Fracking “Pause” Would Not Stop What Cuadrilla Did To Cause Quakes!
Despite all the hype in the media, the fracking “pause” that has just been announced by the UK government would not even stop the fracking industry from doing what it did to cause the recent earthquakes which triggered this “pause” in the first place. Setting aside question of whether it is a temporary PR exercise, the fact that it still allows construction, drilling and a lot of testing, and that who areas of the country (e.g. Sussex/Surrey) are effectively exempt from it. The “pause” would not even stop Cuadrilla Resources from doing anything it has not done already in Lancashire, and in particular the hydraulic fracturing of Preese Hall (2011), Preston New Road 1z (2018) and Preston New Road 2 (2019) wells, which caused magnitude 2.4, 1.5 and 2.9 earthquakes respectively.
While this is, on the face of it, a ridiculous state of affairs, it masks the real, and much more serious, issue. Cuadrilla pumped less than 1.4 million US gallons of fracking fluid (probably a lot less than that) to cause the magnitude 2.9 earthquake (as well as numerous smaller ones) in August 2019, about 1 million gallons to cause a magnitude 1.5 in December 2018 and 2.2 million gallons to cause a magnitude 2.3 in April 2011. Compare those volumes to the 9.1 million gallons Cuadrilla was planning to fracture PNR-2 with. Then consider that producing significant amounts of gas from the Bowland Shale would require drilling and fracturing hundreds of wells a year, every year. Given that every shale gas well Cuadrilla has fractured has resulted in numerous earthquakes, and it has only managed to use about a tenth of the fracking fluid it would need to use in production, and you begin to see how much the future threats of fracking dwarf the small-scale testing we have been subjected to so far. Even the moderate earthquakes produced so far have not been without effect, and in addition to the reports of minor structural damage following the most recent earthquake the magnitude 2.3 in 2011 buckled the well casing, irreparably compromising the integrity of the well.
The Infrastructure Act 2015 is the only law which places much restriction on fracking. However, the act sneakily creates its own definition of “associated hydraulic fracturing”, which only applies to shale, or adjacent rock, and only if the volume of the frac stages are greater than 1,000 cubic metres or the total size of the frac job is over 10,000 cubic metres (2.64 million US gallons) per well. The hydraulic fracturing which Cuadrilla Resources has trying Preston New Road in Lancashire (up to 45 stages of 765 cubic metres per well) falls well above this limit, and requires a consent. But the volumes that Cuadrilla actually managed to pump, which caused numerous earthquakes, did not rise above the level for which a consent would actually be needed. In Sussex/Surrey it is unlikely that the industry would ever require fluid volumes above the 2.64 million gallon limit and so would not be constrained in any way by this “pause”. However, these lower volumes do not necessarily mean lower impacts, as the injection would be much closer to the surface than in Lancashire.
Despite causing the largest earthquake definitively due to fracking in the UK (a magnitude 2.9 on the 26th Aug), and over 120 smaller ones in the previous month, fracking company Cuadrilla Resources has announced it is planning to press on. Currently fracking operations at Cuadrilla’s flagship Preston New Road are suspended while the Oil & Gas Authority seeks “extensive data and analysis” from Cuadrilla. But given that the Oil & Gas Authority (OGA) is a private company set up by the industry to regulate themselves, the result of this “investiagtion” is already . Andy Samuel, the Chief Executive of the OGA, has previously held senior positions within the oil and gas industry, including 20 years with the BG Group, a major player in the fracking industry in Australia.
Cuadrilla has already stated that it plans to continue to frack and explore for shale gas at the site. Last autumn its Cuadrilla’s attempts to frac the first well at PNR caused a number of earthquakes and brought the tests to a premature halt. Cuadrilla is trying to gather the data it needs, while not exposing the full reality of fracking. It is probably doing 1 frac stage a day or less, on wells that are a quarter of the length of what is becoming common in the US. In production a fracking crew would be expected to blast through 5 or more frac stages a day, with 100 frac stages per well becoming very common, and multiple (often 8) wells per pad. Even then this highly rushed fracking, with costs cut to the bone, the industry in the US has lost over $280 billion in last decade and a half. If Cuadrilla’s carefully planned, cost no object, slow and steady, test project is producing many small earthquakes from the first few stages of each of the PNR wells, then production in the UK can be expected to be littered with Preese Hall style well destroy earthquakes.
Cuadrilla was planning to frac the wells at PNR in up to 41 stages along their lengths, starting at the far end and working backwards towards the pad. Each stage uses 200,000 gallons of fracking fluid containing 75 tons of sand, and chemicals. The 36 earthquakes have been clustered around PNR 1z the first well, with the furthest less than 250m from the wellbore (and at the same depth 3km). Cuadrilla have probably only pumped a handful frac stages so far, and have quite a few more to go on this first well (and then the same again on the other well). A lot more earthquakes can be expected, with the distinct possibility that cumulative build up of pressure might cause a jump to a higher level of earthquake activity.
Previous Fracking Earthquakes
In the US and Canada large numbers of earthquakes have been caused by fracking, both directly and indirectly. In the US most quakes have been caused by re-injection of the vast quantities of fracking waste produced by this toxic process. In the most extreme case Oklamhoma has become the most earthquake prone state in the US due to facking waste injection wells, with significant damage as a result. In Canada however a large number of earthquakes have been caused by the hydraulic fracturing process itself, particularly in the Montney Shale in British Columbia.
In both cases not all the earthquakes have been small. The largest fracking quakes in Oklahoma have been a magnitude 5.6 main near Pawnee in 2016 and a magnitude 5.6 near Prague, Oklahoma in 2011, where two people suffered minor injuries, 14 homes had various levels of damage, and part of a university building collapsed. The largest earthquake ever triggered by hydraulic fracturing in British Columbia occurred during a fracking-triggered swarm of 676 earthquakes between 2014 and 2015, and was triggered by the fracking activities of Progress Energy, registering 4.6 magnitude.
The Preston New Road site is Cuadrilla’s flagship fracking test project, where they have planning permission (from central government) to drill and hydraulically fracture 4 shale gas wells. This would involve more than 20,000 vehicle movements in and out of the PNR site, as fracking trucks bring equipment and materials and dispose of waste, to and from support sites across the country. Take a look at our factsheet and find out what support sites could be near you.
Cuadrilla’s speculative business model means that they need good results from these test to get more investment, but that includes not just what they find under ground but the level of resistance they encounter. That is where communities across the country come in – by making Cuadrilla’s fracking plans as difficult, slow and expensive as possible!
Check out our factsheet about Cuadrilla’s plans, your community may be threatened with impacts (e.g. fracking waste being dumped or transported through your community) even if you live hundreds of miles from Lancashire.