Complaint about BBC interview with Cuadrilla chief exec

A formal complaint has been lodged about a BBC interview with the chief executive of the shale gas company, Cuadrilla.

Francis Egan. Photo: Cuadrilla Resources

Francis Egan told yesterday’s Today programme that a study commissioned by the shale gas regulator found that earth tremors caused by fracking at his company’s Preston New Road site were “largely imperceptible”.

The presenter, Justin Webb, said fears of tremors had been “debunked” by scientists at the time the fracking moratorium was introduced in England in November 2019.

Mr Egan made similar comments to BBC Radio Lancashire in an interview, in which he also repeated unsubstantiated allegations that Russia had funded anti-fracking groups.

John Hobson, a campaigner against fracking in Lancashire, complained to the BBC:

“At no point then, or since, have local people’s reasonable concerns about the risk of property damage from fracking-induced earthquakes been successfully ‘debunked’ by any scientist.

“The industry may have attempted and failed to persuade people that this was a non-issue but the science is what led to the moratorium and, according to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, until the industry is able to demonstrate that it can predict and control the seismicity … the moratorium will remain in place.”

He added:

“I think Mr Webb needs to issue a clarification or correction of his factually-incorrect commentary.”

Cuadrilla has fracked three wells in Lancashire, in 2011, 2018 and 2019. In each operation, the company caused earth tremors. Some of the tremors breached the limit in the regulations, known as the traffic light system.

Campaigners outside Cuadrilla’s shale gas site at Preston New Road near Blackpool, 26 August 2019. Photo: Used with the owner’s consent

In six days in August 2019, the company’s operations at Preston New Road induced five tremors which were felt by local people. They measured 1.0-2.9 on the local magnitude (ML) scale and ranged in intensity from 2 (weak) to 6 (strong).

197 people reported to the British Geological Survey that the 2.9ML earth tremor had caused damage to their homes.

The OGA suspended fracking at Preston New Road and less than three months later imposed the fracking moratorium.

Mr Hobson told the BBC fracking was stopped because Cuadrilla had been “unable to operate without regularly breaking the limit set in the traffic light system that they themselves were instrumental in devising and agreeing to”.

He said:

“Mr Egan gave two interviews in both of which he seemed to be trying to complain that the moratorium had not been based on science.

“He also seemed to suggest that the OGA [Oil & Gas Authority] reports based on Preston New Road could be used as the basis for lifting the moratorium.”

Mr Hobson said:

“The OGA reports make it abundantly clear that there is currently no way to predict the seismicity associated with fracking fluid injection to an extent which would allow fracking to be restarted.

“It seems quite amazing that Mr Egan would not aware of any of this. Indeed, had Mr Egan genuinely believed that the OGA reports supported a valid claim to be able to adequately predict seismicity, he would surely not have waited for 2 years to tell us.”

The OGA reports, published in December 2020, concluded that earthquakes induced by fracking were hard to predict and manage. The authority said at the time:

“it is not yet possible to accurately predict the seismic response to hydraulic fracturing, if any, in relation to variables such as site characteristics, fluid volume, rate or pressure.”

It also said measures to control seismic activity had often not worked.

Cuadrilla used a more viscous fracturing fluid to frack at Preston New Road in 2019. It said this would “improve operational performance under the uniquely challenging micro-seismic regulations”. But, within a week of the start of fracking, there were earthquakes measuring 1.6ML and 0.9ML.

The OGA said:

“Where induced seismicity has occurred, mitigation measures have shown only limited success, and there can only be low confidence in their effectiveness currently.”

The reports concluded that the 2.9ML tremor “may cause sparse cases of low superficial damage”. Cuadrilla said this is “consistent with our own data of the low-level impact of the 2.9Ml event”. It has repeatedly said the levels of ground vibration generated during fracking at Preston New Road were typically below those managed by construction.

DrillOrDrop has spoken to a homeowner whose property was damaged to cost of £10,000 following the 2.9ML earth tremor. He said Cuadrilla’s insurers settled with his insurance company.

We asked the BBC whether other listeners had complained about the interview but it has not responded to our question.

15 replies »

  1. Well, I don’t like what the BBC says sometimes, John. Perhaps instead of shifting the deckchairs on the sinking ship, they might concentrate on stopping it sinking?

    So, welcome to democracy where many sources are available and can be checked. Not sure that it is healthy to have a single source that only gives one picture, although Putin might disagree. I did also spot one source ignoring that on the surveys done regarding fracking the majority surveyed were not against it! These pots and kettles can easily get mixed up.

    I recall the BBC stating very clearly and repeatedly that Dyson was somehow connected to the Tories, then some while later stating very quietly, that he wasn’t.

    Such is life.

    • I don’t like what the BBC says a lot of the time, but I especially don’t like it when they say things that are provably untrue.

      Holding the position of influence that they do (people listen to them rather more than they do to me – or even you Fred!) they have a responsibility not to mislead people.

      It really was a sub-standard interview by Today’s standards and apart from Mr Webb’s rather odd comment about debunking, Mr Egan was allowed to get away with saying things that had no discernible basis in fact about the “science” behind the moratorium.

      They won’t get it right all of the time of course, but when they get it wrong I think it’s fair that they are alerted to the fact.

      Mind you it went far better for Mr Egan than the one he did later on Radio Lancashire with Graham Liver – That was a hoot! You can still catch it on Sounds – it was about 8:07 am if I recall correctly.

  2. Roubles you say???? Well I can state quite categorically that East Kent against Fracking (EKAF) have always been a Rouble free zone!

  3. Well done John Hobson this level of ignorance and disinformation is unacceptable. I hope you get justice.

    Interesting that people living in Cornwall reported their homes shaking three miles away from a geothermal site at 1.6MLbut residents in Lancashire seem to have to “prove” their homes shook at 2.9MLand that the industry as well as some in the media insultingly try to play down the impacts. We all remember the dropping a water melon scenario!

    There have been several misleading claims made in the media recently by a number of fracking supporters and I think they should also be held to account. Claims such as fracking will lower gas prices and dubious claims about certainty and timescales. A quick bit of research shows not only are these claims inaccurate but the fracking companies themselves and experts have previously stated that fracking will not lower gas prices and will take at least five years and 20 to 40 wells just to determine if fracking is even viable. The public deserve better.

    Mr Egan must be desperate indeed to bring up the investigated and debunked links between anti fracking groups and Russian funding. This has been identified as originating as a smear campaign orchestrated back in 2014 by a right wing pro fossil fuel think tank in the US. And sadly like minded individuals continue to make baseless claims.

    Please produce your evidence Mr Egan, or am I at liberty to similarly smear Cuadrilla?


    • Kat

      I think that all misleading claims in the media should be rebutted, and the media held to account (if not those who have made them as well). A stance most people posting on here seems to be supporting, tho on different sides of the debate at times.

  4. Yes, you are KatT if you want to pay the costs, or get someone else to do so on your behalf.

    But, baseless claims are in the eye of the beholder. Others may or may not have a base, so be careful.

    And no, your quick bit of research shows nothing of the sort. It shows others have different opinions. Gas prices are indeed global, but they are not equal, and in some countries, including the UK, energy prices are subsidized via other tax streams. So, unless you or others know how tax streams will be directed, it is pure speculation. The public do indeed deserve better than that. But, they haven’t had it and are just finding out that £150 billion plus needs to be spent on nuclear to support that “cheap” renewable energy. Was always going to come out, but had been ignored by those who wanted it ignored for many years.

    Mind you, my wife pointed out an error to a Green candidate within the literature offered to her. The answer was it was “poetic license” so it would seem there is a lot of it about.

  5. Well, well well, (pardon the pun) just came across this. Interesting to read who really may have links with Russia and is targeting so called activists.


    PS I just knew you’d come back to me Martin 😁. I don’t agree with all your comments but I do respect your them and I hope you are recovering well from the dental surgery.

  6. Thanks KatT, I am beaver like now. Shame there are not other bits of wear and tear I am able to get fixed.

    It will be interesting to see how John aka something else, get on. I would suspect any investigative journalist could have great fun trawling back through the archives to produce an article if they had the incentive to do so. Omission of information to complete a picture would be a rich vein.

    Reference your link, I noted this am my local fuel station was out of fuel, thanks to the activists. Now, call me old fashioned but PR activities and advertising were supposed to gain friends and influence. [Edited by moderator]

    Back to the BBC, I see they have somehow broken the record for conflating an energy strategy with current energy costs to the consumer. The Spring Statement was a few days ago, BBC, this is a forward energy strategy.

    Never mind, they have their teeth into non doms. now. Funny (lol) when such, or similar suddenly get the attention just before an election. As a tax payer am I concerned? Nope. I would be more concerned if the UK still felt that taxation due to activities in other parts of the world could just be pinched by those living in the UK. Wasn’t there a statue that got wet for the same sort of thinking? Targeting somebody’s wife does also run the risk of alienating many people’s wives who feel they are individuals rather than someone’s wife. Good old BBC. A move from London does not seem to have brought them into that much contact with the public. Now, there’s a pot of money that could help those needing help with energy costs.

    • WOW MARTIN ,

      Looking at how you have had to battle so hard today , against so many people in order to protect the toxic fracking industry.

      I bet your plastic computer keyboard is worn right down to the bone ….. Nethermind , the land and oceans around the world are chocking with plastic junk , just waiting to be recycled .

    • I’m not sure Francis Egan’s accusations on Radio Lancadhire of anti fracking activists being in the pay of the Russians and bizzarrely throwing the word paedophiles into the conversation and, no doubt, hoping mud would stick was very good PR. Graham Liver seemed positively speechless for a moment at his outburst. I’ve never heard any interviewer accuse his interviewee of being aggressive before.

  7. But, my plastic is all recycled, Jack. Hope you do the same. Don’t think I have any bones beneath the plastic, but I see that the other dinosaurs have given up some bones in the last few days. Wonder if they were thinking: “we” are more intelligent and evolving, so we will tell the rest what to do-then BANG!? Extinction without rebelling.

    “So many people”????


    If that is the case, it will not happen here and will be shut down in USA. Looking at USA the opposite is happening, and many locals appear happy about that. Time will tell what happens in UK. Those who refer to the geology may be right, may be wrong, but my opinion has always been that the undecided were key. They usually are. The antis have not shifted them with all their efforts, maybe benefits might? Undeclared/uncertain benefits are usually the reason for being undecided, but I am sure there will be some anti “experts” who can manufacture another reason/comfort blanket.

    However, I note the suggestion that with all this new nuclear there will be spare output to produce green hydrogen when the wind is also blowing. Oops, Mr. Musk!

    • Interesting Fred!

      So if you are right and the undecided haven’t been shifted, then the movement from slim majority pro 28% / 21% 5 years ago to a much larger majority anti 45%/17% must logically have been down to people who were previously pro chamging their minds and becoming antis!

      That’s quite an amazing thing wouldn’t you say! Far more impressive than just converting a few Don’t Knows!

      Thanks for that insight.

  8. I made a formal complaint on 6.4.22 to the Today programme, but not about the earth tremors/quakes – which of course is true also – but about failure to mention the even more severe long-term damage to livestock, human health and ecosystems from fracking fluid and waste water entering both deep aquifers and groundwater.

    This is well documented from established sources as well as anecdotally in Texas, Wyoming, North Dakota etc. Harvard Education also notes premature death among older people from airborne pollution downwind of fracking sites.

  9. Central London shakes 24/7 every few minutes (except during tube strikes).

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