Methane spiked at 40+ times average levels during work on Third Energy gas site

171113 km Eddie Thornton

Third Energy’s Kirby Misperton site preparing for fracking in November 2017. Photo: Kirby Misperton Protection Camp

The concentration of climate-changing methane peaked when Third Energy carried out maintenance on a North Yorkshire gas site, researchers have found.

Monitoring by the Environment Agency showed levels of the powerful greenhouse gas around the KMA wellsite near Kirby Misperton were more than 40 times above average levels during a weekend in August 2018.

Another peak in December 2017, measured more than 10 times average levels.

Both peaks coincided with planned activity by Third Energy at KMA.

EA report chart

Methane concentrations at KMA, August 2017-October 2018. Source: Environment Agency

A report by the Environment Agency (EA), published online this week, showed large peaks on 11 August from 11.50am-5.30pm and on 12 August from 08:30am – 4:30pm.

According to the findings, the 5-minute mean methane concentrations exceeded more than 60 milligrams per cubic meter (mg/m3), compared with the long-term average of 1.41mg/m3.

This peak had also been identified by separate monitoring by the British Geological Survey (BGS).

The EA also recorded peaks at 09.45am and 8pm on 22 December 2017. Then, the 5-minute mean reached about 15mg/m3.

EA report map

Monitoring station (MMF) at Third Energy’s KMA well pad near Kirby Misperton. Source: Environment Agency

Third Energy said in a statement:

“We have checked our operations records and can confirm that both spikes were associated with planned maintenance. There have been no methane leaks.”

The company said of the August peak:

“The increase in methane concentration was due to the depressurisation of process equipment (separators, site pipework etc) ahead of a large-scale infrastructure shutdown workscope where all the pressure systems are inspected by independent examiners as per the Pressure System Safety Regulations 2000.

“This workscope is a three-yearly requirement and residents were notified. All works were carried out in line with standard industry and legislative practices. The work was not on the wells.”

On the December 2017 peak, Third Energy said:

“The KM3 injection well occasionally experiences a build-up of low levels of pressure and this needs to be let down via a controlled operation. The well is not a gas producer being a liquid injector only. The activities are carried out in line with standard industry and legislative practices.”

Asked whether the releases were allowed by the environmental permit, Third Energy said:

“These maintenance activities are carried out in compliance with our environmental permits and all health, safety and environmental factors are assessed and controlled via our permit to work system.”

Monitoring at KMA was designed to provide baseline measurements because the site’s KM8 well had been earmarked for fracking. KM8 has not yet been fracked because Third Energy failed the required financial assessment.

Methane concentrations were measured at 2m above the ground for 415 days between 23 August 2017 and 11 October 2018.

The research found that 95% of methane concentrations during the monitoring period were below 1.61mg/m-3. The average concentration, of 1.41mg/m3, was close to the expected background concentration in the northern hemisphere of 1.21mg/m3, the report said.

The highest concentrations were when the wind was from the direction of the KM3 and KM7 wells and pipelines. These average concentrations were above 1.44mg/m3.

Monitoring by both the BGS and EA also revealed increases in nitrogen oxides air pollutants, when KMA was preparing for fracking. This was likely to be caused by exhaust from generators and vehicles on the site.

DrillOrDrop previously reported findings by York University that air quality at KMA changed from that typical of a rural setting to what you would expect in an urban area when equipment was mobilised.

A resident in Kirby Misperton told DrillOrDrop today:

“As in previous EA reports, the monitoring shows significant increases in nitrogen oxides when equipment was brought on and off site and plant and machinery was running in preparation for fracking.

“These levels have been previously compared by the University of York to those of a city centre. This is obviously a concern for local residents in Kirby Misperton if fracking is to return, particularly those with underlying breathing difficulties, such as emphysema and asthma.

“However, I was more perturbed to see a high methane spike in August 2018 which was ‘probably’ related to maintenance on the conventional sites at KM3 and 7.

“The village has regularly been affected by ‘odours’ coming off the site during maintenance in the past, with one villager being hospitalised. What worries me is that this was only picked up because of baseline monitoring for fracking.

“The EA no longer monitors so how do we know what is polluting our air? The report also shows that the predominant wind comes from the south west – directly from the site to our village.

“There are no gold standards in monitoring the emissions of the oil and gas industry and we cannot afford to allow this to continue if we are to combat climate change.”

16 replies »

  1. Did the activities on the site involve purging the pipework and vessels clear of flammables with Nitrogen to create a safe working environment during the periods that these Methane spikes occurred?

  2. The largest peak equates to around 100ppm. This is 0.01% in the general body. You would need to have a reading ( or emission ) 100 times larger to detect it on a flame lamp ( in the dark ) at the boundary.

  3. Population increasing, more consumed than any other generation, an increase in naturally occurring methane is likely, Fact! The difference today is we are monitoring this more now than before records began, hence of-course it is piking because we never use to monitoring as extensively at now!

  4. Why does this report by DorD omit the York University findings that said in an article in the Guardian dated 22nd January 2019

    “Alastair Lewis, a professor of atmospheric chemistry at the University of York, said his air quality monitoring project found a group of pollutants had increased in the vicinity of the site to levels normally seen in a city rather than a rural area.e cause was lorries supplying the well, opposition by campaigners and the resulting police operation.

    The largest, most visible detectable impacts above the surface are on nitrogen oxides (NOx), from the use of compressors, generators and truck movements,” Lewis said.
    “And, strangely, in the case of Kirby Misperton, from policing, from [police] vehicles and protest camps. It’s a slightly unusual situation in that the activity of protesting itself is a large source of pollution.”
    He said protest tactics such as slow walking in front of lorries supplying the site would have driven up NOx levels, and police vehicles had been a “significant” source of the pollutants.”

    Protesters themselves caused pollution that they condemn the gas company for. Strange that this is not reported by the media not DorD who are ‘independent’ but NOT IMPARTIAL.

    • Maybe some wished to avoid the issue of Mr. Refracktion puffing around to fracking sites in his 3 litre diesel BMW, Lorraine, confirming the hypocrisy?

      Or, there is no issue because German car manufacturers produce lots of glossy stuff showing how clean their diesels are!

      I think there would be a close call between those two in respect of how blinkered you would need to be to ignore the reality.

      As a slight aside, but connected. This is not new. The protests around the Newbury Bypass largely concentrated upon the poor air quality the bypass would produce. It did nothing of the sort as vehicles completing 10 miles in 15 minutes produce a lot less pollution than completing those same 10 miles in 90 minutes. A pretty good reason why slow walking should be prosecuted.

      • The reports findings regarding the protesters causing large amounts of pollution would have been included in the article if it was being presented in an impartial way rather than just inferring Third Energy were to blame.

    • Hi Lorraine

      Thanks for your comment.

      DrillOrDrop was a little ahead of the Guardian piece you quote, carrying an article on the University of Yorks findings two months earlier, on November 20, 2018.

      Also, I don’t think your claim “Protesters themselves caused pollution that they condemn the gas company for” is correct – protestors caused some of the pollution, but it's not clear what proportion.

      Finally, the above article refers to a methane spike, and I don't think anyone is suggesting the protestors are responsible for that.

  5. Just to remind readers of the earlier comments, these peaks were admitted by Third Energy as being due to maintenance activities on the site.

  6. Interesting howls of protest at the mere reporting of spikes in methane emissions.
    I’m sure everyone knows that methane is a greenhouse gas with around 86 times the potency of CO2 in the short to medium term i.e. the time period we have to try to reduce ghg emissions to avoid global warming of over 2 deg C. Shouldn’t we all therefore be greatly concerned at ANY methane emissions, no matter what source they originate from, no matter how large or small, particularly ones that can and should be controlled, or preferably stopped? That means addressing the emissions from the O&G industry – present and future – and likewise from agriculture with the utmost urgency. This particular spike by TE, which they admitted to and clearly knew about, was only noted due to the monitoring at Kirby Misperton. How many sites are, and will be, monitored for methane emissions? Precious few I suspect. Invisible and odourless (without H2S or mercaptans) but cumulatively extremely damaging in global warming terms. Perhaps some people feel that some methane emissions are more acceptable than others?
    This is what you can see when you actually look for methane emissions:

    • Mike Potter

      Can you clarify what we are looking at in the UTube video?

      For Peterborough power station, It looks like the video shows some emergency flaring…would that be correct? Is that unburnt methane from incomplete combustion in the flare stack?

      For spalding power station the video shows the main stacks in operation. What are we looking at there? Unburnt methane resulting from incomplete combustion in the turbine?

  7. These are videos from a FLIR camera, by a fully qualified operator, showing methane emissions and possibly also VOCs from various locations. I don’t know the circumstances of operations at the time, just that there are clearly emissions occurring. AFAIK, the timings and locations were not deliberately chosen to coincide with any particular events, but relatively random.

    • Mike

      Thanks. I can understand most of the examples, such as emissions from small oil wells and terminal vents but not the emissions from the power stations. Especially the Spalding stacks ( which should just emit lots products of combustion ). Interesting stuff.

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