Fracking Moratorium – Statement from Frack Free Formby

The Government announced on 2nd November 2019, that there is now a moratorium in place on new fracking for shale gas in the UK.

What does this mean to Frack Free Formby and our loyal followers?

A moratorium is just a pause. The same as the one imposed in 2011 when a 2.3 ML seismic event at the Preese Hall fracking site in Lancashire halted fracking and an investigation was carried out. In 2015 that moratorium was lifted allowing Cuadrilla to apply to frack a second site at Preston New Road, Blackpool (PNR1).

There was again seismic activity at PNR1 in 2018 measuring 1.5m. This well was then decommissioned and the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) commenced an investigation.

Cuadrilla commenced fracking a second well in 2019 (PNR2) which ultimately resulted in seismic activity of 2.9 ML in August 2019 amongst a whole host of smaller magnitude tremors. As a result the fracking has ceased but flow testing is still underway.

The OGA report published today gives the reasons for the seismic activity in 2018 at PNR1, observing that location of faults in the shale and force of injecting fluid caused the seismic events. The data gathered at the 2018 PNR1 well has been used to model predictions of tremors. The report did conclude the OGA cannot generalise the reasons for seismic activity to any other fracking sites in the UK and geology of the UK is variable. They have been modelling the following:

  • Seismic events – 2.8 ML classified in their report as Likely;
  • Seismic events – 3.5 ML classified as Possible; and
  • Seismic events – 4.5 ML classified as Unlikely

This could indicate that the OGA are looking to justify raising the traffic light system to allow for seismic events of 2.5 ML as being acceptable in the fracking process since they are deemed likely. This would be a significant increase on the current regulatory maximum limit (0.5 ML).

The final conclusions by OGA are that all potential fracking sites are geologically specific and that reducing the injection rates could reduce the possibility of seismic events.

More telling are the comments from Andrea Leadsom in an interview on radio on 2nd November:

“The moratorium is very disappointing. What we are announcing today is a moratorium, it is not the same as a ban. There is no doubt that shale gas has huge potential in the UK. This moratorium will be in place till science can make clear what the seismic activity is likely to be with a greater degree of certainty. It is the seismic activity that is the area we need to closely regulate and we need that certainty. So as the science improves we will be able to look at this again but not for now. The idea of a moratorium is to remove uncertainty and to make clear to businesses that we WONT be bringing forward any applications or any further consent for now.”

In our opinion the government had to act on the OGA report which could not give any reassurance that there is a scientific model that predicts the possibility of seismic activity at any fracking site. Also given there is an imminent general election, it appears that anything that halts fracking could be a potential vote winner. Leadsom’s comments make it quite clear the Conservatives are adamant that fracking for shale gas in England still has “huge” potential.

What does this mean for the current application from Aurora?

This is uncertain, it is unlikely to be approved by Lancashire County Council whilst the moratorium is in place but the company may decide to continue to attempt to receive approval in the very probable event that the moratorium is lifted in future especially if the Conservatives win the General Election on 12th December this year.

We will discuss with the Lancashire County Council Planning team next week in conjunction with our planning advisors and will report any key findings and guidance in due course.

We will continue to fight fracking and be prepared to object to any future applications in our area.

Thanks to everyone who supports Frack Free Formby, and for all the hard work from individuals who have helped us during the campaign to object to the Aurora Planning Application to frack at Great Altcar.

 

How to Object

THE PLANNING APPLICATION FOR A FRACKING SITE AT GREAT ALTCAR HAS BEEN SUBMITTED 

This is your chance to object to the development.

Deadline End of December 2019. Take action now..!

(Deadline is provisional subject to Lancashire County Council preferred planning meeting in early 2020)

Five key arguments against Aurora’s planning application are:

  1. The UK does not need onshore shale gas: Offshore gas and the increasing use of renewables can satisfy the UK’s need for energy and enable us to meet climate change targets, without resorting to fracking.
  2. Fracking entails environmental risks: Harvesting the shale gas by fracking could lead to earthquakes and air pollution (increasing risks of asthma). Fracking uses massive quantities of water, all of which is wasted. 60% is left in the ground potentially causing toxic contamination of groundwater supplies and eventually the land surface. Any water recovered is contaminated and has to be disposed of.
  3. Fracking threatens local communities: Fracking can damage properties, impair the health of local residents, threaten local habitat and create traffic problems. There will be a substantial increase in lorries carrying toxic chemicals, water and sand along Formby bypass. There will be a loss of local jobs in agriculture, tourism and service industries.
  4. The Great Altcar site is unsuitable: The proposed site is close to several fault lines and disused bore holes (see previous article here). Fracking near these faults may cause earth tremors under Formby. The proposed site is a flood defence zone and close to a conservation area, on farmland which is a haven for threatened native birds and over-wintering geese and swans.
  5. The proposal threatens all of north Sefton and south west Lancashire: To be a commercial success and maximise shale gas recovery, many more wells and well pads will need to be built. This might include drilling under Formby and the pinewoods and sandhills. We will lose farmland on a massive scale.

For further detailed objections against Aurora’s planning application please click here and…

For background information to the objections, please click here.

PLEASE OBJECT AND SAVE YOUR COMMUNITY.

TAKE ACTION NOW..!

Email: devcon@lancashire.gov.uk 

Or write to:

The Development Management Group,
PO Box 100
County Hall
Preston
PR1 0LD

Quoting ref: LCC/2019/0037 and the location ALTCAR MOSS WELLSITE, SUTTONS LANE, GREAT ALTCAR

Or follow this link to the planning application and click on ‘How to have your say’ and then ‘make a representation online’.

Leaflet Aug2019

For a PDF printable version of this leaflet, please click Planning Application Leaflet

 

Risks of Raising Red Traffic Light Limit

Traffic Light System

Concerted efforts are being made by fracking operators and ‘geoscientists’ to persuade the government to increase the red traffic light limit from 0.5M to 1.5M. The Times newspaper recently published a letter by 49 ‘geoscientists’ urging the government to commission an urgent review of the fracking earthquake limit, recommending this be raised to allow the industry to expand. However, as revealed by Channel 4 News, many of these ‘geoscientists’ have direct connections to the oil and gas industry.

Current Oil and Gas Authority guidelines state that upon detection of an earth tremor of magnitude 0.5 the “…Operator[s] must suspend injection, reduce pressure and monitor seismicity and ground motion for any further events before potentially resuming.” When a seismic event of this magnitude occurs, fracking operations must cease for 18 hours while the well is flushed out and its integrity checked.

The main arguments being used to raise this limit to magnitude 1.5 are that:

  • the current red-light limit prevents effective fracturing and gas release
  • higher limits work satisfactorily in other countries, and other UK industries
  • the proposed level cannot be felt on the surface and causes no damage.

The responsible Minister (Claire Perry) recently said that she is resisting the change and has no plans to implement it. Yet six months ago she wrote to a fellow MP saying “that the monitoring system was set at an explicitly cautious level…. (and) as we gain experience in applying these measures, the trigger levels can be adjusted upwards without compromising the effectiveness of the controls.”

Seismic events occur when fault lines are lubricated, and plates slip. In this context, opponents of fracking point out that the UK has 400 times as many fault lines as the USA. Furthermore, as the UK is far more densely populated, fracking wells will inevitably be sited much closer to housing areas. They are also concerned that fracking operators’ surveys fail to pick up small fault lines, and that they are permitted to frack too close to detected faults.

Fracking opponents argue that the Preese Hall experience shows the risk of increasing the traffic light limit. The well was sunk 200 metres away from a small (unidentified) fault line. Fracking caused 58 earthquakes between March and May 2011 (de Pater and Baish 2011), the largest being 2.3M on the 1st April and the last being 1.5M on the 27th May. This latter event deformed the bottom 170 metres of the well (making it ovoid instead of round).

Operations were suspended and the well was plugged with concrete in 2013 and abandoned, but had to be replugged two years later. This reflects concerns that disused steel casings are liable to rot over time, and the concrete linings shrink and crack. These events could provide a potential upward conduit for fugitive emissions of released but unrecovered gas and fluid, contaminating groundwater resources and the surrounding land surface.

Operators have clearly been using low hydraulic pressure in order to try to comply with the current red traffic light – yet by so doing have inadvertently triggered seismic events well above this level. Lifting the limit will enable them to apply greater hydraulic pressure in order to release the gas – but risks triggering seismic events on a much larger scale than previously encountered in the UK due to Fracking.

References

Channel 4 News 15 February 2019

de Pater, C.J. and Baisch, S. (2011) Geomechanical Study of Bowland Shale Seismicity: Synthesis Report 

Refracktion (2019) Don’t Mess with the Traffic Light System

The Times Newspaper 9 February 2019

 

Geological Concerns Regarding Fracking Regulation

The UK system of regulation of fracking imposes a range of strict geological controls on operators – including seismic surveys, safe distances, seismic monitoring, a traffic light system, and barriers to fugitive migration.

Experience and professional advice suggest however that each of these controls is flawed i.e.

  1. Seismic surveys are invariably incomplete and incapable of detecting small fault lines and minor vertical displacement which could lead to earthquakes.
  2. The EA formula for calculating a safe distance between fracking propagation and fault lines is unduly optimistic and should be replaced by a minimum distance of at least 850 metres horizontally.
  3. The sequence of events at both the Preese Hall and PNR sites implies inherent instability in the stress planes of the fault lines in the Bowland Field.
  4. Fracture growth monitoring is inadequate to indicate the precise real time effect fracking is having on the propagated area.
  5. The combined effect of these factors is to automatically trigger the temporary suspension of drilling under the current traffic light system, an outcome which is incompatible with commercial considerations.
  6. The current traffic light system also fails to accommodate measures to deal with large seismic events, swarms of seismic events, or trailing events.
  7. Increasing the current red-light limit from 0.5 to 2.0 ML threatens well integrity and fluid migration into unprotected formations.
  8. The higher red-light figure is equivalent to the energy release of 1 metric ton of TNT explosive, the size of a late WW2 bomb.
  9. The regulatory controls will not detect the fugitive migration of released but unrecovered gas/fluids through pathways and conduits, and
  10. The claimed barriers to prevent sideways and upward migration of gas/fluids and the potential pollution of groundwater resources are ineffective.

 

References

Joanne Hawkins (Bristol -> Leeds University) Fracking – minding the gaps March 2015 [Supports general theme]

Professor David Smythe (Glasgow University) Objection to PNR and Roseacre planning applications September 2014 Submission to Scottish Government May 2017 [Supports points 1, 2, 9 & 10]

Professor Peter Styles (Keele University) Fracking and historic coal mining April 2018 [Supports points 1 & 2]

Professor Fred Worral & Miles Wilson (Durham University) Professor Richard Davies & Sam Almond (Newcastle University) Fracking – how far from faults? August 2018 [Supports points 2 & 4]

Shawn Maxwell (ex Keele University) What Does Microseismic Tell Us About Hydraulic Fracture Deformation? Oct 2011 [Supports point 4]

National Institute of Disaster Management, New Delhi Earthquake measurements paper to East Asia Summit [Supports point 8]

 

 

China’s Dirty Fracking Water

In an attempt to move away from dirty coal fired power stations, China is in the midst of a huge fracking boom. In spite of difficult terrain, including mountainous, arid, remote and also highly populated regions, Chinese firms can now drill multiple wells at a single pad (‘well-factory’ drilling) and can carry out extended horizontal fracturing up to 3,000 meters. Reuters

Although still far from the extent found in the USA, a recent survey by oil and gas consultants Wood Mackenzie  reports Chinese energy giants are making significant progress unlocking natural gas from shale rock formations, creating a shale revolution with output scheduled to double by 2020.

China Reuters

Poster in Beijing showing the polluted groundwater (Jason Lee – Reuters)

However, as with all other areas in the world where fracking has taken a hold, things are not going to plan and there are now serious concerns about groundwater pollution. The Financial Times recently reported that in the township of Xiaohaotu in central China, the water is “beyond repair” and residents are engaged in a campaign of protest and have support from people across the country.

Printable Version of Petition to LCC

We urge Lancashire County Council to refuse planning consent to Aurora Energy Resources Ltd. for an exploratory wellsite on the Moss near Great Altcar. The online petition is available on the 38 Degrees website here.

If you would like to help collect signatures yourself, a downloadable / printable version of the petition is available by clicking on the image below or on this link Petition to LCC

Petition image

This can be handed in at the Frack Free Formby Saturday stall in Formby Village or alternatively, please contact us for a postal address. Many thanks for your support.