Fracking “Paused” In Lancashire But For How Long?
Despite all the hype in the media, the fracking “pause” that has just been announced by the UK government is nothing more substantial than a press release. The government is asking the industry, nicely, not to submit any applications for hydraulic fracturing consents in the near future, because at the moment it would too embarrassing to approve them. The hope seems to be that once all the fuss has died down a bit, it will be possible to push forward with fracking Lanacshire. The strategy was the same after the earthquakes Cuadrilla caused in Apr/May 2011. In that case, almost 8 years ago to the day, Cuadrilla admitted that it had caused the earthquakes and the government “paused” hydraulic fracturing for more study, but within 6 months a report had been trotted out claiming fracking was safe, and by the end of 2012 the Cuadrilla had permission to continue.
In the current press release the government is saying that it “will take a presumption against issuing any further Hydraulic Fracturing Consents … unless compelling new evidence is provided”, and “that further detailed geomechanical analysis would be needed before we could evaluate with confidence whether hydraulic fracturing could resume in the Fylde, or elsewhere, consistent with the government’s policy aims.”. In particular “future applications for Hydraulic Fracturing Consent will be considered on their own merits by the Secretary of State, in accordance with the law, the shale gas industry should take the government’s position into account when considering new developments”. So the industry can in theory apply for a consent, and they won’t necessarily be turned down, but government would prefer if they didn’t ask because it is all too embarrassing at the moment. As with previous “pauses” in fracking, this looks more like a “gentleman’s agreement” than any sort of regulation.
Most importantly what people are resisting, unconventional oil and gas extraction (colloquially known as fracking), does not just consist of hydraulic fracturing (though it usually it in some form). The industry is free to push forward with most of its activities, including drilling wells and various sorts of testing. In fact the sneaky “definition” of hydraulic fracturing in the Infrastructure Act 2015 means lots of hydraulic fracturing is not covered (particularly for shale oil in Sussex/Surrey which would require lower volumes). Insanely even the hydraulic fracturing which Cuadrilla has actually managed to do at Preston New Road already to cause these earthquakes, is not covered by this “pause” and Cuadrilla would be free to do it again without a hydraulic fracturing consent (Cuadrilla’s original 41 frac stage per well plan would be too large to be exempt though).
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 past 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.