Experts identify flaws in Aurora’s fracking application on earthquake risk

190906 Altcar Moss access

Current access to proposed fracking site, Altcar Moss, September 2019. Photo: DrillOrDrop

The assessment of earthquake risk from fracking at a proposed shale gas site in Lancashire is superficial, outdated and not justified, experts have concluded.

Aurora Energy Resources Ltd was required to produce information on seismic events caused by fracking as part of its planning application for Altcar Moss. The company is seeking permission to drill, frack and test vertical and horizontal wells at the site near Formby.

A review of the application for Lancashire County Council (LCC) said it relied on some data that was nine years old.

The application did not take account of newer findings from Cuadrilla’s shale gas site at Preston New Road, where fracking in 2018 and 2019 caused several hundred earth tremors, the review said. These tremors included the UK’s largest fracking-induced seismic event, measuring 2.9ML, which reportedly damaged some homes.

The review authors, from the consultancy Jacobs, “strongly recommended” that Aurora update its application to take account of new seismicity information from Preston New Road.

They said:

“the level of detail we would expect to see has not been realised.

“The topics covered are generally considered at a superficial level and with little or no specific information regarding quantities or details of proposed further work leading to the potential for misunderstanding later when LCC’s expectation of future works are not met.

“In addition, Aurora draw conclusions in the report that are not justified based on the level of reporting presented in the application. The report is largely qualitative rather than quantitative.”

They also found flaws with the application‘s conclusions on the impact of the application on groundwater. They questioned the information provided by Aurora on fugitive emissions, impact on protected wildlife sites and night-time noise.

“Outdated seismic information”

190823 bubble chart Refracktion

Relative size of seismic events induced by fracking at Cuadrilla’s shale gas site at Preston New Road in August 2019. Chart: Refracktion

Aurora said in its application that fracking at Altcar Moss could induce seismicity but it said any negative impacts had been assessed as “negligible to slight”.

Jacobs said Aurora’s application information on geology and induced seismicity was based largely on Cuadrilla’s planning application to frack at Preston New Road, submitted in 2014. This, in turn, used material from an investigation into earth tremors caused by fracking at Cuadrilla’s Preese Hall site in 2011.

The review authors said additional data was now available which “call into question some of the assumptions and assessments” in Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road application.

They said Aurora had access to some publicly-available data from the 2018 Preston New Road fracks but did not use it in the application.

“Owing to its strong reliance on the justification presented by the Cuadrilla (2014) application, we strongly recommend that Aurora review and update their own application to take into account any relevant data from the 2018 and 2019 induced seismic events.”

Data from Cuadrilla’s 2019 frack is due to be released soon and this should also be used to develop new models on seismicity, Jacobs recommended.

It also said Aurora should have “formally engaged” on the issue with the public and organisations including West Lancashire Borough Council, the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Oil & Gas Authority, CPRE, Natural England and the Environment Agency.

Fugitive emissions

Aurora said there would be negligible effects from fugitive emissions, such as methane and volatile organic compounds.

But the Jacobs review said:

“this conclusion is not considered to be appropriate without further details and justification.”

The review added:

“The assessment or proposals to control and monitor for fugitive emissions is considered to be inadequate in its coverage.”

The issue was limited to a statement that the pipework would be pressure tested and unlikely to deteriorate over the period of the operation, the review said:

“There were no details provided of the potential fugitive emission or odour sources or specific controls in place to prevent or reduce emissions.”

“Poor groundwater assessment”

Altcar Moss planning application Aurora Resources 3

Location of wellsite and access track (in red). Source: planning application

Jacobs described Aurora’s information and conclusion on groundwater as “poor”.

It said “several key pieces of design information are missing”.

These included the intended direction of drilling the horizontal well, the chemicals and source of water to be used in fracking and a draft hydraulic fracturing plan.

All this information should have been submitted with the application, the review said.

The authors said: “Without this information, it’s unclear as to how the outcome of the technical assessment can conclude that there would be no significant adverse impacts to groundwater receptors as a result of the proposed development, when the proposed development itself has not been assessed in its totality.”

The review authors said data on groundwater was restricted to superficial deposits monitored for just two weeks. They added:

“the conceptual hydrogeological model presented in the ES [environmental statement] is not considered to be full or robust.

“the risk assessment undertaken is not, in our professional opinion, considered to be appropriate for the type of development proposed.”

The authors criticised the application for not addressing concerns raised by consultees. There was also not enough information to review how Aurora had decided what effects there would be on groundwater, they said.

“Given the concerns raised, it is not considered possible to rule out the possibility of potentially significant adverse impacts occurring to groundwater receptors without further substantiating the assessment and providing additional details and/or additional mitigation measures.”

“Discrepancies in impact on wildlife areas”

The Jacobs review said the data used by Aurora in air quality models was appropriate and consistent. It said the air quality assessment was in line with good practice.

But it said the application was “found to be inadequate” in the way it assessed how pollutants from the site would affect important nearby wildlife sites.

There are three European designated sites within 6.2km of Altcar Moss: the Ribble and Alt Estuaries and Liverpool Bay Special Protection Areas and the Sefton Coast Special Area of Conservation.

Aurora concluded in its application that the site would have no “significant effect” on these areas.

But the review authors concluded:

“a number of potential discrepancies have been identified which decreases the robustness of the conclusion made by the applicant that effects would be not significant.”

The authors said these discrepancies may not affect the outcome of the assessment. But they said:

“the conclusion of no significant effect is not considered to be appropriate at this stage for the ecological receptors.”

Noise levels questioned

Altcar Moss planning application Aurora Resources 5

Photomontage of the proposed rig from Great Altcar Village Hall. Source: planning application

The Jacobs review said the noise impact assessment used appropriate guidance. But the authors criticised the application in concluding there would be no “adverse impacts” from noise.

They said Aurora had considered only absolute noise levels and had not taken into account the effects of the change in noise levels:

“It is not considered that the planning authority is able to conclude that the proposed development would not be likely to give rise to significance noise impacts.”

Aurora had not specified which equipment would be used so it could not be certain that the predicted noise levels were achievable, the review said.

The company had also not taken into account of the specific circumstances of the area when proposing a maximum night-time noise level of 42 dbLAeq.

Jacobs said there was no reason why night-time noise should exceed guideline limits of 38 dB LAeq.

16 replies »

  1. I can assure you that Cuadrilla through their mendacious spokesman Francis Gerard Egan didn’t speak the truth when he claimed fracking the Cuadrilla fracking site at Preston New Road, Little Westby would not cause earthquakes, never mind property damaging earthquakes.
    I can assure you also that Cuadrilla’s spokesman addressing the Blackpool planning enquiry into their application to frack PNR did not tell the truth when he declared the location of the fracking pad to have no flooding history and no prospect of flooding.
    I can also assure you that the wondrous Traffic Light System of monitoring seismicity from onshore fracking does not prevent in any way property damaging earthquakes occurring.
    You are welcome to visit my Hydrofrac Earthquake damaged home any time by prior arrangement.
    Contact me via Drill or Drop.

    • Peter K R

      I suspect that any new information that turns up ( sufficient to overturn the moratorium ) would result in a TLS that is different to the old one.

      • Hewes62.

        A system that only reacts when earthquake limits have been greatly exceeded like the prevailing TLS is pointless.

        A system that prewarns would be OK but that was present before damage was inflicted, it is called public awareness and was totally ignored by those in Authority.

        • Peter – very interesting how damage was only caused to properties owned by anti-frackers – so we know about P waves, S waves and now we have AF waves – you should get a Nobel prize for their recognition.

          • Good point Simon Maynard.

            Flawed though because there has been no disclosure by Cuadrilla, the OGA, the BGS,Lancashiree County Council, Fylde Borough Council, the UK Government or even the Blackpool Gazette of exactly how many homes were damaged by the August Bank Holiday Monday Hydrofrac Earthquakes and to what extent!

            I know mine was and one of my neighbours and two of my colleagues were.

            It would appear that most of the above organisations don’t want the true extent of the damage to become public knowledge!

            It’s about time some independent researcher took this anti-social and totally undemocratic situation in hand and discovered the truth!

            • I thought that is what insurance assessors did Peter.

              Perhaps they will find, as in many claims, there are two truths and once they have sorted out which truth is valid then numbers and extent can be identified? Maybe it will take some extra time as there have been previous issues documented regarding PNR antis making claims that were not justified.

        • Peter KR

          The system required the operators react at limits that do not cause damage. However, the risk reduction measures built into the system did not work to keep the resulting activity within limits laid out in the supporting documentation.

          The OGA then reacted and suspended fracking ( which is a risk reduction measure that is working well.)

          So it seems that the TLS was not suitable and sufficient or the task on hand. Be that because it was not as comprehensive as laid out by those who designed it through to the Geo Sierra opinion that Cuadrilla were not so.much fracking as opening up fault slickenside surfaces ( all aired here on DoD passim ).

          We shall no doubt find out in due course whether the Fylde shale will be fracked again, but I doubt that it will.

          • Hewes62.

            The OGA were forced into suspending fracking at PNR and once the aftershocks stopped so did the Hydrofrac Earthquakes!

            Once but not until the fracking industry in all it’s formats is permanently closed down there will be no more Hydrofrac Earthquakes and no more related property damage. It’s that simple.

            • mmmm… Shut down an industry and permanently close it down, its convenient that! Nimbyism at its finest! We can however ask Norway, Qatar and Russia to take the extra brunt and increase in their emissions over the next few decades, while we turn away energy need, investment and sustainability by the selfish! We will be surpassing a 70 million population by the end of the decade, we will just ask Blackpool and the Fylde to be covered in turbines, nuclear power stations and more houses for your enjoyment!

  2. I think that Jacobs are correct in that Aurora need to incorporate whatever turns up in relation to the Preston no2 well in their application. A reading of DoD comments passim would lead them in the right direction.

    However, I see no evidence that the company is an expert in fracking induced seismic issues, or specifically fracking in the Fylde.


    Plus, any company that professes to be able to ‘re invent tomorrow’ should be treated with caution, as tomorrow has yet to happen. You cannot ‘re invent’ something that has yet to be invented ( unless you are a staunch believer in astrology ).

    So, maybe it is Jacobs, the company hired by LCC to review the Aurora submission, who conclude that there are flaws in the earthquake risk assessment rather than experts ( as there seems to be no evidence that they are ).


  3. What experience has Jacobs in detailing a review of Aurora application? Understandable there needs to be an update on previous related stimulation on their application.

    But similar to hewes62: I see no evidence that Jacobs is an expert in fracking induced seismic issues, or specifically fracking in the UK! Maybe we need a company related to mining the subsurface…. with a little more knowledge!

    • What experience has Aurora in fracking shale deposits? What previous experience has Cuadrilla had in fracking shale deposits in other parts of the world?

      Long list please.

      • jp: it’s in the experience of the contracted party to carry out the work, ever had a job with challenges?

        Cuadrilla and Aurora are experienced in drilling and in the rights to prospect their acreage, the same as the rights of the protesters have, for ‘peaceful’ protest!

      • Ermm, how is experience gained then jp??

        Perhaps a contractor with experience elsewhere is then brought in to utilise that experience and expand upon it. Seems to be pretty standard operating method-otherwise how did UK end up with all these wind turbines?.

  4. Is it not possible to move on, and leave behind this outdated, dirty, polluting, industry, with a company which has proven to be wholly unreliable, and incompetent! Tired of the repeated empty reassurances, they just want to make money! If the little people suffer, tough!

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