Forecasters expect more floods as a US blizzard heads to the UK, predicted to land here tomorrow morning.[1] Areas prone to floods are not protected from fracking. In fact almost 20% of all UK fracking licence blocks offered by the government substantially overlap with zones at significant risk of flooding.[2]

So what happens when land used for fracking is flooded?

In July 2013, Colorado was hit by devastating floods and questions remain about the stability of the state’s fracking sites in one of the most densely drilled areas in the United States, many of which were completely covered by floodwaters.[3] It was reported that fracking wells were leaking into floodwaters, and tanks holding toxic waste material from fracking were overturned and at odd angles.

Although the fracking industry denied that their sites were affected, Mike King, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said “the scale is unprecedented” and that authorities “will have to deal with environmental contamination from whatever source.”  Furthermore, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment urged the public to avoid contact with the water, warning it could contain sewage or chemicals washed away from flooded homes, businesses or industry.[4]

It is likely that damage was done to open pits. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association said nearly 1,900 oil and gas wells in flooded areas were shut down,[5] but there are reportedly 20,000 wells in the oil-rich Niobrara Formation in Northern Colorado, with 3,200 permits for open pits in Weld County alone.[6] Hugh MacMillan, senior researcher at environmental group Food and Water Watch, said the worst-case scenario would be a damaged high-pressure gas line, which could be explosive.[7]

Land at Preese Hall, Lancashire - Photo by Ros Willis

Land at Preese Hall, Lancashire – Photo by Ros Willis

Fracking sites in Lancashire were recently flooded, despite warnings from the US about the risks of environmental contamination. With regard to the proposed fracking sites in Roseacre and Preston New Road, in his November 2014 report, Professor David Smythe advised Lancashire County Council of widespread fault lines in and around the Bowland Shale basin, which create underground connections and pathways for toxic ‘flowback’ fluid from fracking, to reach and contaminate the Sherwood aquifer. The Sherwood Sandstone Group (SSG) is the most important groundwater aquifer in the north of England. Fresh water is fed into it by rainwater and by passage underground. Professor Smythe said, “once the fresh water aquifer has been polluted it can never be flushed clean again.”[8] In faulted areas in Germany, fracking is banned as a precautionary principle to avoid possible contamination. Why aren’t the same precautions taken in the UK, particularly in areas prone to flooding?

Claire Stephenson, a communications writer from Lancashire, says recent floods in Lancashire have affected fracking sites and now pose a serious threat to people’s health and the environment; putting the UK at far greater risk, adding to the anticipated catastrophic impact of the forthcoming storm.

Lancashire’s Fracking Flood Hazards

Flood fields around Roseacre, Lancashire

Flood fields around Roseacre, Lancashire

The recent floods that have enveloped considerable areas of the north of England have catapulted the cash-strapped Environment Agency into harsh media headlines, questioning their ability to manage disasters of this scale.[9] The Conservative government display an inability to take seriously the real existence of climate change, by desecrating the renewable industry, whilst championing yet more unburnable fossil fuel extraction.

Incorporate the fact that a fifth of all proposed UK fracking sites are lying on top of flood plains,[10] and we have a major problem. Lancashire has suffered from the deluge from the latest downpours, some areas in vast proportions with entire villages under water. And now, insurance companies will not provide cover for any contamination due to fracking.[11]

The designated fracking locations at Preston New Road and Roseacre have both experienced flooding in the last few weeks, as has the previously fracked and damaged Preese Hall and the failed Anna’s Road site. Preese Hall was damaged by an earth tremor in 2011, caused by Cuadrilla, of which they failed to immediately report to government officials.[12] The then energy minister, Charles Hendry highlighted “weaknesses in Cuadrilla’s performance as a licensee”. Well integrity has reportedly been an issue at Preese Hall, with repeat visits by engineers to re-plug the well.[13]

Surrounding roads on all three sites have been seen heavily submerged under water, with the narrow transport routes in and out of Roseacre resembling more a river than a quiet rural road.

Standing water at the proposed Preston New Road site in Lancashire

Standing water at the proposed Preston New Road site in Lancashire

At Preston New Road, Cuadrilla’s Statement of Case states clearly that the fracking site “…topography slopes towards Carr Bridge Brook.” This is where any run-off water will end up. The Brook is currently flooded, as is the smallholding and residential properties adjacent. Who can accurately predict where fluid from fracking operations end up? Not Cuadrilla, evidently, when their Technical Director Andrew Quarles said last year that: “Very little of the fracture fluid actually ever returns to the surface… So when we inject the water in there most of it does not come back.[14] There are lots of theories. No one knows exactly what is going on or where the water goes or where the final resting place is.” How are communities expected to trust these supposed experts?

It’s clear the flooding of recent weeks has cast yet another murky shadows on the shale industry, and makes a mockery of their self-proclaimed “robust” regulations. There are too many uncertainties with fracking, too many risks that cannot be mitigated. A full and immediate moratorium is required.

Claire Stephenson

Claire became involved with fracking after learning her children’s primary school was to be located one mile away from a proposed hydraulic fracturing site on the Fylde Coast. As a school governor, she was instructed to remain neutral in her opinions on fracking and the children were not allowed to discuss fracking within school. All attempts by parents to gain information and reassurance were met with dismissal. Claire, along with several other families, withdrew their children from the school, due to the weak care and protection ideology the school held on this subject.

Talk Fracking

References:

1. http://energydesk.greenpeace.org/2015/12/22/14th-round-fracking-flood-risk/
2. http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/jan/24/flooding-us-blizzard-heads-uk-storm-desmond
3. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/17/colorado-floodwaters-cove_n_3941958.html
4. http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/local-news/avoid-contact-with-potentially-contaminated-flood-waters-state-health-department-urges
5. http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_24116404/oil-field-flood-tally-1-900-wells-shut
6. http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_24107038/state-and-industry-struggle-assess-damage-flooded-oil
7. http://www.treehugger.com/energy-disasters/colorado-floods-broke-oil-pipelines-flooded-gas-fracking-wells.html
8. http://www.davidsmythe.org/fracking/Smythe slideshow – Environmental risks from fracking in the Fylde Nov2014.pdf
9. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/uk-flooding-budget-cuts-intensified-impacts-of-floods-a6788886.html
10. http://energydesk.greenpeace.org/2015/12/22/14th-round-fracking-flood-risk/
11. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/householders-affected-by-floods-face-insurance-double-whammy-if-they-live-nearby-planned-fracking-a6804476.html
12. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/mar/13/fracking-cuadrilla-halts-operations-lancashire
13.https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/429262/FOI_2015_05487_annex.pdf
14. http://drillordrop.com/2015/02/24/cuadrilla-banks-on-low-return-of-flowback-fluid-for-lancs-wells/