Regulation

Planners back five more years at Cuadrilla’s suspended gas site

Elswick well area

The well area at Elswick. Photo: Cuadrilla Resources

Cuadrilla should be allowed to keep its long-standing Elswick gas production site, Lancashire planners said today, even though there’s been no extraction for more than seven years.

The company is seeking planning permission to continue operations at Elswick for another five years, beyond the expiry date of the current production licence.

A report by planning officers recommended approval of the application, despite objections from local parish councils and residents.

The scheme is due to be decided at a virtual meeting of Lancashire’s development control committee next week.

The planners’ report said the proposal would allow remaining gas reserves to be recovered, adding:

“[This] would not compromise the ability to meet climate change objectives and would align with Government policy for a range of energy generation methods as the UK moves towards a low carbon future.”

The report conceded there would be “some traffic impacts” but most of these would happen during plugging, abandonment and restoration.

It concluded the development would comply with national and local planning policy if it was subject to suitable conditions. The recommended conditions include a ban on stimulation of the well, including the injection of liquids or proppants into the reservoir.

30+ year history

Elswick well area produced water and pipework Cuadrilla Resources

Well area and produced water tank at Elswick. Photo: Cuadrilla Resources planning application

The planning history of the Elswick site dates back more than 30 years to 1989 when permission was first granted for a temporary well site.

The target formation was Collyhurst sandstone, about 1,000m below ground level. This is much shallower than the Bowland shale, which Cuadrilla fracked at Preston New Road.

The gas did not flow at commercial rates and consent for well stimulation and testing was granted in 1992. The then operator carried out a gelled water CO2 stimulation to improve flow rates. This was successful, the planners said, and more permissions followed in 1994, 1998 and 2008.

The current permission allowed gas extraction to continue until 23 February 2019 and required the site to be restored one year after that.

The planners said Cuadrilla believes the reservoir still contained “viable quantities of gas”. If approved, the latest application would take consent for production to 31 July 2025 and restoration by a year later.

The most recent data from the Oil & Gas Authority (OGA) shows that Elswick last produced gas in April 2013.

The OGA production licence for Elswick, EXL269, runs out on 31 December 2023. This is 18 months before the end of the proposed extension of planning permission for production.

According to the report, Cuadrilla is seeking to do maintenance work on the Elswick well and replace an existing unit which generates electricity from gas produced at the site. A portabin and container would be refurbished and retained.

If the application were approved, the company would also carry out the following work:

  • Wireline assessment to check the integrity of the well, pressures, fluid gradients and to take samples – 5 months
  • Installation and commissioning of new generating set and refurbishment of electricity connection to the local distribution network – 6 months
  • Gas production and electricity generation – 3.6 years
  • Well decommissioning and site restoration – 3 months

Comments on the application

Elswick

Cuadrilla’s Elswick site in Lancashire. Photo: Cuadrilla Resources

The planners said there were no objections from Fylde Borough Council or the Environment Agency. No observations were received from the council’s highways department.

But local parish councils did object. The council representing the villages of Treales, Roseacre and Wharles argued that the current application, if approved, would keep the temporary site for 31 years, beyond its current oil and gas licence.

The parish council said Cuadrilla had breached the existing permission because the site had not been restored by the 23 February 2020 deadline. It said the remaining gas reserves were so small and their contribution was outweighed by disbenefits of carbon emissions and local impacts on the environment.

The proposal also breached local planning policy, the parish council said, because there would be unacceptable impacts on highway safety.

Cuadrilla’s application and appeal on fracking at Roseacre Wood nearby were both refused on highway safety grounds. Those decisions ruled that the highway impacts of the proposed lorry route – also to be used by vehicles travelling to Elswick – were unacceptable.

Elswick Parish Council strongly objected because of threats to highway safety. There were several blind corners and two children’s play areas on the lorry route, the council said. Turning off the A585 onto Thistleton Road could not be carried out safely, it said.

A public consultation received 72 objections, mostly from people or groups living in Elswick and on Roseacre Road.

Roseacre Awareness Group, which campaigned against Cuadrilla’s Roseacre fracking proposals, said the proposed work could have been carried out since 2013 when the site was dormant. It is not clear why the extension is needed now, the group said. It also said Cuadrilla had a poor track record of complying with traffic management schemes.

As well as highway safety concerns, people also objected for the following reasons:

  • Permitting the development would set a dangerous precedent
  • The proposed work could have been carried out previously so there is no need for the time extension
  • The site is not connected to the gas grid so makes little or no contribution towards maximising security of gas supply
  • Health and safety of people should come before fossil fuel extraction
  • Groundwater, air and light pollution and the treat of unvented methane gas emissions
  • Seismicity
  • Gas extraction proposals in the area have devalued property and harmed residents’ health
  • Annoyance and disturbance to nearby residents
  • Additional lorries would result in further damage to Roseacre Road, already in bad condition, as well as to verges and pavements

Planners’ reasons for recommendation to approve

Elswick proposed site plan

Proposed Elswick site plan. Source: Cuadrilla Resources

Highways: The planners said there would no new highways impacts because lorry movements during well abandonment and site restoration would take place even if the application were refused. Cuadrilla did not think mitigation measures were necessary, the planners said. Additional lorry movements during wireline assessment and installation of new equipment would not have unacceptable safety implications because the numbers would be relatively low, they added. The report said any new permission should include a condition requiring a traffic management plan for abandonment and site restoration.

Energy policy and climate change: The planners said:

“The Government is undertaking activities in many areas to enhance energy security whilst at the same time encouraging the decarbonisation of energy production.

“In this context, the proposal is consistent with national energy policy and given the short lifespan of the development, would not compromise the ability to meet the climate change objectives set out in international agreements or UK legislation.”

Licence: The planners said Cuadrilla could ask the OGA for an extension to the production licence beyond December 2023 if the Elswick well was still producing gas.

Local environment: The planners said the Elswick site was well-screened and site infrastructure was not prominent from nearby houses. The visual impacts were acceptable, they said.

Noise: The existing site had been operational for over 20 years and there did not appear to have been any recorded complaints, the planners said. Fylde borough council’s environmental health officer had not objected to the proposed new generator.

Seismicity: The planners said there was no record of gas extraction from the Collyhurst sandstone inducing seismic activity. Cuadrilla did not propose to stimulate the well.

Conditions

As well as the traffic management plan, the report proposed 11 other conditions, including working hours, noise limits, a ban on well stimulation and agreement of a restoration and after care scheme.

Decision meeting

The meeting is on Wednesday 15 July 2020 at 10.30am. It is due to be webcast. DrillOrDrop will report on the meeting. Link to agenda

25 replies »

  1. What a joke Cantdrilla are , they couldn’t find gas if they ate a bag full of Brussel sprouts , just an excuse to pay Fanny Egan for the next few years

    • Planning requires that mineral developments should be restored at the earliest opportunity. The current proposals could have been applied for years ago. A good material planning reason for rejection by the decision makers.

  2. With Roseacre refused the Elswick site could be needed in the NW-SE orientation of the predicted 50 well scenario. Although fracking in the Fylde is all but dead losing Elswick may be the straw that breaks the AJ Lucas back.

    • Lancs County Council refused extra time at the Becconsall site. As Cuadrilla have not given justifiable reasons why they have not applied for an extension years ago the following policies could be presented for reasons for rejection by the decision makers,

      The postponement of the completion of site restoration until 31st October 2018 would result in the unnecessary retention of an industrial site in the countryside thereby having unacceptable impacts on landscape and the openness of the Green Belt contrary to Policy GN3 of the West Lancashire Borough Local Plan and paragraphs 79 – 90 of the National Planning Policy Framework. The delay in completing the restoration of the site would prevent best and most versatile land being restored to agricultural use at the earliest opportunity contrary to
      Policy EC2 of the West Lancashire Borough Local Plan.

      Cuadrilla did not contest the decision.

  3. During the ten years or so of Cuadrilla’s ownership of the Elswick site has:

    Cuadrilla ever produced gas from Elswick to enter the National Grid? If so what quantities and when?

    Made any financial gains from the Elswick well therefore paid any taxes to the UK Government in this time? If so when and how much?

    As far as I know Elswick site has been used only for propaganda purposes to claim ‘fracking’ has been carried out unknowingly and safely on mainland UK since decades ago?

    So why this urgent need for an extension to a process which isn’t processing?

    [Typo corrected at poster’s request]

  4. Elswick is not a fracking site, but we are also concerned that the decommissioning & restoration to pasture of the Preston New Road, Little Plumpton fracking site is expedited, for the health & safety of close residents, who are understandably anxious about leaking gas-wells and gas-venting etc:

    https://www.newscientist.com/article/2241347-fracking-wells-in-the-us-are-leaking-loads-of-planet-warming-methane/#:~:text=Fracking%20wells%20in%20the%20US%20are%20leaking%20loads%20of%20planet%2Dwarming%20methane,-Environment%2022%20April&text=Methane%2C%20also%20known%20as%20natural,that%20gas%20into%20the%20atmosphere

    • Quite right Frank but the well was ‘stimulated ‘ when first drilled in 1993 to force gas to flow.

      This is what Cuadrilla referred to in their early propaganda! Obviously stretching the truth but that’s how their industry rolls!

    • Dr Frank, the link you posted reports that the high “leakage” rates were due to excessive burning and cold venting of methane to atmosphere, at one oil basin in the US.

      The gas production in this particular oil basin (Permian) exceeds pipeline capacity and permits have historically been granted (nearly 6,000 during 2019) to allow companies to flare or vent natural gas.

      The data for “leakage” is much lower at the other eleven major oil basins in the US.

      I have also noticed a tendency for some contributing to this site, to consider the ‘stimulation’ above the formation fracture gradient that was carried out in the past at sites such as Elswick, Kirby Misperton etc. to have been just ‘stimulation’ and not ‘fracking’, yet consider future planned ‘stimulation’ using acid below the formation fracture gradient to be ‘fracking’.

      I find it most confusing, or is that their plan? Perhaps someone may enlighten me.

      • Many Thanks John Harrison,
        Yes indeed, as I said ”close residents, who are understandably anxious about leaking gas-wells and gas-venting etc”
        Apart from fugitive emissions, gas leaks from the well and during gas well development, huge quantities of gas may be vented to the atmosphere. For example, during well completion, after a well is fracked, the well-bore and surrounding formation may be cleaned out and gases may be allowed to escape into the atmosphere, or they are burned off (flared). It has been calculated that a single well in Wyoming would emit 115 tons of VOCs, and 4 tons of hazardous air pollutants such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene and hexanes.
        Those of us who have contributed to the peer-reviewed scientific literature regarding the toxicity of aromatic hydrocarbons: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC502287/ would never underestimate the potential dreadful impact on human health of VOCs. In particular, benzene is known to induce Myelodysplasia, Aplastic Anaemia (bone marrow failure) and Acute Myeloid Leukaemia in humans.

        • Dr Frank, there is only one gas well at Elswick that is currently shut in, compared to the 25,605 operational wells in Wyoming, that produced 101.2 million barrels of oil, 1.6 billion Mcf of Natural gas and 75 billion Mcf of coal bed Methane last year.

          Cold venting is not normally allowed in the UK except during Nitrogen lift operations when the gas mixture is unable to support combustion.

          Gas dispersal modelling is carried out, emission limits and monitoring regimes are set before permission for flaring is granted.

          Benzene levels in dry gas wells (such as the one at Elswick) are extremely minute.

          Even though Benzene is one of the most widely used chemicals, the biggest source of exposure to humans comes from smoking and passive smoking.

          • Thanks John Harrison,
            But we are already aware that cold-venting has been officially reported, on at least one occasion, at the Cuadrilla Preston New Rd site.
            https://drillordrop.com/2019/05/21/cuadrilla-breached-permit-over-venting-unburned-methane-at-lancashire-frack-site/

            Yes, of course, I am well aware of the sources of benzene including cigarette & passive smoking. Indeed I have already made an earlier criticism (4 July) in Drill or Drop ‘Replies’ of the McKenzie et al study, of childhood leukaemia & fracking on these specific grounds:

            ” Dr Frank Rugman
            July 4, 2020 at 2:00 pm
            hewes62: Thank you for your most interesting contribution.

            Ionising radiation is the only known cause of de-novo acute leukaemia in children, but is unlikely to represent a major causal pathway. Epidemiological studies have suggested a possible role of non-ionising radiation, some chemicals e.g. benzene, and, especially childhood viral infections. What is generally missing from such studies is any insight into the natural history of the disease and the likely timing of key exposures and mutational events

            The most frequent form of leukaemia in children is ALL (Acute Lymphocytic/ blastic Leukaemia) which is frequently initiated by a chromosome translocation event in utero. Studies in identical twins show however that such an event is insufficient for clinical leukaemia and that a postnatal promotional event is also required.
            Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) is rare in children but more frequent in adults and can be directly caused by benzene. There is often a characteristic preceding myelodysplasia or smouldering leukaemia associated with benzene. Benzene is also a by-product of the combustion of tobacco in cigarettes. Exposure to cigarette smoke accounts for roughly half of all human exposure to benzene in the US.

            So, in my opinion, this particular McKenzie et al study (cited ref: 82) is flawed, because there was no adjustment for maternal smoking, or documented household exposure to smoking during pregnancy, in the analysis. (Apparently, information on maternal smoking was missing for 59% of the study population). If I had been asked to peer review this paper, I would have insisted that the missing data on smoking was provided, as a sine qua non prior to consideration for publication.

            It may transpire that following a prolonged latency period, exposure to benzene from fracking, or benzene from the associated diesel traffic, will eventually, perhaps years later, cause some cases of adult myelodysplasia and AML.

            For now, other peer-reviewed studies demonstrate that living close to active fracking sites increases the likelihood of exacerbation of asthma, premature birth, chronic rhino-sinusitis, migraine headaches, fatigue and maternal stress levels.”

            • Dr Frank, mountains and molehills. I very strongly suspect that the production well at Elswick which is currently shut in (probably due to the existing unit which generates electricity no longer meeting emission standards), will require the same level of intervention seen on the exploration wells at PNR.

              The well produces dry gas (no gas condensates) so the Benzene content will be minimal.

              We did see cold venting at PNR, on the first occasion it occurred when they were unable to light the flare due to an excess of Nitrogen in the gas mix. At the time this breached the environmental permit and permissions.

              However following a permit variation request after the incident, the practice of cold venting in certain circumstances during Nitrogen lifting operations was allowed by the EA.

              Click to access application-variation-decision-document-06.pdf

              The EA stated that air quality modelling showed that emissions of benzene would be “well below the short-term environmental standard and would not cause harm or significant pollution if carried out for no more than 30 days”.

              Comments at the time suggested that those stood outside the gates were at more risk from the Benzene emitted by those amongst them smoking, from the passing traffic on the A583 and from the wood burning stove that was in operation 24/7 in the activist’s hut.

              • Yes indeed John, regarding the passing traffic, the close residents have always been equally concerned with the huge increase in air pollution from the heavy diesel traffic on the A583 required to service the Preston New Rd, Little Plumpton fracking site.
                Not just benzene, but PM 2.5 emissions from these HGVs and emissions from the on-site diesel compressors / pumps etc has always been of concern.Peer-reviewed studies demonstrate that living close to the total industrial activity at active fracking sites increases the likelihood of exacerbation of asthma, premature birth, chronic rhino-sinusitis, migraine headaches, fatigue and maternal stress levels.

                • Looking at the numerous comments on DoD over the years around advice as where protestors could park close to PNR, others who recorded their journeys from far afield to participate (Glasgow, I recall as one example), and reviews following organized events detailing how far protestors had travelled to come to an event, it looks as if the pollution levels from the protestors has been a major impact upon the local environment. Just as it was at KM.

                  Yet, all that was just as damaging to the environment and health.

                  Another example of double standards. Good job there is a record.

                  P.S. slow walking in front of HGVs INCREASES air pollution.

                • Dr Frank, I am well aware that exposure to PM2.5 & PM10 causes mortality from cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases and from lung cancer.

                  PM exposure also effects lung development in children, including deficits in lung function as well as chronically reduced lung growth rate and a deficit in long term lung function.

                  That is why under our NECD/Gothenburg 2020-2029 commitment, the UK is committed to reducing its emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2) by 59%, nitrogen oxides (NOx) by 42%, ammonia (NH3) by 6%, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by 28% and fine particle matter (PM2.5) by 30% from their 2005 base levels by 2030.

                  Road transport remains a significant source of PM emissions (12% of both PM10 and PM2.5 in 2018). However exhaust emissions have decreased markedly since 1996 due to stricter emissions standards (by 83% for both PM10 and PM2.5 and an 84% fall in NOx and CO).

                  Domestic combustion of wood in closed stoves and open fires is one the largest source of PM emissions in the UK, accounting for 27% and 44% of PM10 and PM2.5 respectively. Emissions of PM2.5 from domestic wood burning more than doubled between 2003 and 2018 (from 20 to 41 thousand tonnes). Overcoming the fashionable popularity of wood burners is seen as the biggest hurdle in reducing PM emissions and has resulted in new legislation being introduced covering stove emissions and allowable fuels.

                  Industrial combustion and processes are another major source of particulate matter, together accounting for 43% of PM10 and 29% of PM2.5 in 2018.

                  Emissions from this source have decreased in the long term due to the decline in UK manufacturing industries, along with improvements to emission controls.
                  This has been partially offset by recent increases to industrial combustion (the increases are most notable from biomass).

                • Interesting points, John.

                  In respect of wood burning stoves, there is an argument that the new versions are much cleaner than the old. Do you know if that is true, or the sort of tale spun by German car manufacturers, who we can all sue as much as we like now? Or, for the moment, one of them.

                  Real interest here, as I have considered installing one, with one son working in the building trade and having access to off cuts of timber, plus my area has a lot of oak tree lined roads that suffer die back from road salting, so another supply there.

                • Martin, the minimum standard to look out for is one with an ‘ecodesign’ sticker which means the stove will have an improved air circulation system to help it burn cleaner. The efficiency and emissions level information should also be available.

                  If you live in a smoke control zone or area, you should go one step further and look to purchase a ‘DEFRA smoke exempt’ approved one.

                  I don’t have any figures for how much Particle Matter the latest stoves emit, but they are a vast improvement on anything previously manufactured. (that’s of course if you burn correctly seasoned or dry wood).

                  There are rumours that the government are looking at ways to encourage or force people to replace stoves that are 10 years old or over in a further effort to get PM emissions reducing again.

                • Thanks John. I was aware of the “ecodesign” bit, but not the DEFRA smoke exempt.

                  Very useful. I shall file away for future reference.

          • Exactly John.

            Very different numbers, very different control measures and, as stated, much gas in USA yet to be utilized due to lack of pipelines to do so.

            Apart from all of that, Elswick, should be compared to the USA situation! LOL

            Bit like saying someone’s allotment regime should be compared to what happens on the prairies. But, hey ho, if that is all that is left to focus upon, the focusing upon it is pretty supportive of the Planners recommendations.

      • Thanks John Harrison,
        Regarding gas leaking from fracking wells:
        Several peer-reviewed scientific studies have demonstrated gas-leaks from fracking wells elsewhere In one study in Alberta, about 12.5 percent of the wells were leaking at the time that they were to become operational and there is a clear possibility that they will degrade with age. So close residents are acutely aware of the persistent potential hazard of gas-leaking from the two existing wells at Preston New Road, Little Plumpton.

        Predicting gas migration through existing oil and gas wells Environmental Geosciences (2018) 25 (4): 121–132.
        https://doi.org/10.1306/eg.01241817008

        High methane-emitting abandoned oil and gas wells Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences ​Nov 2016, ​113 ​(48) ​13636-13641; ​DOI: ​10.1073/pnas.1605913113 ​ https://www.pnas.org/content/113/48/13636

        Assessment of methane emissions from the U.S. oil and gas supply chain Science 13 Jul 2018: Vol. 361, Issue 6398, pp. 186-188 https://science.sciencemag.org/content/361/6398/186.abstract

  5. Regarding Lancashire County Council planning officers views on this application, Lancashire residents for reasons only known to them have voted Tory candidates into a majority position on Lancashire County Council.
    The Tory party also run the Country and that means they can continue to force their pro-fracking/oil and gas agenda onto their minions at County Council level.
    Cuadrilla intend to resume fracking at Preston New Road shortly according to their recent public announcements. This council’s planning stance means we will have to mobilise our protest groups again before long!

    [Missing word added at poster’s request]

  6. As Martin Collyer says, good job there is a record/log of activities around the entrance to the Preston New Road fracking site.
    Because the ongoing health of police officers regularly on duty thereabouts, none of whom were seen to be issued with or wearing personal protection equipment against the breathing in of the toxic fumes, must be a constant cause of concern for their families.
    The police officers union and their senior officers among others have all been made aware of this aspect of Operation Manilla and frankly didn’t give a damn!

  7. And Martin Collyer also says that much of the air pollution measured at KM came from the PROTESTORS! And that slow walking INCREASES air pollution.

    So, Peter, do you feel pleased to have threatened the health of police officers in such a way? Even had the nonsense of someone driving to PNR to take photos of ladies undies in an attempt to deflect from that.

    Of course, if it is antis, it is all okay. If it is industry it is terrible.

    Hypocrisy.

  8. Hmmm.

    Selective and subjective.

    A bit of balance and reality:

    Last time I looked, Shell were doing quite nicely. So were the majority of UK pensioners who have Shell within their pension portfolios.

    The New York Times? “Raising fears”-yep, that’s what they do. They used to report news.

    Texas alone has a larger economy than Russia. Wonder how that has been achieved? A few $billion not that much of an issue, if it came to it. However, this week oil production likely to be increased by OPEC+, as demand has started to outpace the supply after cut backs.
    Holidays being booked by those in UK now, flights increasing. Car transporters on their way to the docks to export overseas, roads showing around doubling of traffic in UK, some on way back to work, some on way out to pubs and restaurants. Brent Crude back to $40+/barrel, petrol prices up around 10p/litre on the low after Covid-19 start.

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