As of Oct 2015, only one well has actually undergone ‘fracking’ for shale gas , in Blackpool in 2011. This led to 2 minor earthquakes and activity was suspended. There have since been a number of test drilling events, and with the latest round of PEDL licences granted (159 in Aug 2015), this could potentially increase exponentially over the next few months.
Please use the links to read the full reports on each subject.
- a) Government reporting on effects of fracking
- In August 2014, the Department of Energy and Climate Change published their report on the likely effects on rural communities, following a Freedom of Information request by Greenpeace. When published, it had 63 redactions within the report, including a whole section on the impact on house prices. (See the redacted report here)
There then followed a campaign to get the report released in full. Under mounting pressure, it was finally released earlier this year (June 2015). The government were quick to distance themselves from it, despite it coming from within their own departments.
The main points that came to light were;
- House prices likely to fall.
- Rural community businesses such as agriculture, tourism, organic farming, hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation, which rely on clean air, land, water, and/or a tranquil environment may suffer losses.
- The majority of jobs are likely to go to people outside of the local area due to the specialised nature of the employment.
- There is the potential for serious adverse health effects.
- Increased house insurance costs.(Read the full uncensored report here)
- In a report released in August 2013, (again after a FOI request from Greenpeace), it transpired that the Environment Agency had privately briefed ministers that fracking in areas where there were aquifers should not be permitted. However, the wording was changed before it was released as a public statement, therefore deliberately misleading the public. (See more here)
- Public attitudes tracker (DECC)
- The Department for Energy and Climate Change conduct a survey 4 times a year relating to the public’s attitude towards their responsibilities, including fracking. In their latest report (Aug 2015), 28% opposed fracking, 21% supported it, and 46% neither it opposed or supported it.
- It is not clear from the report what happened to the missing 5%!!
- It concluded that the number supporting fracking is at its lowest since the surveys began in 2012. It is also noted that when looking at the numbers, support or opposition is linked to awareness. Amongst those who know a lot about fracking, opposition is at 54%, with 32% supporting it.(Read the full DECC report here)
- Click on this link to look at the DECC site which holds a number of different reports on the effects of fracking, and also explains legislation.
Safety record and accidents
- Preese Hall – Blackpool.
This is the most well known as led to seismic activity (minor earthquakes) in 2011.This was due to drilling that hit a geological fault line (there are thousands that cris- cross the UK). In investigation, the company Cuadrilla were found to be guilty of wilfully flouting a number of regulations; there was a limit of 90 days drilling allowed which they exceeded, failed to meet a planning condition aimed at protecting nearby wintering birds. (Read more here)
They were then reprimanded by the govt in 2012 as the earthquake had caused some damage to the well and Cuadrilla had not reported this to anyone. (Read more here)
The same company withdrew some planning applications in Lancs in Jan 2014 as they could not meet safety regulations on disposal of the flow back water. (Read more here)
It transpires that some radioactive water was initially treated and then dumped into the Manchester Ship Canal. This was not actually a breach of any permit condition, although regulation was changed in 2011 and this practice was subsequently stopped (read more here)
- West Newton – Yorkshire
Although this particular incident happened at a conventional drilling site, it is relevant as the company involved (Rathlin) are a big player in the fracking industry. Therefore, scrutiny of their recent safety record has relevance. The worrying aspect is that the issues below happened at a conventional site, where the procedures are well known.
Rathlin breached 14 permit conditions between July and Oct 2014. 3 of these related to the release of methane gas, prohibited by Env Agency. As a greenhouse gas methane is around x84 more potent than CO2. The company cited ‘Un anticipated on-site operational challenges’. They suspended activity on this site in Feb 2015. (Read more here)
Frack Free Yorkshire have compiled a dossier of incidents in their area (click here to read more)
- Barton Moss – Manchester
During a court hearing at a test drilling site, an environmental scientist found high levels of carcinogenic chemicals at the perimeter of the iGas site. He also found what was believed to be drilling mud left at the back of the site. (This waste product should be treated as potentially hazardous).
The company would not allow any further investigation on the site itself. (Read more here)
The Infrastructure Act 2015
Prior to this becoming law, landowners owned the land beneath the surface. If a company wanted to drill for oil/gas etc, they would need the consent of all landowners to gain underground access.
In May 2014, the DECC held a public consultation on the Infrastructure Act which changed landowners rights, meaning operators could drill under landowners as long as it was a depth of below 300 metres.
There were over 40,000 responses, of which 99% opposed this Act. However, it became law in early 2015. (Read more here)
Community Engagement Charter
This is a scheme run by UK Onshore Operators Group (UKOOG), the representative body for the UK onshore oil and gas industry.
The main points of this are:
- At the exploration stage, benefits of £100,000 per well-site where fracking takes place (split between the local community and the county)
- At production stage, 1% of revenues to communities (which it is estimated could be worth in the region of £5 – 10 million for a producing site over its lifetime) (Read more here)
The regulatory process has been set out in publications, along with guidelines on techniques and practices by UKOOG. (Read more here)
There are a number of government bodies that are responsible for regulatory oversight, mainly the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the Environmental Agency (EA) plus local authorities.
The HSE mainly are responsible for well integrity and on site H&S.
The EA look after all environmental aspects associated with the activity; from water abstraction licences through to issuing of permits connected to water/air pollution and so on.
It is worth noting that both the HSE and EA have suffered with large staff reductions over the last two years.
As an example of their inability to cope with their responsibilities, the EA failed to recognise the need for Cuadrilla to apply for 2 waste permits at their site in Balcombe, Sussex.
Even where regulatory mechanisms exist, the incidents at Preese Hall demonstrate the inability to enforce these. (Read more here)
Currently, there is no independent examination or onsite inspection programme, before, during or after drilling takes place.
Other useful links
- A full, well researched and evidenced report from the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health.
- A report from CHEM trust into the effects of chemicals used in the fracking process on humans and wildlife.
- A briefing paper for The House of Commons which gives an overview of fracking in the UK.
- http://drillordrop.com is an independent website that holds many further resources as well as keeping up to date on latest developments.