Fighting Fracking In 2019: Industry Crumbling In Face of Sustained Resistance | Frack Off

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Fighting Fracking In 2019: Industry Crumbling In Face of Sustained Resistance

Summary

For several years the fracking industry in the UK has been hoping for a breakout year where they finally get to push aside community opposition, drill a load of wells, flow some gas and get a load more investment cash as a result! Instead, due to concerted resistance from communities across the country, every year seems to be worse for fracking industry than the year before. The industry in the UK is supposed to be “Europe’s last hope for a fracking success” but even when they manage to drill a few wells, or even frac them, they are more likely to shoot themselves in the foot as not (see below for highlights).

This time last year Cuadrilla Resources was withdrawing equipment from its flagship Preston New Road site after persistent induced earthquakes disrupted its attempts to fracture the first of 2 wells drilled there. A year on attempts to fracture the second well on the site in August have resulted in a magnitude 2.9 earthquake, the largest confirmed fracking earthquake in the UK, and the government asking the industry not to apply for any Hydraulic Fracturing Consents in the near future.

We should be under no illusion that this “pause” is the end of fracking. Despite all the hype in the media, the fracking “pause” would not even stop the fracking industry from doing what it did to cause the recent earthquakes which triggered this “pause” in the first place. Setting aside question of whether it is a temporary PR exercise, the fact is that it still allows construction, drilling and a lot of testing, and that who areas of the country (e.g. Sussex/Surrey) are effectively exempt from it.

Outside Lancashire the industry’s progress have been equally patchy, with only attempts to target tight/shale oil in Sussex/Surrey meeting with much success. But in most cases the industry’s progress has been not just glacially slow in the face of sustained intense resistance from local communities, but actually a step backwards. The UK fracking industry continues to find it increasingly difficult to drive its plans through massive community opposition, with numerous of anti-fracking groups across the country, the anti-fracking movement has gone from strength to strength.

Another string of predictions of a turnaround in 2020 are inevitable; the industry runs on over blown hype to try to scrape up the investment cash it needs to keep limping along. However, a look back at the last year suggests more of the same is all the frackers have to look forward to. There will certainly be new attempts to push forward, but in the face of continued community resistance everything they do will be slower and more costly. As Cuadrilla’s flagship project at Preston New Road is demonstrating, the closer they move towards production the harder it becomes to disguise the true nature of fracking.

Cuadrilla was hemorrhaging cash even before it began work at Peston New Road, and the potential for community resistance to turn this project into Cuadrilla’s last stand is considerable. Across the country 2019 has seen a huge variety of creative resistance to the fracking industry, focused not only on the fracking sites themselves but also on the whole network of transport routes and support sites which supply them. While Lancashire is a major front in this battle, others are equally important, especially North Yorkshire, the East Midlands and the South East. Wherever you live the overall strategy of creating delays and increasing costs in order to wear the fracking industry down, starve it of investment cash and eventually bankrupt it, is proving highly effective. In the end this is a fight to the death, either the fracking companies get to industrialise the country with tens of thousands of wells or we drive them in to bankruptcy… there are no other options.

A drilling rig moves in the East Midlands as fracking company IGas Energy turns its sights on sites at Springs Road near Misson, in the Bassetlaw district of Nottinghamshire. After failing to find the Bowland Shale at nearby Tinker Lane where it recently drilled a well. IGas is now gambling that it will have more luck 10 miles down the road in Misson.
Frack Free Misson and Frack Free Tinker Lane, supported by groups from across the region and beyond, are resisting these ongoing drilling efforts. IGas has plans to drill up to two test wells, including one horizontal well, at Springs Road, and has already drilled one test well at Tinker Lane.

The people of Sauzal Bonito in Argentina’s Neuquén province recently found out first hand about one of the impacts of fracking. The area which sits on top of the Vaca Muerta Shale formation was hit by an, until now, unusual swarm of 37 earthquakes in late January, ranging from magnitude 1.4 to 3.6. Though not huge the shallow quakes cause structural damage to buildings in the town and shutdown a pump, causing water shortages. The director of Sismología de Chile, Joaquín Vázquez, is reported as saying “We had never detected so many earthquakes in such a short time”. The initial swarm was followed by a further 12 earthquakes over the following 8 days.

A county in the western Chinese province of Sichuan has suspended drilling for shale gas in response to protests by residents, after a series of earthquakes that led to two deaths was linked to fracking. The first quake hit Sichuan province’s Rongxian county on Sunday morning, followed by two more, including a magnitude 4.9 quake on Monday afternoon that caused the two fatalities. Twelve people were injured, according to the county government and other reports suggest the quakes have damaged more than 10,000 buildings to various degrees.

Fracking company Third Energy has sold its onshore gas business (PDF), which includes licenses and sites in North Yorkshire (including Kirby Misperton site), to York Energy (UK) Holdings Ltd, an affiliate of an American fracking company Alpha Energy. Third Energy had significant financial difficulties which are stopping it from meeting some financial conditions need for final hydraulic fracturing consent at Kirby Misperton. Third Energy was planning to carry out hydraulic fracturing tests on the KM8 well at its Kirby Misperton site in North Yorkshire, which it previously drilled through the Bowland Shale.

Plans for the expansion of the UK Oil and Gas Investments (UKOG) fracking site at Horse Hill in Surrey are slowly moving forward despite delays caused by opposition from local communities, and UKOG is hoping for a decision on the plans later in the year. The planning application is for the retention of the existing site, drilling of 4 new production wells and 1 waste injection well. In Sussex and Surrey, the industry is targeting the shallow Kimmeridge Clay shale layer for shale/tight oil. The Kimmeridge Clay is often compared by the fracking industry to the Bakken Shale, where over 15,000 wells have been drilling to date.

Between November 18 2018 and April 19 2019 flowback waste from Cuadrilla’s fracking site in Lancashire was taken to FCC Recycling (UK) Limited at Knostrop in Leeds, the Environment Agency (EA) has confirmed. The waste was carried in tankers on an unknown route on public roads past hundreds of communities. The waste flowback fluid is a brine solution containing heavy metals, toxic hydrocarbons (BTEX) and naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM). After being treated by FCC the water is passed to the Yorkshire Water treatmente works and then discharged into the River Aire.

The Northen Ireland Department for the Economy (DfE) has received an application from Tamboran Resources for a Petroleum Licence covering 608 square kilometres of Fermanagh. The comapany plans widespread drilling and testing despite it’s previous failure to drill (at Belcoo Quarry in 2014) when it’s licence was withdrawn in the face of massive community resistance. Groups across Ireland always knew that the company could return and are now mobilising to oppose Tamborans plans every step of the way.

The size and frequency of seismic events are again ramping up in the area surrounding Preston New Road near Blackpool. More than 90 tremors have occurred since fracking resumed there less than a fortnight ago. These seismic events are just one of numerous impacts that occur at the shale gas exploration stage but are nothing compared to the impacts caused when the industry goes into production with hundreds of sites and thousands of wells strewn across rural and suburban areas.

Despite causing the largest earthquake definitively due to fracking in the UK (a magnitude 2.9 on the 26th Aug), and over 120 smaller ones in the past month, fracking company Cuadrilla Resources has announced it is planning to press on. Currently fracking operations at Cuadrilla’s flagship Preston New Road are suspended while the Oil & Gas Authority seeks “extensive data and analysis” from Cuadrilla. Cuadrilla has already stated that it plans to continue to frack and explore for shale gas at the site.

Despite all the hype in the media, the fracking “pause” that has just been announced by the UK government is nothing more substantial than a press release. The government is asking the industry, nicely, not to submit any applications for hydraulic fracturing consents in the near future, because at the moment it would too embarrassing to approve them. The hope seems to be that once all the fuss has died down a bit, it will be possible to push forward with fracking Lanacshire. The strategy was the same after the earthquakes Cuadrilla caused in Apr/May 2011. In that case, the government “paused” hydraulic fracturing for more study, but by the end of 2012 the Cuadrilla had permission to continue.

If you live in the South East of England there is no fracking “pause”. Exploration of Shale Gas in the North of England maybe somewhat affected by it, but fracking for Shale Oil in Sussex/Surrey is not covered in any way. Despite all the hype in the media, the fracking “pause” that has just been announced by the UK government, does not cover an awful lot. Even if it is not almost immediately reversed, the only thing which is being paused is the issuing of hydraulic fracturing consents, so building sites, drilling wells and quite a lot of testing is not covered. All this means that while waiting for the “pause” to end, it will still be possible for the fracking industry to push forward in a lot of areas.

A heavily redacted cabinet office report (PDF) the government has been forced to release provides interesting reading even though it hides much about the fracking industry in the UK. The report blames “public opposition driven by … concerns local quality of life and safety, environmental protection” resulting in “several practical barriers, with the most significant for operators so far being long timelines/uncertainty in local planning”. The report also shows the very high bar which the industry needs to reach before billions in will flood in from investors, predicting “20-30 successful wells in 3-5 regions” would be required to kick start large scale investment in the industry but that “exponential acceleration in wells fracked” could be expected after that.

With the continued mobilisation of active and organised communities the coming year can be equally successful in thwarting the fracking industry’s plans. If you want to start a group in your area see our Get Involved page or contact us at outreach@frack-off.org.

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