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.
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”
“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.