Initial assessments of damage caused by the UK’s largest fracking-induced earth tremor were made by staff from the Cuadrilla’s headquarters, not professional surveyors or insurance experts.
Some people have had claims dismissed after company visits, which were usually led by the external affairs manager.
The 2.9 magnitude tremor was felt by thousands of people across the Fylde at about 8.30am on August bank holiday Monday this year. Within hours, there were reports of cracks in buildings and damage to windows and doors.
One woman described how she woke up that morning to find the internal glass panel of her back door had been shattered.
An elderly couple said there were new cracks to external stone lintels and brickwork. Several families said the tremor cracked plaster or worsened existing damage. Doors and windows no longer closed properly, some people told us.
Examples of damage from one property where Cuadrilla denied liability. Photos: used with the owner’s consent
We have heard from people who said they were visited by Sam Schofield, the external affairs manager. He was accompanied by another member of staff. In one case, this person reportedly described himself as the person in charge of Cuadrilla’s social media. In another case, the second person reportedly declined to give her job title.
We were told that the Cuadrilla representatives inspected the damage and took photographs on their mobile phones.
According to the reports we have received, the staff spent between five and 30 minutes in the properties.
Some claimants said they were not told what qualifications the Cuadrilla representatives had for assessing damage. Others said the representatives admitted they were not professional building surveyors or insurance assessors.
Despite this, several claims were dismissed after these initial visits.
We have seen correspondence from Mr Schofield which said Cuadrilla did not accept liability because the damage pre-dated the tremor or would not have been caused by it.
A section from one letter said:
“I am now able to share with you the outcome of our assessment, which concluded the damage was not caused by Cuadrilla’s operations in Preston New Road, Lancashire.
“This decision is primarily based on the fact that we believe that the damage to your property pre-dates recent seismicity in the local area. The cracks pointed out did not appear to be newly formed.
“For this reason, Cuadrilla does not accept any liability for the damage. Please note that the above reason is not exhaustive and there may be other reasons why we are not responsible for the damage.”
The letter gave no indication of any appeal process but invited claimants to contact Mr Schofield for “additional clarification and/or assistance”.
One woman in this group told us:
“I am appalled at their arrogance and the attitudes of the staff.
“I am disgusted that Cuadrilla are, to my mind, obviously responsible, but yet they appear to be getting away with it.”
Another person described the process as “incompetent” and “farcical” and said he had evidence to back up his claim.
Other people have told us Cuadrilla offered them what were described as “goodwill payments” of between £250-£700. In these cases, Cuadrilla also said it did not accept liability for the damage.
One person in this group told us:
“He [Mr Schofield] made the statement ‘Yes, we accept we’ve caused an earthquake’. And I thought that was pretty good of him.
“But later on, he said that ‘because you cannot show that the damage was caused by the earthquake we don’t accept liability but we are going to offer you £500 in goodwill’.
“At that point, I invited them to leave my house, which I think was the right thing to do because they’d come there to insult us, considering we’d been telling them since 2011 they shouldn’t be doing this.”
Since this article was published, we heard from another person who was offered a payment. He told us the tremor caused internal and external damage.
Above images are from people who were offered goodwill payments. Used with the owners’ consent
“It is getting more and more worrying every day. I am now looking for cracks in my house. I’m very concerned about what will happen if Cuadrilla starts fracking again.”
He told us he had been in touch with the Blackpool MP, Gordon Marsden, and did not intend to cash the cheque.
“They said it could not be defined if the damage to my property was a direct result of fracking. However, they did say that the damage to my property was similar to other property damage they had visited within the Fylde area and they would be prepared to offer a payment as a gesture of goodwill.
“I questioned them with regards to any further damage that may be caused to my property, due to any further fracking at the Preston New Road site, unfortunately they were not forthcoming on the matter.”
Referred to insurers
We have also seen cases where Mr Schofield wrote to claimants to say:
“Based on our initial assessment we are unable to establish whether the concerns you have raised about property have been caused by Cuadrilla’s operations.”
The letter said the assessment would depend on ongoing “technical analysis” by Cuadrilla and the regulators. The company’s position was therefore “reserved”, it said, and the matter would be passed on to its insurers.
Images from homes where Cuadrilla has referred damage to its insurance. Photos used with the owners’ consent
We understand that people in these cases are waiting for visits from loss adjusters. Some have put the matter in the hands of their own insurers.
We asked Cuadrilla about the qualifications of its representatives to assess damage. We also asked about the assessment process and any appeal procedure. The company gave us this statement:
“We have been open about receiving enquiries about minor damage to local property since August 26, 2019.
“A team of people, all employed directly by Cuadrilla, have carried out initial assessments to provide direct contact with the business and take responsibility for individual enquiries.
“Based on those visits Cuadrilla has chosen to make a relatively small number of modest payments to individual householders where it was not possible to determine whether or not seismicity was the cause of very minor damage such as small cracks to plasterwork.
“We have accepted no liability for this damage but provided a repair allowance as a gesture of goodwill to our neighbours.
“In some other cases it was clear that the damage reported and shown to colleagues was neither recent nor caused by seismicity and these enquiries have been closed.
“A small number of outstanding enquiries have been passed to our insurer and will be investigated further.”
Scale of damage
The earth tremor, caused by fracking at the Preston New Road shale gas site, was felt across the Fylde region of Lancashire, including Blackpool, Kirkham, Lytham St Annes and surrounding villages. The BGS classed the intensity as 6, on the 12-point EMS intensity scale.
There is no definite information on the scale or value of damage in the Fylde.
Cuadrilla did not respond to our question about the number of claims. Local MPs did not have figures for complaints to their offices.
But the British Geological Survey’s leading seismologist, Dr Brian Baptie, revealed at a meeting London last night that the BGS had received “several hundred reports” of damage to property. Dr Baptie said the BGS had filtered out some that he said were furthest from the site.
From other sources, DrillOrDrop understands there could be almost 100 individual complaints to Cuadrilla.
One person whose claim was turned down by Cuadrilla told us:
“We are £168.00 out of pocket for the replacement of the double glazing unit in the back door, and the cracks in the plaster around the door are still needing rectifying.
“We did phone the home insurance but because of the £250 excess to pay we did not pursue it with them.”
Could other people find they can’t recover the cost of damage to their homes? Martin Curran, a local public loss assessor working for claimants, thinks that’s likely. He said:
“Cuadrilla will be looking to say damage is pre-existing, ‘it’s nothing to do with us, nothing to do with what we’ve done’.
“The loss adjuster for the householder’s insurance company is going to be looking at every possible way to get out of it.”
Mr Curran said the householder’s insurance company may argue that natural earthquakes are covered by a policy. But these tremors were caused by Cuadrilla and so were not natural and not covered.
He also said people who have accidental damage on their policy may not be covered for fracking-induced tremors. The process to resolve claims could take many months, he said.
The situation is further complicated by the Association of British Insurers, which does not accept that fracking-induced earth tremors cause damage. It told us:
“There is, at present, little evidence to show a link between fracking and seismic activity of sufficient scale that could cause damage to a well-maintained property, however, insurers will continue to monitor the potential for fracking, or similar explorations, to cause damage.
“We are not aware of any claims to date where seismic activity as a result of fracking has been mooted as a cause for damage.
“As in all locations, a reported history of subsidence (or indeed any other type of loss) in a location will be taken into account when offering and pricing insurance.”
In addition to this, anti-fracking campaigners remain uncertain about the validity of Cuadrilla’s insurance following the recent tremors caused by the company’s activities.
The regulator, the Oil & Gas Authority, in response to a Freedom of Information request, said this week:
“We routinely ensure that oil and gas companies have operational insurance and that this covers extends to damage to third parties, this was last confirmed prior to the commencement of PNR 2 Hydraulic Fracturing activity.”
“Take photos, keep records”
Mr Curran warned that earth tremor damage could be “the kiss of death” for house sales. He also said it could lead to higher future insurance premiums or the refusal of cover.
“Make sure you know who the identity of anyone who comes on to your property and who they represent. Do not be fobbed off.
“Keep asking ‘Do you accept liability for the damage to my property’. Until you hear those words, don’t give up.”
Mr Curran recommended people in the Fylde have their properties surveyed, take photographs and keep good records.
Dr Brian Baptie, of the British Geological Survey, speaking last night, said the 2.9ML tremor was not big enough to cause structural damage. But he said:
“If we want to verify possible damage, I think it would be useful to make some kind of inventory of the property, the property type, maybe try to understand the fragility of the building a little bit more.
“If people are reporting damage, that needs to be verifiable. Just reporting it isn’t going to be enough, probably. Photographs before and afterwards would be useful.”
“MP must take action to prevent financial loss”
Opponents of fracking at Preston New Road have criticised the assessment process revealed by claimants.
“Frack Free Lancashire are very concerned that following the series of earthquakes provoked by Cuadrilla’s fracking, local residents are suffering additional stress as a result of the uncertainty surrounding compensation.
“If, as we have been told by several property owners, Cuadrilla are sending unqualified personnel out to assess damage, then that is totally unacceptable, and all the more so if valid claims are being discounted as a result.
“We call on MP for the Fylde Mark Menzies to act on behalf of local residents to ensure that they do not suffer additional stress and financial loss as a result of these earthquakes.
“Mr Menzies assured us we would be protected from them by the “gold standard” regulations that he promised that he had ensured were in place. Now that we can all see that this standard was in fact fools’ gold, he needs to step forward and look after the interests of his constituents who have been so badly let down.”
A spokesperson from Preston New Road Action Group said:
“Residents living near the site at Preston New Road have had to endure much over the last 32 months since Cuadrilla moved in.
“The latest events of living through earthquakes of which a least 6 were felt is bad enough, then discovering that your home has been damaged is just so upsetting and stressful.
“The Community Liaison Group were told that the people making the visits to view the damage were to be company representatives rather than people with the correct qualifications which seems totally inadequate.
“If these unqualified people are then refusing claims or offering only partial payment then this is quite unacceptable. Residents have suffered enough without having to be financially out of pocket.
“Francis Egan said there would be no earthquakes, how wrong he was! The application was rejected by our County Council; it is wrong that local people have suffered so much because that rejection was overturned.”
“Time for Cuadrilla to go”
Joe Corre, founder of Talk Fracking, asked who would be ultimately responsible for paying for damage caused by fracking:
“The Association of British Insurers are still of the view that somehow fracking doesn’t cause property damage, and so will that mean Insurers won’t accept responsibility?
“Will it be Cuadrilla’s public liability insurance that is supposed to pay? If that won’t pay out, will Cuadrilla cough up 100% of the cost and 100% of the time for the damage they have caused? Have they got the necessary reserves to cover all the claims themselves?
“If Cuadrilla goes bust or their Insurers refuse to pay, what then? What will a householder’s own Insurer say, if Cuadrilla’s insurance company has already rejected a claim”?
“Will this leave innocent householders in a hugely vulnerable situation of having to pay-out to fix Cuadrilla’s mess? Why should homeowners be left liable?
“People are being turned into nervous wrecks. Cuadrilla need to realise it’s time to pack up shop and go quietly.”
Updated 27/9/2019 and 30/9/2019 with more evidence about damage and payments