Fracking moratorium – the unanswered questions

190204 Misson Eric Walton 5

IGas site at Misson Springs, Nottinghamshire, 4 February 2019. Photo: Eric Walton

The energy secretary, Andrea Leadsom, confirmed the government’s U-turn on shale gas policy in a statement to parliament today.

This follows an earlier announcement that ministers were withdrawing their support for the fracking and introducing a moratorium.

Mrs Leadsom said in today’s statement there was now a presumption against issuing any further hydraulic fracturing consents, an “effective moratorium” on fracking.

The regulator, the Oil & Gas Authority, was also unlikely to approve further hydraulic fracture plans unless new evidence was presented, her statement said.

Cuadrilla responded that it would:

“continue to work constructively with the OGA to provide further detailed data to address concerns so that the moratorium can be lifted.”

IGas and Egdon Resources said they were committed to working closely with the regulators to demonstrate they could operate safely and in an environmentally-responsible way.

But nearly 72 hours after the news was first released, there was not much more detail about which processes the moratorium applied to and how it would work.

pnr 190805 Ros Wills 2

Gooseneck at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road shale gas site, 5 August 2019. Photo: Ros Wills

What we don’t know

How long?

The written ministerial statement said the moratorium would be maintained:

“until compelling new evidence [undefined] is provided which addresses the concerns about the prediction and management of induced seismicity.”

Cuadrilla said it would provide data from fracking the second well at its Preston New Road site in August 2019 to address the government’s concerns.

But opponents of Cuadrilla’s operation think this information may not reassure the regulator.

The UK’s strongest fracking-induced earth tremor, measuring 2.9ML, induced by fracking at Preston New Road, happened three days after the last injection. Cuadrilla’s hydraulic fracturing plan predicted the maximum strength tremors could be close to that, at 3.1ML, but this was considered to be “a very low likelihood”.

What fracking?

The written statement did not specify what operation the moratorium applied to.

Does it cover any fracking for shale gas? Is it associated hydraulic fracturing, defined by the volume of fluid in the 2015 Infrastructure Act (1,000m3 per stage or 10,000m3 in total)? Or is it any operations that need a hydraulic fracture plan?

DrillOrDrop asked BEIS how the moratorium would affect operations, such as proppant squeeze, a form of fracking with acid. Plans for this process, by Egdon Resources at Wressle near Scunthorpe, require a hydraulic fracture plan. But the volume of fluid is well below the associated hydraulic fracturing definition. We did not receive a response.

We also asked whether during the moratorium Cuadrilla could go back to frack at Preston New Road using volumes of fluid below those set out in the Infrastructure Act. We received no response.

Future fracking?

The written statement said the energy secretary would consider future applications for hydraulic fracturing consent “on their own merit, in accordance with the law”. But it advised the shale gas industry to take the government’s position into account “when considering new developments”.

So is it worth companies submitting plans to frack? And does it make any difference if the sites have already been developed?

IGas has drilled a shale gas well at Springs Road, Misson, in north Nottinghamshire. An announcement had been expected on whether the company would apply to frack this well. There doesn’t seem to be anything in the statement to guide IGas on whether any application would be successful.

There was also no detail on what happens to plans already in the system. Aurora Energy Resources has an application to drill and frack two wells at Great Altcar, near Formby in Lancashire. Does this count as a “new development”.

If IGas and Aurora can’t progress their projects, will the government compensate them? There was no information in the statement and no response to our question.

And what about Ineos, which has two planning permissions for shale gas exploration (but not fracking) and a commitment to frack 11 horizontal wells by July 2021. Will it be compensated for the costs of applying for planning permission and bidding for the licences? The statement did not address this.

Where can we find out more?

We asked BEIS what guidance it would be issuing to local authorities, companies and communities about the moratorium. The department referred us to Mrs Leadsom’s statement.

10 replies »

  1. Slippery Tories as mendacious as ever!
    All will become clear should they remain in power after the upcoming general election.

  2. This is clearly a cynical pre-election ploy by the Tories to make people think that fracking is dead. It isn’t dead till there is a permanent ban in place, which included coal bed methane and acid fracking, and pedl licences are taken back. People voting in the election who care about fracking should choose one of the other parties who have firm commitments to banning fracking – not the Tories, whose leader can’t be trusted to tell the truth about the time of day, let alone fracking.

  3. Only Boo-ris Johnson could bumble his way around this while AJ Lucas investors lost a chunk of their investment . Never trust a Tory

  4. We go into some detail about these regulatory issues in our briefing. A Hydraulic Fracturing Consent is given by the BEIS secretary of state. It is required for operations that meet the “associated hydraulic fracturing” definition in the IA2015. However, since 29 Nov 2017 ministerial direction to the OGA, all operations that meet the definition of “relevant hydraulic fracturing” should also be referred to the secretary of state for consent. The difference in the definitions is a volume of 1,000m3 used at every stage vs any stage, respectively, or a total volume of 10,000m3.

    Hydraulic Fracturing Plan is required by the OGA, but it is not clear for which operations. The OGA guidance states that an HFP will always be required for hydraulic fracturing operations (any operation above fracture gradient), but in evidence given to Housing,
    Communities and Local Government (HCLGC), in 2018, the OGA seems to contradict this by saying that they’d not always require an HFP for operations that are below the IA2015 volume thresholds.

    The moratorium on 2nd Nov specifically refers to a presumption against issuing Hydraulic Fracturing Consents and we interpret this as that it relates only to operations that meet either the “associated” or “relevant” hydraulic fracturing definition.

    Our briefing is available here: https://bit.ly/2JReqjT and we are inviting signatures (by campaign groups, environmental groups, elected representatives in the affected communities, academics, NGOs and other supportive individuals and groups) to our open letter to the government calling for a ban of all forms of fracking in England: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSf5uIUP4GJN7LMcZbiMzFWoeIeLgHweIouq4Zd4LM9ytLW-bg/viewform

  5. If fracturing of rock is achieved with low volume pressured water it is not called hydraulic fracturing – so what the hell is it called?

    • The antifracking movement should be able to help with that one, as they created the confusion in the first place by claiming previous hydraulic fracturing at places like Elswick and Kirby Misperton was not ‘fracking’

    • …However, Mrs Leadsom’s statement to parliament says “the OGA are therefore unlikely to approve future Hydraulic Fracture Plans unless new evidence is presented”, which would suggest that the moratorium covers a wider definition of fracking (any operation above fracture gradient). Or perhaps, the difference between when a Hydraulic Fracturing Consent is required vs when a Hydraulic Fracture Plan is required according to existing legislation and regulations is not accounted for in the statement.

    • Slight correction to the above statement: … However, Mrs Leadsom’s statement to parliament on Nov 4 says “the OGA are therefore unlikely to approve future Hydraulic Fracture Plans unless new evidence is presented”, which would suggest that the moratorium potentially covers a wider spectrum of fracking operations, not just “associated” or “relevant” hydraulic fracturing. Given that the reason for imposing of the moratorium is because “it is not possible with current technology to accurately predict the probability of tremors associated with fracking” and that seismicity is regulated though the Traffic Light System (which is part of a Hydraulic Fracturing Plan) this would seem appropriate.

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