Special Digest


31/05/2014

Cuadrilla's disgraceful history


Why we should be jumping for joy if Cuadrilla doesn't frack the UK

Cuadrilla are threatening to pull out of UK shale if the government doesn’t trample on landowner rights and give a free hand to them and the rest of their environment-damaging industry.

That makes it a worthwhile time to review their credentials, and suggest why we should cheer if they pull out of fracking the UK. They are unscrupulous and not competent to be let loose on our countryside.

1. Failure to notify authorities of well deformation.

On April 1st 2011 Cuadrilla fracked their well at Preese Hall, Fylde, Lancashire. This caused a seismic event which was felt in the nearby area.

They continued with a series of further tests (dfit or mini-fracs) until on 27th May there was a further larger seimic event which resulted in suspension of their activities. During the investigation which followed it became apparent that the well casing at Preese Hall had been deformed by the April 1st event and Cuadrilla had known about it a few days after that event. However they did not disclose this information. In the report into the seismic events (the Green/Styles/Baptie report of April 2012) it is made clear that “Once wellbore deformation is observed, a detailed analysis is required in order to use the correct mitigating strategy, which may include either strengthening the casing, or alternatively, allowing more room for greater compliance between the casing and formation.”

Cuadrilla, however, determined unilaterally that there was no effect on overall well integrity and continued fracking. (It is not, therefore, clear why they then subsequently closed the well, if they had determined no loss of integrity). The official report concluded the earthquakes were indeed the overwhelmingly likely cause of the earthquakes. The pre-existing fault which was triggerd into action by Cuadrilla’s fracking has not been identified. It was therefore reckless for Cuadrilla to continue not only with a deformed well casing but without performing further geological investigation.

2. Cuadrilla’s management was criticised by government, and we are still waiting for DECC's consultant study findings - or is it buried?.

When the government moratorium on fracking in December 2012, at the same time it emerged from correspondence between minister Charles Hendry and Cuadrilla chairman Lord Browne that Cuadrilla had been found to have internal management problems. DECC said these related to the possible cause of the earthquakes and options for mitigation. DECC said “This lapse had not, in this case, caused a serious safety or environmental problem but if left unaddressed the underlying causes would compromise Cuadrilla’s future ability as an operator.”

Energy Secretary Ed Davey told Cuadrilla to address management failings before it continued fracking in Lancashire. Cuadrilla had to some extent pre-empted this by replacing former CEO Mark Miller by Francis Egan. They followed this by constituting a new H&S committee and created a number of new senior roles such as the Director of Communications. However, this raises the question of the competence not only of the company but of Lord Browne, who as a former boss of BP clearly had no hands-on control. Cuadrilla were said by him to have established and communicated a clear policy that operational incidents “judged to have a potentially serious impact on health and safety or infrastructure integrity” would be reported to DECC immediately. Which rather begs the question of how serious an “incident” has to be before it is reported.

It was stated that an independent investigation would be set up to carry out a review of Cuadrilla’s management. A report has been produced, I understand, but not published (I have asked for this under Freedom of Information Act but was told the review was not complete.

We therefore still do not know whether Cuadrilla’s management and procedures have changed since they neglected to advise anyone of their accident at Preese Hall.

3. Cuadrilla’s geophysical survey in the Fylde caused distress and damage to local residents, showing them as inexperiencced and incapable of handling subcontractor projects.

Cuadrilla carried out a geophysical survey in the Fylde in early 2012. (The fact that this was carried out after their activities spawned earthquakes, rather than before, highlights problems with the whole process and responsibility between regulators and industry.)

The survey required installing various pieces of equipment around the area, including geophones, which we can think of as microphones. When an explosive charge is detonated the reflections from below ground are picked up by the geophones to help give a map of what’s down below. A second way of communicating with the geophones is by using vibrating plates underneath vehicles, sending vibrations below ground, again to be reflected and picked up by the geophones.

Residents were subjected to cable-laying in the roads, (one cyclist was reportedly injured by this) and fields were accessed for drilling holes for the explosive charges. There were complaints that some fields were accessed without permission. Also that communication with workers was difficult because they (being largely French) did not speak English. Children, pets, kenneled dogs and horses were frightened by the explosions. Some dmage was caused to houses. Local MP Mark Menzies suddenly found himself facing a barrage of complaints. Following duiscussion with him Cuadrilla agreed to detonating charges at a greater distance from property, but only when the survey was coming to an end. There is a catalogue of the resident complaints in my book Fracking The UK, and on RAFF’s web pages. A local angling club had fish killed in one of its ponds due to the explosions.

It is understood that Cuadrilla settled damage claims out of court with some residents. Cuadrilla used a company (Spectrum Acoustic Consultants) for the survey work, and CGGVeritas, clearly Cuadrilla had no experience of such geological survey work, nor their consultants or subcontractors, and Cuadrilla failed to supervise properly the operation.

4. Cuadrilla’s competence in serious doubt after second well failure.

In November 2012 Cuadrilla admitted that a second well of theirs had failed, at Anna’s Road. They had drilled down around 2,000 feet, a third of the way down, when they stopped to cement the top casing. They ran a test on this cement bond, and this apparently showed that the cement had not bonded well between the casing and the rock. Cuadrilla say they punched a hole in the casing and tested the problem by pressurising drilling fluid through. They claim this showed no risk of leakage. However, a packer (a tool used during testing for well integrity) became trapped inside the well. It was not possible to drill further onwards through the lost packer, and Cuadrilla had to abandon the well and cap it. If, as Cuadrilla claim, the cement bond failure was well below the aquifer, it is not clear why they used an expensive process to check out the well status. A process which, despite being described as vital by some engineers, is still not required by governmental regulation. The Health and Safety Executive has in fact stated that Cement Bond Logging was not necessary. Cuadrilla have carried out no similar check on their other three wells, including the Preese Hall well which was damaged and closed.

5. Exceeding planning permissions and breaching conditions in Lancashire.

A trial of 3 protestors in Preston Magistrates Court in September 2012 revealed that Cuadrilla had been in breach of planning permissions at another of their test sites Banks in the winter of 2011. Conditions were imposed as there is a nearby important bird overwintering area. In court to give evidence, a senior planning officer confirmed that Cuadrilla had continued its operations outside the period of their planning permission for two months. He also confirmed that they had breached a condition of the permission relating to safeguard bird life in the adjacent Ribble Estuary protected site.

I know of no case where Cuadrilla completed their testing and restored the site within the time allowed by their planning conditions. It has been their habit to for a variety of reasons exceed then apply for extension.

At Anna’s Road there was a complaint on record by a local resident -

”Cuadrilla vehicles are using Peel Hall Business Village to park vehicles, including wagons, without planning permission and out of hours contrary to conditions on the site. … I saw two vehicles enter the business village this morning (08.00hrs approximately) and asked two young men leaving the business village if they were aware they were in breach of conditions and did they work for Cuadrilla? They drove off to the rig on Anna’s Rd so I’ll take that as a, “YES”. They did have Cuadrilla overalls on. Car registration WP61 SZY a black coloured vehicle. The condition 13 On site parking 05/10/0634/1 indicates that there is no need to use Peel Hall Business Village.”

6. Breaching conditions at Balcombe.

At Balcombe Cuadrilla were accused of breaching a number of conditions of their grant of planning permission -

They failed to keep records of the permission on-site.
They breached traffic direction conditions.
They worked outside hours of condition.
Their HGVs breached conditions of not passing through the village at school opening and closing times.
Their operation breached conditions on noise.
Their security fencing was not as detailed in their permission.
As in Lancashire they failed to complete testing and restoration of the site in accordance with planning permission.

7. False claims and inaccurate, fabricated propaganda cause ASA censure.

Cuadrilla have a history of making statements to the press, on radio, and in leaflets, which are inaccurate and misleading, if not to say outright lies. There are numerous instances recorded, for example, (some detailed in the book Fracking The UK) of company spokesmen saying that fracking is completely or 100% safe. A major issue raised regarding their level of deception relates to their acquisition of an old gas-producing well at Elswick in the Fylde and passing it off as “their” operation and example of fracking.

This led in one case to a Cuadrilla leaflet circulated around the Fylde being the subject of a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority. In April 2013 the ASA decided, after nine months of fight and denial by Cuadrilla, that many of the complaints were justified. Cuadrilla stood convicted on several counts. For convenience I summarise the upheld charges here -

“1. "Cuadrilla uses proven, safe technologies to explore for and recover natural gas" This was found to be a misleading, unsubstantiated exaggeration (I have abbreviated this to misleading only below!)
2. Cuadrilla claimed the government had said it was safe to resume hydraulic fracturing. ASA said this was another misleading statement and an overclaim. Companies will now have to be careful about what they say in this regard.
3. Cuadrilla claimed the rules now meant there would be "no prospect" of any damage from seismic events due to fracking. ASA rejected this as misleading.
4. Cuadrilla claimed further seismic events would not be felt "no one should notice any disturbance or even be aware of the activity". ASA rejected this claim.
5. Cuadrilla said they were unaware of any evidence that hydraulic fracturing itself had caused contamination across overlying layers of rock to the aquifer. ASA found otherwise - there had been contamination. Whether this was due to faulty well construction or fracking itself was immaterial. This is a point that we have laboured many times.
6. Cuadrilla claimed their chemicals used in fracking were non-hazardous and non-toxic. The ASA found this was misleading.
7. Cuadrilla was misleading in using Elswick as a comparison site. ASA recognised horizontal fracking was very different from the vertical fracking at Elswick.”

8. Cuadrilla unrepentant and continue to repeat a number of their false claims on their website.

Check out their website for similar misleading and unsubstantiated information. They still say this, for example, which is a complete fabrication, as well as confusing a government department with a parliamentary select committee. “Our operations are also deemed to be completely safe by the House of Commons Department of Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, following a wide-ranging inquiry into shale gas exploration and production.” There has never been any statement by either DECC or the Energy and Climate Change Committee passing any comment of approval on Cuadrilla’s operations to justify this. It is a lie.

Another example on the same page regarding regulator visits - ”During operations, Cuadrilla is subject to visits from the EA and HSE both on an announced and unannounced basis. During March 2011 – August 2011, the EA visited the Preese Hall site 10 times, with seven of these being unannounced. Cuadrilla is obliged to send the HSE a weekly report of its operations.” The reality is rather different. Here’s what engineer Mike Hill said a while ago when the issue was first raised of regulatory competence. “The HSE (responsible for Well Integrity) have not visited any of the wells in Lancashire once to inspect for well integrity.
The only visits the HSE made to Preese Hall, I understand, was to check if workers were wearing hard hats. (HSE has neither the staff nor competence to inspect well integrity. They read and rubber stamp what Cuadrilla send them.)

So Cuadrilla have a continuing history of making false claims about the "safe" regulation of their industry, and no doubt repeat these claims to planning authority officials. Planning applications will continue to be granted against this backdrop of misinformation.

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