwater and report the results to the EA four times a year.

Officials at the EA spotted that some of the substances were missing in the final report in 2018 and the first one for 2019.

Acrylamide and fluoride results were missing for the period from December 2018 to February 2018. Total alkalinity and dissolved methane and butane were missing for the period from December 2018 to April 2019. Fracking of the PNR1 well was still being carried out during December 2018.

The investigation revealed that Cuadrilla employed a new groundwater monitoring contractor in December 2018. Handover failures and a breakdown in communication resulted in the laboratory receiving incomplete instructions. It was given the wrong list of substances to analyse for.

Quality control checks did not identify the problem and the missing acrylamide and fluoride were spotted by Cuadrilla only in February 2019. Despite this, the company did not inform the EA, as required by the permit. The other missing substances were spotted only during a later EA audit.

The EA said quality control checks were not sufficiently detailed to spot the missing data. It also said the weekly samples, carried out during fracking, were consolidated and submitted monthly. This led to the delay in spotting missing results.

The investigation concluded that Cuadrilla had incorrectly interpreted the groundwater monitoring requirements. There were also problems in communicating with the new contractor and training staff on quality control checks on the data.

The company was required to review its monitoring procedures and communicate them to the contractor. Additional staff training and monthly management reviews were also required.

The EA said data for the second quarter of 2019 showed that levels of dissolved butane and acrylamide were “essentially unchanged” since sampling began in July 2016. Results for fluoride and total alkalinity have varied but within typical ranges. Dissolved methane was too low to support isotopic analysis.

“Minor data gap”

Nick Mace, environmental and permits manager at Cuadrilla, said a “very small number” of data points relating to groundwater monitoring were missed out during a short period of time. The vast majority of parameters were monitored and reported compliantly, he said.

“Cuadrilla takes its environmental responsibility extremely seriously.

“Since January 2017 we have had around 40 inspections and audits from the Environment Agency at our Preston New Road site, with no material breaches of our permits.

“We are therefore disappointed by this letter and I would like to reassure people that there is no suggestion whatsoever of any environmental harm.

“We are confident that the minor data gap has now been addressed. Preston New Road is one of the most monitored oil and gas sites in the world and Cuadrilla has proven that this site is a safe and well run operation.”

“Fracking sites needs to be highly regulated”

A spokesperson for the Preston New Road Action Group said:

“It is staggering that what is supposed to be such a highly regulated site can have missed reporting on data and then failed to own up to the fact. Francis Egan keeps on saying that it is the most monitored site clearly it needs to be. Our concern is what the consequences of any future breaches may be.”

“Time Cuadrilla packed its bags”

A spokesperson from Frack Free Lancashire said:

“This is the third time that Cuadrilla has received a written warning for a range of environmental breaches.

“It is time for Cuadrilla to pack their bags and leave town. They have shown themselves to have a totally cavalier attitude to the regulatory regime and it is clear that the safety of the community is a very low priority for them.”

Green Party MEP for north west England, Gina Dowding, said:

“It is now time for Cuadrilla to leave Lancashire. Their continued disrespect for regulations and the community in which they operate, is astounding.

“The earthquakes that fracking has caused and the resulting property damage incurred by residents, is the final insult to a county who voted against this industry.

“The terms of Cuadrilla’s license have not been upheld and have put people at risk. The government should seek to act in the interests of Lancashire residents and move to ban fracking.”

History of permit breaches

This is the most recent in a series of permit breaches at Preston New Road.

In May 2019, the EA formally warned Cuadrilla over allowing climate-changing methane to vent into the atmosphere at Preston New Road.

In August 2018, there was another warning over the way waste was managed at the site. There were also minor breaches relating to methane vents on storage tanks and incorrect certification for a flow meter.

Spinwatch reported there had been at least seven permit breaches at Preston New Road in ten months during 2017.

19 replies »

  1. Cuadrilla doing things as only Cuadrilla can , what a shambles, I think it’s all over for Egan and his muppet show. Perhaps he should team up with Boris in a comedy act next .

  2. No Impact on the environment but lets have a scaremongering headline again!!!! One minute your saying the EA is “Not Fit For Purpose” yet you pick headlines when it fits your agenda

  3. Surely the issue isn’t if there was contamination on this occasion, but that Cuadrilla continues to breach its permit? When they deformed the well in 2011 they didn’t inform DECC for 6 months so they need to be monitored with a deep distrust. Anyone supporting this comedy act each time they break their own permits is either paid or invested… and a few things besides.

    • Quote: ‘An investigation by the Environment Agency (EA) found that the company had breached three conditions of its environmental permit, including at a time when fracking was underway.’ That seems to indicate three breaches of environmental permits does it not? In what way is accurately reporting the facts not neutral. In my increasingly long experience of Drill or Drop, both Ruth and Paul are absolutely scrupulous in reporting the facts and quotes accurately – exactly how it should be.

  4. There is no excuse for not informing the EA as required with permit condition 4.3.1(b).
    upon discovering the two missing determinands in February.

    The root cause of the breach according to the EA was poor communications and handover to the new company contracted to carry out the analysis.

    This resulted in the use of the ‘indicative list’ of required groundwater analyses included in the Waste Management Plan instead of the list referenced in Table S3.5 in the environmental permit.

    So no deliberate attempt to hide analysis results.

  5. Cuadrilla quote: ‘I would like to reassure people that there is no suggestion whatsoever of any environmental harm.’ Indeed. If you fail to monitor groundwater correctly and/or fail to test for the required substances as per regulations, there will be no suggestion whatsoever of any environmental harm, as in ‘I see no ships’. Failing to monitor for anything potentially harmful doesn’t mean it’s not there of course, it just means there is no evidence of harm. Failing to monitor for the baseline means that the source of any subsequent harm cannot be proven by comparison.

    • Mike Potter

      The EA conclude that there was no environmental impact ( page 3 last but 1 para, page 4, 3rd para ).

      This based on records prior to and after the event ( plus all the monitoring of determinands other than those missed ).

      Plus, they failed to test for all the required substances, but did not fail to test for most of the required substances. So you could see ships, but not as many as you expected to see.

      So it may be a stretch to say that any subsequent harm cannot be proven as baseline monitoring exists, but not a complete set for the determinants required for the time noted.

      • Agreed Hewes, although to be strictly accurate, the EA cannot conclude that there was no environmental impact for the reasons above, just a very remote probability of any impacts with a small number of the fleet carelessly out of sight.

  6. Acrylamide and Fluoride results were missing from December to February. Dissolved Butane and total alkalinity from December to April.

    The data sets for dissolved Butane and Acrylamide had been essentially unchanged since sampling commenced in July 2016 and there was no measurable change in the results after the period of missing data.

    The results for Fluoride and total alkalinity showed natural variations within the typical ranges.

    I think the EA will have been pretty confident classifying the breach as C4 – A non-compliance which has no potential environmental effect.

  7. MARTIN ,

    NO NEED to pay to read this article in the Times Newspaper, 7th September 2019………… Good old Jack has cut and pasted the article

    What do you think of this ??????

    It looks like investors may be getting ready to, Jump Off The Sinking Cuadrilla Ship………………….

    https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/cuadrilla-shareholders-eye-exit-in-blow-to-uk-fracking-gs03wt3mk

    CUADRILLAS SHAREHOLDERS EYE EXIT in blow to UK Fracking.

    The future of fracking in Britain was thrown further into doubt last night after it emerged that Cuadrilla Resources shareholders were looking to exit the business.

    Cuadrilla’s backers hired the Royal Bank of Canada several months ago to explore strategic options, Bloomberg reported.

    Any moves towards a sale are likely to be complicated by the fact that fracking has been suspended pending the outcome of an Oil & Gas Authority investigation after Cuadrilla caused a 2.9 magnitude tremor in Lancashire last month.

    Cuadrilla Resources is 48 per cent owned by AJ Lucas, an Australian company controlled by Kerogen, the private equity group. A further 45 per cent is owned by Riverstone Holdings, another private equity group, with the remainder held by Cuadrilla employees. Kerogen and Riverstone had hired RBC, Bloomberg said.

    Cuadrilla believes there could be significant gas reserves beneath Lancashire. Extracting it involves fracking: pumping water, sand and chemicals into the ground at high pressure to fracture the rocks.

    It is the only company to have fracked for shale gas in Britain but has run into endless difficulties with planning battles, protests and causing earth tremors.

    Kerogen declined to comment and Riverstone could not be reached.

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