Faulting and fracking: Lancashire


Lancashire is, or will be, the testbed for fracking for unconventional gas or oil in the UK. Fortunately the hiatus in progress of this industry, caused by the triggering of small earthquakes by Cuadrilla's Preese Hall-1 well in 2011, has permitted much more evidence to emerge that fracking is potentially catastrophic for the environment.



Cuadrilla Bowland Limited

Cuadrilla has applied for permission to drill at Preston New Road and at Roseacre Wood. I have submitted formal detailed technical objections to Lancashire County Council; here are the pdfs: Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood. They have also been sent to the Environment Agency.

I have also prepared a more general and less technical slideshow to illustrate the environmental risks.

I prepared two slideshows for presentations before the Development Control Committee of Lancashire County Council in January 2015. They are here in pdf form: Preston New Road; Roseacre Wood.

Cuadrilla published a paper in Geophysical Research Letters in December 2014 (paywalled), positioning the earthquakes on a fault that it now recognises near the wellbore. The earthquake location seems to be soundly based, but the interpretation of the fault position, avoiding the well, is, in my view, misleading. My reinterpretation of the data (to be submitted to a journal)  shows that the earthquake fault passes through the well at an acute angle, and was responsible for the considerable deformation of the steel casing. The general lesson is that faults are very hard to recognise in thick shale sequences like the Bowland Shale basins of the north of England.

I have updated my presentations of January 2015 with a short report, submitted to the Development Control Committee on 20 April 2015, discussing the extra information received since January. This includes water well evidence on the supposed salinity of the aquifer below the Fylde. I have also submitted (8 June 2015) a further commentary rebutting Environment Agency comments on my April submission, and also discussing an important new research paper (open access) published on 4 May 2015. This last paper proves, from a case history in Pennsylvania, that faults and/or fractures can and do act as a conduit from fracked shale to contaminate drinking water. Faulting in the Bowland Shale Basin of Lancashire is far more prevalent than in anywhere in the US shale basins. The risk of contamination is therefore correspondingly greater. Professor Stuart Haszeldine of Edinburgh University has also submitted a comment paper to LCC, discussing the new Pennsylvania research, and recommending a moratorium on fracking in the UK until the science has been done.

On 15 June 2015 Lancashire County Council published a so-called Officer Report, prepared for its Development Control Committee. This is intended to summarise (in 684 pages) and analyse the vast volume of information for the committee members, and to make recommendations regarding the two planning applications by Cuadrilla Bowland Limited to frack. However, there is clear evidence of bias and prejudice in the report. Firstly, outrageous comments have been made about three expert objecting witnesses (myself included), designed to denigrate and marginalise their professional reputations and integrity. Secondly, detailed witness evidence has been reduced to mere bullet points, and then dealt with, if at all, in a way that supports the pro-fracking decisions made by government agencies like the Environment Agency and DECC. There has been no real analysis of the arguments for and against the fracking applications, on crucial matters such as risk to groundwater resources and to public health. Dr Damien Short, Reader in Human Rights at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, has also criticised the Officer Report for its shortcomings regarding the human right to health.

It is likely that such a biased report could result in Judicial Review, if and when the  DCC approves either or both the applications.



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