BY RUTH HAYHURST ON JULY 7, 2017
The shale gas company, Cuadrilla, is being urged to explain why it is seeking changes to the environmental permit for its site near Blackpool.
The Environment Agency announced yesterday that Cuadrilla had applied to vary the permit for Preston New Road, where drilling is expected to start imminently.
The company wants to make changes to the maximum limit of fracture fluid that can be used and to the duration of flaring during initial well tests.
Friends of the Earth said today
“Cuadrilla needs to explain exactly why they are proposing this intensification and what the environmental impact of these proposals will be for Preston New Road and the surrounding area.”
A public consultation on the changes is now open and runs until 3 August 2017. There are 18 application documents, totalling 842 pages.
Hydraulic fracturing at Preston New Road had been scheduled for September but according to the company’s most recent accounts it is now expected towards the end of this year. Well testing, which also involves flaring, is scheduled for the first half of 2018.
Volumes of fracking fluid
The current environmental permit, granted in 2014, allowed Cuadrilla to pump up to 765m3 of fracture fluid a day during the fracking process.
The company has now asked to change this to a maximum of 765m3 per fracture stage. The application documents state that there will be 30-40 fracking stages for each of the planned four wells.
The Non-technical summary suggests that multiple fracture stages could be carried out in a day:
“The Environmental Risk Assessment has been updated to account for multiple fracture stages per day. Conducting multiple fracture stages per day would not require any change to the current controlled measures.”
A spokesperson for Friends of the Earth said:
“It seems clear that the purpose of this variation is to allow Cuadrilla to conduct multiple fracture stages per day. Friends of the Earth believes that this represents a potentially significant intensification of Cuadrilla’s proposals for Preston New Road.”
A spokesperson for Cuadrilla said the limit of 765m3 per fracturing stage had been consistently proposed.
“As the operation progresses there may be more than one fracture stage per day but the limit per fracture stage does not change”.
Some opponents of Cuadrilla’s operations are also concerned about the company’s application to change the maximum duration of flaring for individual wells.
Permission is in place to flare gas 24-hours a day during initial flow tests, which measure the composition and flow rate of gas in the well.
The original permit allowed Cuadrilla to flare for a maximum of 90 days or 2,160 hours per well.
Cuadrilla now wants to change this limit to a total of 360 days for the whole site.
The maximum daily volume of gas that can be flared would stay the same at 130,000m3 as would the total duration of flaring. Cuadrilla has said the proposal would give it flexibility to increase the amount of flaring for individual wells, without increasing the overall duration.
The application said:
“The amount of data which can be gathered within the first 2,160 hours (90 days) of initial flow testing may be insufficient to verify that the natural gas arising will meet the requirements of the gas grid operator for acceptance of natural gas into the gas network.
“For this reason it may be necessary to continue flaring at a given well for in excess of 2,160 hours (90 days) in total, but subject to a maximum aggregate of 8,640 hours (360 days x 24 hours) flaring for all wells at the site.”
The Air Quality Assessment, one of the documents in the application, suggested flaring could be continuous. It said:
“The proposed development comprises two enclosed ground flares for treating the natural gas produced during initial flow testing, and could potentially operate continuously for 360 days of the year in a worst-case scenario change.”
A company spokesperson said an air quality emission assessment had identified no significant impact and the aim was to limit flaring to a short a period as possible.
But one opponent said the previous flaring plan had assumed that wells would be drilled over a period of perhaps three or four years, spreading out pollution, including flaring emissions. He said:
“Now what is proposed is a vastly accelerated drilling, fracking and testing schedule, which – perhaps incredibly – squeezes the expected three or four years into one.
“This totally alters the parameters that were assumed for the granting of the planning permission by the Secretary of State and as understood by the inspector”.
The opponent suggested this change may be the company’s response to direct action protests outside the site and would put increased pressure on regulators.
DrillOrDrop asked Cuadrilla whether it was proposing to accelerate the flow testing process and condense continuous flaring into 360 days. The company has not responded.
Other changesThe application also seeks to change the way seismic monitoring information is collected. The existing permit proposes a buried micro-seismic array. Cuadrilla wants to replace this with seismic equipment in an offset well.
Another variation adds an additional groundwater monitoring boreholes to the list in the permit. It also proposes to remove the requirement to purge the boreholes before sampling for dissolved gases, in line with a British Standard.