HAS CUADRILLA’S LUCK FINALLY BEEN FRACKED OUT?

It’s been a funny old sort of few weeks for the (not) fracking industry in the UK, hasn’t it? The resumption of fracking at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site in Lancashire was hoped to back up the urges by the industry’s whining and lobbying to central government for the seismic traffic light system to be raised so that the fracking industry is not “strangled at birth”.

Unfortunately for them, the day that they recommenced fracking was the same day that the earth tremors in Lancashire also recommenced. Who’d have thought it? Well actually, everybody except the industry themselves *facepalm moment supreme*.

It was such a special time for them, that the British Geological Survey (BGS) even gave them their own dinky little page of tremors, called Induced Seismicity around the British Isles. Considerate of the BGS, eh?

But anyway, one can imagine the tizzy that ensued, with local residents predictably furious that the tremors caused by fracking had started up again. Residents close to the Preston New Road site expressed their dismay at being put in harm’s way, with an incompetent industry and an even less competent regulatory system.

One resident told Drill or Drop:

“We heard and felt the tremor. It was a loud rumble and shudder. We realised immediately what it was.

“We are now living in fear for the next one to happen wondering what damage it will cause to our home and what damage is being done below the ground.

“Any below the ground damage may not manifest itself for a long time. Who will resolve any issues that may appear in the future? Why would anyone want to cause earthquakes on purpose?”

Meanwhile, a brand new study from the University of Nottingham and the British Geological Survey suggested that the UK has five times less shale gas than previously thought, meaning that the 2013 estimations of how much of the fossil fuel lies underground, is out by over 40 years. Not great news for the frackers or their backers.

Then came the sterling work from i News, using the Environment Information Regulations, disclosing that Cuadrilla had a ‘secret’ non-disclosure agreement with the “impartial” British Geological Survey, who monitor seismicity in Lancashire.

As reported in i News, the BGS are required to:

Keep private any confidential information passed to BGS relating to Cuadrilla’s operations, processes, know-how, designs, trade secrets or software;

Erase all of Cuadrilla’s confidential information from BGS computer systems at Cuadrilla’s request;

Destroy or return all documents and materials containing or based upon Cuadrilla’s information at Cuadrilla’s request.

But still, the fracking and resulting tremors continued, with a few pauses due to Cuadrilla triggering an Amber level event. Predictably, Cuadrilla churned out the usual PR, filled with fluffy reassurances of “micro-seismic events”; ground motion from these teeny-tiny jiggles on the earth are just like those that you’d expect on a construction site and “far below anything that could cause harm or damage”. They even went as far as reconstructing “micro-seismicity” with a glass of milk (no really – it’s true…see below).

On the 24 August, 2019, reports were noted across social media in the Blackpool and Fylde areas, where many people had literally felt the earth move. The earthquake was registered as 2.1ML on the Richter scale, with Cuadrilla publishing a statement that said:

“Minor ground movements of this level are to be expected.  Whilst this event has been felt by people on our site and some local households, it is well below anything that can cause harm or damage to anyone or their property.”

Local residents were understandably raging, with a spokesperson from Frack Free Lancashire stating:

“We are livid that we are once again, being put in harm’s way for an experiment that we didn’t ask to be part of.

“Why are our communities being forced to accept this dangerous and contemptuous industry, when it is clear that they have zero control over the impacts that fracking brings with it?

“There was no fracking today, and yet, the after-effect it has caused, is a sizeable earthquake with widespread reports of property damage. We are angry and demand an urgent reconsideration of a fracking moratorium.”

Just two days later though, it was all about to get much worse for the frackers. At 08.31 on 26 August, Bank Holiday Monday, an earthquake struck once again and was widely heard and felt. The BGS registered the quake at 2.9ML, with an intensity of six, with seismographs from southern Scotland to southern Wales recording the quake.

There was no denying this strength of a quake however, and social media took on a life of its own, with angry home-owners and residents, particularly in St Annes and Lytham (read here for a resident’s perspective) took to Facebook and Twitter to vent their rage at Cuadrilla, with dozens of reports of property damage. A spontaneous roadside protest brought neighbours from across the community to Cuadrilla’s gate, demanding an urgent ban on fracking. (In 2011, Cuadrilla fracked at Preese Hall, causing over 50 seismic events, including an earthquake measuring 2.3ML on the Richter scale, which deformed the wellbore and instigated a fracking moratorium.)

Later on the 26 August, the Oil and Gas Authority suspended fracking at Preston New Road, issuing a statement:

 

The Fylde MP, Mark Menzies, also called for a ban on fracking in the area, stating:

“It is now clear that hydraulic fracturing is not suitable for Fylde or the people of Fylde and I will be writing to Ministers and the Oil and Gas Authority to call for full cessation of the shale gas industry operating on the Fylde Coast.”

Interestingly, a notable seismologist commented on the suspension of fracking and the time scales before it could be restarted of “…months to years”. Not a good sign for the fervent fracking few.

 

Additionally, it transpired that warnings had been sent before fracking began at the second well at Preston New Road. Dr Grant Hocking of American energy and environmental company, GeoSierra, contacted Cuadrilla, the Oil & Gas Authority, the British Geological Survey and also the Environment Agency, stating that tremors at the Fylde site would be likely should fracking recommence. It is clear his warnings were ignored. Could that be a legal angle?

In another bashing for Cuadrilla, Bloomberg reported that shareholders with a substantial hand in the fracking operations, are considering selling Cuadrilla. Discussions on how to “cash out of their investment” have reportedly been going on for months.

And City AM reported a beautiful and burning quote from Greenpeace on the potential sale:

“Cuadrilla is a window onto the future of fossil fuel companies. Eventually, the music will stop and someone will be left holding worthless stranded assets. Make sure it isn’t your pension fund. In the meantime, we wish Cuadrilla luck finding investors who already have enough gas but need more earthquakes.”

INEOS have also been reported, by The Guardian, to be sniffing around US shale as a developments option, due to the UK having too many “unworkable” regulations for their liking (you know, like not being able to cause earthquakes for profit – that kind of thing).

With regards to Cuadrilla, it’s looking like the frackers have played all of their cards here, with Mother Nature crushing the final hand and bringing the deck crashing down for good. It’s hard to see a way forward for them, at least in Lancashire.

Taxi for Cuadrilla, please.

 

 

 

*Header image courtesy of Ian Doughty