UK Government Announces Moratorium
On 2 November 2019, the Conservative led government announced a moratorium on Fracking in the UK ostensibly because it is ‘unsafe’ following a report by the Oil and Gas Authority stating that currently human-induced seismic events cannot be accurately predicted. Coincidentally, this was eight years to the day since the last moratorium on fracking was introduced.
We, along with many others, feel that this moratorium is only temporary – supported by comments from Andrea Leadsom MP which makes it clear that fracking will be back on the agenda as soon as the science supports it.
The report from the OGA on which this decision has apparently been taken, follows around six months of research and analysis of data taken from Cuadrilla’s first attempt at fracking the Preston New Road site in the later part of 2018. As the reports were being finalised, Cuadrilla commenced fracking well two, but were soon forced to suspend fracking indefinitely following a 2.9Ml earthquake that shook houses throughout the Fylde coast. Dr Brian Baptie of the BGS was later reported as saying over 3000 reports of people feeling the Earthquake had been received, with hundreds of reports of property damage.
Some of the reports commissioned by the OGA have referred to the 2.9Ml event but it was not the focus of their studies. Neither was it, as many believed, a review of the Traffic Light System. We can be encouraged that if the moratorium was indeed based on the report from the OGA, in turn based on the data from well one, then surely the seismic events triggered by fracking of well two must serve to reinforce the science.
The OGA report contains an overview of what happened at the PNR site during the fracking of well one and it makes interesting reading. The larger seismic events were apparently caused by a previously unidentified fault intersected by well one. Cuadrilla and the OGA were baffled that the events were occurring some distance from the injection points and to try and circumvent triggering further events, decided that rather than frack stages sequentially, they would frack further and further from the location of the events. This proved to be their undoing as they relied on the ability to open and close the perforations in the well using sliding sleeves and as they neared the heel of the well, sleeves stuck open. This rendered a large proportion of the well un-frackable – yet another Cuadrilla success story.
During the summer, Cuadrilla applied for a variation to their Environmental Permits to allow them to use a different mix of chemicals in their frack fluid and this was granted by the Environment Agency. From the summation of Cuadrilla’s activities in the OGA report, it seems that they decided to use a different mix in a frack on August 23rd to see if this prevented the seismic events; the 2.9Ml event three days later gives a clue as to how successful that gambit was.
In all of this we remain baffled by the actions of the OGA. Given that after well one they knew that previously unidentified faults had been found, that seismic events had been triggered, and that they had commissioned a number of investigations to analyse the data – why on earth didn’t they wait for the results of this investigations before approving Cuadrilla’s frack plan for Well two?
The moratorium is welcome, but if the Government were truly following the science then it would not just be based on concerns around seismicity, but also health concerns and environmental concerns. Public Health England reviewed papers on the health impacts of Fracking five years ago and have not as yet reviewed the many, many papers produced since then. And while a fracking moratorium is in place, the flaring or cold venting continues with the health risks they carry.
A moratorium is OK but we would far rather it was a complete ban.