Residents “astounded” by decision which could lead to methane and benzene venting at fracking site

PNR 191022 Maxine Gill

Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road shale gas site near Blackpool, 22 October 2019. Photo: Maxine Gill

Cuadrilla has been given permission to use a technique at its Lancashire fracking site which could see the release of methane and other gases into the atmosphere.

The Environment Agency confirmed today that it had allowed the fifth change to the company’s environmental permit for the Preston New Road shale gas site.

The variation will allow the use of nitrogen lifting after fracking.

This technique brings liquids, such as fracking and formation fluids, to the surface of a well. But it can also stop methane and other gas being burned in a flare, which means they are vented instead.

Residents living near the site say they are “astounded” by the decision.

Until now, Cuadrilla’s permit has prevented the company from venting unburnt gases except for in an emergency. In May 2019, we reported that the company was found to have breached the permit by venting an estimated 2.7-6.8 tonnes of methane during nitrogen lifting.

Two months later, it applied to change the permit to use nitrogen lifting. It said the technique was needed to remove liquids in the well that prevented gas flowing to the surface during flow tests.

Today, the Environment Agency (EA) accepted that methane and other gases could now be released unburnt:

“The use of nitrogen, which is an inert gas, may result in the release of uncombusted formation natural gas (which is principally methane), known as venting.”

Opponents of the use of nitrogen lifting are concerned about the climate-damaging effect of releasing methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and the health impacts of emissions of other gases, such as benzene, a carcinogen.

A spokeswoman for the Preston New Road Action Group, a local campaign organisation, said today:

“As close residents of the PNR site we find it astounding that the EA have granted Cuadrilla permission to use nitrogen lift.

“They will now be able to cold vent climate-affecting methane and gases such as benzene, that are harmful to human health, into the air that we are breathing.

“Nitrogen Lift is a process usually used at the end of life of a well to extract the last bits of gas, yet Cuadrilla are going to be using it throughout the flow testing process.”

The EA said in a newsletter, also released today, that the level of vented methane would have “minimal environmental impact” and did not “represent a risk of harm to people”. It said there had been a rigorous technical assessment and modelling and there were controls on how long gases could be vented. Preston New Road Community Update 11-24 October 2019

Cuadrilla said on its website:

“Cuadrilla has undertaken a detailed Best Available Techniques (BAT) assessment to demonstrate that this technique is environmentally sound. A detailed air quality modelling and assessment exercise has concluded that no unacceptable impacts are predicted.  In granting the permit variation today, the Environment Agency has agreed with our assessments and our proposed approach.”

The decision appears to be at odds with the findings of a study for the Environment Agency, also published this week. This concluded that emissions from flares, including those on oil and gas sites, could be underestimated.


Cuadrilla applied for the permit change a month before it began fracking the second well at Preston New Road, now suspended after a series of earth tremors.

There were 300 responses to a public consultation on the variation. The Environment Agency said in its decision document released this afternoon that nitrogen lifting and the existing flares at the site were considered to be the best available techniques. It described nitrogen lifting as “a safe and commonly practised technique in the oil and gas industry”.

The EA said benzene was the main likely air pollutant in venting at Preston New Road. Air quality modelling by Cuadrilla showed that emissions of benzene would be “well below the short-term environmental standard”, the EA said. Benzene venting would not cause significant pollution if carried out for no more than 30 days, the maximum allowed under the permit change, the EA added.

It said Cuadrilla would be required to analyse the gas going into the flare for the presence of benzene and to report on these emissions every 10 days, instead of the current requirement of every 28 days.

On concerns about climate change, the EA said:

“We are satisfied that the measures which are in place represent best available techniques which will ensure that no significant pollution will occur as a result of the use nitrogen lifting.”

On the recent tremors, the EA said:

“We are satisfied that the changes in this variation do not increase the potential for tremors.”

According to the decision document, Cuadrilla had considered alternatives to nitrogen lifting, such as swabbing, downhole pump, rod pumping and other gas lifting techniques, but had rejected them.

The EA said the company had proposed to use propane as a support fuel in its flare to reduce the amount of vented other gases:

“Where appropriate, propane will be used to increase the proportion of combustible gas (natural gas from the formation and propane support fuel) and bring forward the point where the gas mixture will ignite in the flare rather than being potentially vented to atmosphere.”

The EA It said the company would also be required to have a continuous video feed of the two flares are the site when they are in operation and keep a register of days where cold venting has been varied out.

The EA said Cuadrilla would also be required to monitor gas concentrations in liquids being directed to the flare.

Once methane reached 20% volume for volume (v/v), the company would use propane to do a supported ignition test, the EA said. If the flare did not ignite after five minutes, Cuadrilla would stop adding propane to prevent its unburnt release. Monitoring would continue and the supported ignition tests would be repeated at each 5% v/v increment until ignition was successful. This was likely to happen at methane concentrations of 30%-50%, the EA said.

  • People outside the Preston New Road site had reported black smoke and visible flames above the flare this month. In today’s newsletter, the EA said the smoke followed the addition of propane. It said it had carried out an audit, the results of which would be published online. The newsletter also said pools of water around the site at the end of September were surface water draining from the fields, not from the site.


Decision document on permit variation

DrillOrDrop page on Preston New Road with key facts and timeline

Environment Agency Preston New Road web page



28 replies »

  1. Seriously, releasing Benzene into the air that residents of the Fylde breathe isn’t considered by the Gold Standard Monitors to be possibly dangerous to human health?

    What’s wrong with these people?

    Do your own research about how much Benzene is considered safe to inhale.

    The only safe option is to seal both wells and leave the shale gases in the ground where they belong!

    I really don’t know about the fracking fluids though, they need removing before they leak into our watercourses as all wells fail eventually, some earlier than others.

  2. If we have to go down, we’ll take you all with us. Similarities here with a jumped up demagogue’s approach to Brexit.

  3. Regulations which permit a Nitrogen Lift as a BAT, but fail to insist on BAT for capturing unburnt emissions (REC – reduced emissions completion) are not gold standard regulations. The shale gas company should have been forced to to spend $500,000 on hiring the REC equipment to prevent venting unburnt GHG and other toxic gases, and could have captured all the flowback gases.
    But controversially, they don’t mind doling that sort of money out in bribes to communities.

    [Typo corrected at poster’s request]

    • Yes, they do Richard. My parents used to have checks carried out regularly and routinely upon their house in N. Devon and received a nice all clear summary. As did their neighbours.

      But strangely, they did not have to do the same for the Kraken. Very remiss of the authorities.

    • Richard Parker

      Public Heath England do .. see page 23 and on.

      Click to access b3acae5ecde09851bc175e838e6319b17622.pdf

      I am interested in how Radon from fracking may affect you and unfortunately missed a recent talk in Bawtry about it.

      The key issues seem to be

      1. Radon in your home near to wells ( as per findings in the US )
      2. Radon in your gas supply as it may not have travelled far to get to you


      Radon is often described ( or intoned ) as the second largest cause of lung cancer in the UK, after smoking.

      If I read the numbers below then you are 90% more likes to die of lung cancer from smoking and radon exposure, than if you do not smoke.

      As we are all exposed to radon, then not smoking is the key risk reduction measure although you are more at risk in Cornwall than in the fylde or Misson, say.

      • Thanks, interesting. ‘Gaps in knowledge’, cold venting & nitrogen lifting of the flowback suggest radon exposure could be of significance to the poor souls close to the site. Could be a new PNR ‘unexpected’ much like the seismicity. Reassuring that for only for 30 days at a time.

  4. LTG,L

    I doubt that a green completion would work on the well, given the output of the last well ( not much ) and the small amount to fracking ( if any according to some ).

    In addition, it would not overcome the issues noted in the report above which relate to the venting of unburnt hydrocarbons when trying to get the flare to light. You would not be allowed to pop out of spec gas into the grid ( being high in nitrogen ).

    If all had gone well for Cuadrilla, with all fracks completed and the gas eager to get out of the ground, a green completion to the grid would have been more likely for their second and subsequent wells as the pressure and flow would be better known I suspect.

    However, putting gas into the UK grid, off the back of a truck, for a barely fracked well which struggles to flow and requiring some experimental compressor does not sound like BAT.

    Click to access reduced_emissions_completions.pdf

    See page 4, section titled ‘Decision Process’, second paragraph, for a view on compression, though if this has been fixed a link to that would be good.

  5. The country is going to the dogs, can’t wait for an election. One hopes there’s no fraud taking place then, but not holding my breath. Trump and Johnson killing off the environment for a quick buck.

    • Paula C

      I think that you align with Boris re an election. In Shirebrook it seems that they too look forwards to one as their incumbent MP has been abstaining from the various Votes on the Brexit deal, despite the electorate voting ( overwhelmingly ) to leave. They hope no fraud will take place, but are not holding their breath, in that the Southern Elite will fraudulently arrange a second referendum and fraudulently spike the result, or get the fix in via the judges if the vote goes against the remainders ( as money speaks ).

      It all sounds a bit conspiracy theory to me. I think it’s just parliamentary democracy at work.

  6. There seems to be more heat than light currently!

    How is Boris killing off the environment for a quick buck? NO bucks being earned, as yet, not a decision Boris made. So, what point is being made?

    Oh yes, Boris is Trump, Trump is bad!

    Good job the majority are not so simplistic as some would hope.

    However, to show Paula C how Boris is really concerned about fraud, more evidence will be required to confirm identity during voting!! Funny how these antis have a habit of setting a trail that then leads to the opposite of what they propose. Reality seems to be a constant issue.

    • Martin. The proposal for voter photo ID to be required has far more to do with deterring or preventing certain people, who are more likely not to vote Tory, from voting rather than anything connected with fraud. Only 27 cases of electoral ID fraud were found at the last election. Even MPs have said this idea is a sledge hammer to crack a nut.
      As for your other comment regarding Johnson being a threat to the environment. Johnson’s pro fracking views are well documented. He even recommended fracking under London. His proposals in his “deal” to remove all EU environmental regulations also don’t bode well for the environment. The claim that it will leave us free to improve standards is a farce. There is nothing in the EU regulations to prevent that. The Tories have had the last almost 10 years to do just that they were so minded.

      • Haha, Pauline!!

        I’m not sure that antis demonstrating they are adrift from reality is good for the cause. But, interesting.

  7. I am surprised the the EA are saying black smoke is caused by addition of propane. In my experience this is much more likely to be due to an unsaturated hydrocarbon e.g. benzene.

      • Peter K R

        While noting the reply by Andrew

        The WHO give a short list of the likely causes of benzine e posture to the public.

        Click to access benzene.pdf

        The main one ( excluding smokers ) is from vehicles.

        I suspect that those persons standing along Preston Road ( on the side or in the centre ) are likely to have exposed themselves to a higher level of benzine in than day than a lifetime of venting by Cuadrilla.

        This may be a different calculation if the shale were prolific ( and seismically quiescent ) but it is not. Plus if it were then green completions would be the norm.

        Hence I think that the concern for this specific is over egged in this specific case.

    • Andrew Boothroyd

      I have experienced a fair amount of black smoke from the incomplete combustion of propane when used as a support for flaring. Given the likely concentrations of benzine in the frack gas ( I do not know what they are but say 0.3% by volume ) then trying to burn an N2 rich gas stream with propane, is it not more likely that the issue is all unburnt hydrocarbons rather than the < 0.3% by volume of the hydrocarbon gasses trying to be burned?

  8. So is cobalt, Andrew.

    That’s done for electric vehicles then.

    Of course the difference is that there are large numbers of young children being forced to labour extracting cobalt in DRC, without any effective health and safety, risking terrible illness so a few in the West can declare how “virtuous” they are. Shameful.

    • MARTIN,

      GREAT NEWS , hot off the press .

      Wind power could meet entire world’s electricity needs 18 TIMES OVER , says International Energy Agency.

      Take Jacks advice, there’s now a wind of change in society , unload your Fracking shares ASAP …….. I know it will be painfull, as you no doubt will be nursing a colossal paper loss , but Jack’s happy to have a whip round on the forum to try and offset a little of it.

      • Wrong again, Jack. But that’s not unusual!

        Colossal paper loss on Shell?????

        Take Jacks advice? Well, Jack, I tend to take advice once I have assessed someone has some awareness around what they are advising. Sorry, but you are a long way away from that. Indeed, I would suggest do the opposite of what Jack advises and you may be wiser.

        Seems your shifts have been changed, Jack! Bit too late, but interesting.

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