People living near Cuadrilla’s Lancashire fracking site have reacted with concern following news that the Health and Safety Executive is facing questions from MPs about its monitoring of silica sand.
DrillOrDrop reported today that the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee is seeking answers after an 18-month investigation reported shortcomings in regulation of the Preston New Road site, near Blackpool.
The investigation by Dr Barbara Kneale, a consultant in occupational medicine, and Dennis May, an industrial health and safety practitioner, revealed that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE):
- Carried out no site inspections during fracking at Preston New Road, despite a previous commitment to do so
- Did not report on the management of silica sand after other site inspections
- Did not review the risk of exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica, which can cause lung cancer, because it had “finite resources” and RCS was not regarded as “major accident hazard potential”
The HSE confirmed it was preparing a response to a letter from the committee chairman, the MP Stephen Timms. An HSE spokesperson said: “It would not be appropriate to comment until this has been issued.”
Nick Danby from Frack Free Lancashire said:
“From the very start, we have received assurances from Ministers, from the industry and from the various regulators that fracking would be subjected to the closest scrutiny. We were told repeatedly that there would be “gold standard” regulation.
“The truth is that Cuadrilla have largely been allowed to mark their own homework and that, when there have been breaches, the sanctions have amounted to little more than a very light slap on the wrist.
“As regards to the issue of silica, we have expressed regular concerns about safe handling and secure storage but our concerns have not been taken seriously. It is now clear that HSE has relied upon information provided by Cuadrilla and has not been proactive in assessing and managing any risk.”
Miranda Cox, member of the Preston New Road community liaison group, told DrillOrDrop:
“I am deeply concerned about the impact that silica sand may have had on workers at the Preston New Road site.
“This highlights, yet again, the fact that the regulatory bodies are not up to the job.
“Operations on the site are taken on trust because the regulators are under-resourced. The regulators need to be properly resourced.
“In the early stages of fracking, the company and our MP were trying to tell the community that the regulations would be gold standard. But as a community we knew they would not and we have been proved right again.”
Susan Holliday, chair of Preston New Road Action Group, said:
“It is worrying to find out that the strict regulation that we believed was in place at PNR was not being adhered to in the stringent manner that we would have hoped by the HSE.
“It is obviously a health concern for those working on the site, but equally so for those of us living close by, as these tiny silica particles will also have potentially been distributed in the air that we breathe.
“It remains a concern that this silica sand is still stored on the site in sacks some of which are deteriorating and some of which are open.”
Dr Frank Rugman, a retired consultant haematologist who lives near the Preston New Road site, said:
“Local residents will be grateful to my colleague Dr Kneale, who has performed a great service, by revealing the total failure of the HSE to regulate or control the potential hazard of Respirable Crystalline Silica at Preston New Road.
“These dangerous ultra-fine particles may be carried on the wind to nearby local homes with the potential to cause fatal damage to the lungs of residents.
“This latest revelation only confirms the worst fears of the local community at Little Plumpton.
“For our peace of mind, the Cuadrilla PNR site must now be immediately decommissioned and returned to safe agricultural land.”
In a reply to the community liaison group meeting in December 2020, Cuadrilla said it was continuing to remove sand from Preston New Road when it was safe to do so. The company said there was no threat to air quality. Monitoring by the Environment Agency had not detected sand-related issues, it said.