Firm's call to alter fracking tremor limits in Lancashire falls on deaf ears

Cuadrilla has shut down work since December
Cuadrilla has shut down work since December
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Calls by energy firm Cuadrilla to alter fracking tremor limits appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

The company has called for fracking earth tremor limits to be reviewed to aid the operation at its Preston New Road site.

The gas and oil industry regulator has said it will not review fracking quake limits

The gas and oil industry regulator has said it will not review fracking quake limits

No fracking has taken place at the site since December, with fracking prior to Christmas 2018 triggering 57 small tremors – several above the 0.5 magnitude (ML) safety limit at which the operation has to be paused for 18 hours.

Yesterday Cuadrilla announced it had asked the Government agency responsible to review the 0.5ML limit to allow fracking to continue at the site.

A company spokesman said: “Cuadrilla confirmed that it has requested the Oil and Gas Authority to urgently review the TLS [traffic light system] to enable the Preston New Road exploration wells to be properly tested and produced effectively, without compromising safety or environmental protection.

“Subject to the outcome of such a review, Cuadrilla plans to complete hydraulic fracturing of the PNR1 well, fracture the PNR2 well and carry out flow testing of both wells later this year.”

Anti-frackers protest at the planning inquiry in 2015

Anti-frackers protest at the planning inquiry in 2015

The spokesman added that “an intentionally conservative” limit of 0.5ML had “severely constrained the volume of sand that could be injected into the shale rock.”

They added: “Cuadrilla has now shut in the well and will monitor build-up as it continues to assess the results.”

But a spokesman for the oil and gas industry regulator the OGA said it would not be reviewing the system used to monitor fracking.

An OGA spokesman said: “There are no plans to review the limit under the traffic light system.”

Earlier this week Cheshire energy firm Ineos urged the Government to raise “absurd” limits on fracking which it said were making the UK’s shale gas industry “unworkable”.

Chairman Sir Jim Ratcliffe said: “We have a nonexistent energy strategy and are heading towards an energy crisis that will do long term and irreparable damage to the economy, and the government needs to decide whether they are finally going to put the country first and develop a workable UK onshore gas industry.”

A spokesman from Frack Free Lancashire said they are “amazed that Cuadrilla are still lobbying to adjust the seismic levels”.

They added: “The existing seismic limit of 0.5ML was arrived at after a scientific inquiry and Cuadrilla themselves claim to have developed the traffic light system in conjunction with the Government.

“When it became evident that fracking in the Fylde is inevitably accompanied by earthquakes, we have seen Cuadrilla and the rest of the industry begin an intensive lobbying process.

“The levels should not be adjusted at the whim of an industry that has not yet proved its safety. In a time where we’re in a climate emergency, there is absolutely no need for a new fossil fuel industry to be pursued.”

Jamie Peters, a Friends of the Earth anti-fracking campaigner, said: “The amount of gas under our feet in Lancashire is irrelevant when we know that they cannot extract it without triggering earthquakes.

“It’s pretty insidious for the industry to suggest that if we want the shale gas ‘prize’, we have to accept weaker regulations.

“Particularly when that ‘prize’ means more climate chaos.”

Ken Cronin, chief executive of UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG), highlighted the country’s demand for gas as a reason to continue with fracking in Lancashire.

Mr Cronin said: “During the winter months our dependency from non-North Sea gas rises to 64 per cent. The sourcing of homegrown gas is therefore vital for our economy, jobs and the environment.”

Fylde MP Mark Menzies said: “I have campaigned for a large number of safeguards to be put in place in respect of hydraulic fracturing, including the traffic light warning system and baseline and ongoing monitoring for Radon. Those traffic light limits were put in place and accepted by assessors and industry. They should not be increased.

“I have always campaigned for a gold standard of regulation should hydraulic fracturing be allowed to go ahead.”

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: “Cuadrilla have practically admitted that they can’t make fracking work under the safety rules they’ve been boasting about for years.

“If they can’t, then they shouldn’t. In order to ‘grasp the prize’ of a very small amount of very expensive fracked gas, ministers have already removed people’s property rights and are pushing plans to suppress all local democratic control by allowing fracking without planning permission.

“And now the industry need just one more regulation to be lifted, the safety limit on earthquakes.

“Until the next one, of course. The UK government should stop wasting time on this polluting industry and back the clean energy infrastructure we need to tackle climate change.”

Lee Petts, chairman of Lancashire For Shale, said the traffic light system thresholds do now need to be looked at again if Lancashire shale is to fulfill its true potential.

Mr Petts said: “When the Traffic Light System was first introduced, the Government was clear: the thresholds it contains were ‘subject to review’ and that ‘the [0.5 ML] level may be adjusted upward if actual experience shows this can be done without compromising the effectiveness of the controls’.

“Cuadrilla now has this experience and the data to back it up, and is quite rightly asking the Government to honour its pledge by conducting a review using the up-to-date information that it has invested many millions of pounds acquiring.

“By insisting that the 0.5 ML limit remain in place, campaigners are seeking to move the goal posts by unfairly pressuring the Government to reverse its stated position.

“Given the urgent need to find a way to plug the energy gap that will be left behind by retiring coal and nuclear generating capacity, the Government can ill afford to give in to this pressure and go back on its earlier commitment.”

When it was originally seeking permission for fracking in Lancashire, Cuadrilla welcomed monitoring of the site.

Back in 2016, chief executive Francis Egan said: “We are confident that our operations will be safe and responsible and the comprehensive site monitoring programme planned by regulators and independent academics will in due course conclusively demonstrate this.”

In January 2018, Cuadrilla welcomed reports from two scientists that suggest increasing the tremor limit at drill sites could be done safely.

Dr Ben Edwards, of Liverpool University, who worked on a recent report suggesting 1.5ML tremors were the same level as dropping a melon, and British Geological Survey scientist Dr Brian Baptie, who contributed to the report on Cuadrilla’s Preese Hall fracking in 2011 which caused two larger tremors, and led to the recommendation of the 0.5ML limit, have now said that the limit could be raised safely to 1.5ML, which “was unlikely to be felt”.

Mr Egan said: “Cuadrilla and its investors remain committed to this opportunity.

“The potential for Lancashire and the UK has again been clearly demonstrated by the fracturing and flow-testing carried out at Preston New Road. We look forward to completing the job.”

Fracking timeline

August 2010: Energy company Cuadrilla started drilling a well at Preese Hall near Weeton.

April/May 2011: Fracking was blamed for two earth tremors felt across Blackpool and the Fylde. One tremor of magnitude 2.3 hit on April 1, followed by a second of magnitude 1.4 on May 27. A moratorium was placed on fracking.

December 2012: The moratorium on fracking was lifted in when the Government decided that it could go ahead – with strict controls and monitoring.

February 2014: Cuadrilla lodged two applications for planning permission to drill and test frack at a site near Little Plumpton off Preston New Road and at Roseacre.

June 2015: Lancashire County Council finally ruled on the two planning applications. They were refused on grounds of noise and visual impact at Preston New Road and on traffic impact grounds at Roseacre.

September 2015: Cuadrilla lodged four Appeals to the Secretary of State against the decisions to refuse planning permission for both exploration sites, the monitoring site at Preston New Road and against one of the conditions imposed on the planning permission for the monitoring array at Roseacre Wood.

October 2016: Communities Secretary Sajid Javid approved plans for fracking at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site at Little Plumpton.

April 2018: A three-week inquiry begins into a request by Cuadrilla for a new fracking site at Roseacre.

July 2018: Cuadrilla given permission to drill for shale gas at Little Plumpton.

September 2018: Three men jailed for causing a public nuisance during protests at a Lancashire fracking site.

October 13, 2018: Fracking given the green-light after a legal bid to stall operation on safety grounds was thrown out by a High Court judge.

October 13, 2018: Fracking start delayed as Storm Callum batters the region.

October 17, 2018: Three anti-fracking protesters jailed for causing a public nuisance by climbing onto lorries at a site in Lancashire freed by the Court of Appeal.

October 19, 2018: Four mini-earthquakes recorded close to the Preston New Road fracking site.

November 2019: 36th tremor prompts new calls from five Lancashire MPs to halt fracking.

December 2018: Lancashire fracking halted after 1.5 magnitude tremor, the largest since fracking started in October.

February 2019: Cuadrilla calls on the Government to review the 0.5 magnitude tremor limit which stops fracking.