Safe Fracking!


We hear over and over again how fracking is supposed to be safe thanks to our world class regulations. However, on closer scrutiny our regulations are not very good at all. The government is currently attempting to change the law to allow fracking in the most sensitive drinking water aquifer containing areas and sites of special scientific interest SSSIs. So what little protection we have is being eroded. Storage ponds are not currently permitted in this country, but where is all the waste from this industry going to end up? Many believe it is only a matter of time before laws are tweaked once again to allow storage ponds.

Emissions to Air

  • An exploratory drill that isn’t expected to require flaring requires NO emissions testing at all. Drillers argue they can control emissions through control of the drilling muds, but we have it on authority that this is nonsense (from an experienced ex-industry worker). Also, a study from the USA has suggested the drilling part of the operation is the time in which the most fugitive air emissions occurs.
  • During a drill/flow test/full production operation the amount of gas going to the flare stack is measured continuously. Once a month the composition of the gas going to the flare stack is tested. An estimate is made of total emissions using this figure. So they only have to check once, on a day that suits them, then they don’t have to check composition again for a whole month, even though they may have fracked and stirred everything up in the mean time. Strangely, if the application is for full production, some monitoring is required during the initial drilling phase. I don’t know why this does not apply to exploratory drills as well.
  • There is no requirement for independent air monitoring. They mark their own homework. It wasn’t the drillers that reported the problems at the West Newton well, it was the local people. Without independent, thorough monitoring we cannot be sure that dangerous pollutants are not being released. Much of what I have read and seen indicates that emissions release is unavoidable anyway.
  • There is NO limit on the amount of carbon monoxide, VOCs or methane they are allowed to flare, (only an overall limit on volume they are sending to flare which is pretty high!)
  • Methylene chloride comes up in studies from the USA as a major air contaminant of the fracking industry (and is not a known additive). I don’t see it mentioned anywhere in any permit I have seen.
  • The conventional industry is just as horrifying, but hasn’t been under the same scrutiny. The oil field at Stockbridge, Hampshire does not flare off excess gases, but vents straight into the atmosphere instead!

(I have a document with all the FOIRs and quotations from permit documents showing where this information came from, please email requests to view).

What about protecting our water?

This video from West Newton shows what can easily happen. The new standard permits the EA are proposing would allow drillers to operate within 10m of a waterway.

Well damage from seismic activity is a very serious risk. Once damaged the wells could leak into the surrounding area. Our regulations brush this concern aside with the traffic light system, under which activity would cease once an unacceptable level of seismic activity occurred. It’s the only recommendation from the Royal Society that has been taken up (that doesn’t stop the likes of Peter Lilley wheeling that report out though!).  But once you’ve fracked you can’t go back. You’ve sent lubricating fluid shooting up faults and shifting things around that should have been left alone. Ceasing activity might mitigate a bit of damage, but can’t undo all the damage done.

Plus there is the 5% of wells that fail immediately and all the issues around well integrity and cement jobs that are impossible to avoid.

Independent inspectors

One of those Royal Society recommendations which has been kicked in the long grass is the need for truly independent inspectors. For some reason the frackers are getting away with having well inspectors from their own company. Regulators rarely visit sites, relying instead on the drillers reports.


Radon is a radioactive gas that can cause cancer. Public Health England recommend in their review of the potential public health impact of shale gas, that further monitoring and assessment should be made of radon arising from shale gas activities to provide an evidence base. However, Cuadrilla claim that the level of radon they anticipate will be released (at Preston New Road) is below levels of concern and therefore the EA does not require any monitoring at all, despite the PHE recommendation (read the rest of the PHE report to see one of the most disjointed, leaned on documents I have ever seen. This review from RAFF is excellent). A recent study has shown elevated radon levels in Pennsylvania homes in recent years since expansion of the fracking industry. The authors point to the cumulative effect of multiple wells changing the geology and creating new paths for radon to rise to the surface. Our regulations completely fail to acknowledge this risk.

Set Back from Schools

There has been much talk about excluding national parks, but little focus on distance from schools. The really frightening thing about the migration of this technique from the USA and Australia is the difference in population density between our nations. The list of the harmedtells 7000 terrible tales of the effects of this industry, what will the price be in our densely populated country? Labour failed to suggest a regulation on set back distance from schools in their proposed amendments to the infrastructure bill, perhaps they realised it would effectively hamstring this unregulatable industry.

Radiation Risk

Flowback fluid usually contains naturally occurring radioactive material NORMS. There has been a failure to acknowledge the difference between ingesting radionuclides and being externally exposed to them. Paul Mobbs summarises the downplaying of this issue on hiswebsite.

Lack of Punishment for Permit Violation

And what happens if a company violates the conditions of their permit? We are waiting to see how the EA deal with Rathlin over their 19 violations at the West Newton well. The proposedstandard permitting rules suggest that it could be ok for companies to pollute if it is ‘not practicable’ to stop it, so it is unlikely that Rathlin will receive much of a punishment. The HSE revealed that Rathlin accidentally ignited the gas in the well at one stage. From what we have seen so far the regulations are not making this industry safe.

CBM with no regulator involvement is happening now!

Because iGAS’s pilot coal bed methane extraction project started before October 2013, it does not require an EA permit! When campaigners emailed the EA to ask about water monitoring, site inspections etc. they were told the EA do not have the information, since there is no permitting at the site. This means that unconventional gas extraction is happening right now, without any regulation from the Environment Agency. Read more here.


In conclusion, our swiss cheese regulation of the onshore oil and gas industry is not fit for purpose. It does nothing to assess the cumulative impact multiple wells will have on the environment and is not something to be boasted about at all. Even if it was, there are just so many dangerous aspects of this industry it would be impossible to regulate away all the risk. Banning fracking and embracing the renewable revolution is the only way forward!

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