Cuadrilla is currently exploring the Bowland shale rock in Lancashire for natural gas. The gas trapped within this rock is no different to the natural gas which we all use every day in our homes, businesses and communities.
Hydraulic fracturing – or fracking as it is sometimes called – is the long established process of creating fractures in rock formations to release the natural gas trapped inside. Hydraulic fracking has been taking place safely in the UK for decades both onshore and offshore, mostly in different kinds of rock formations rather than shale rock. Regardless of the kind of rock however, the actual hydraulic fracking process is the same. Our site in Elswick in Lancashire was fractured in 1993 and generated around 1MW of electricity seven days a week in its early life. Hydraulic fracturing is common in the North Sea, where it has been performed thousands of times.
Fracturing takes place in a series of stages along the length of a well. Each stage is between 15m and 50m in length with the first stage located at the end of the well. Successive fracturing stages are pumped working along the horizontal well from its end to its beginning. The tiny fractures in the shale rock are caused by pumping a mixture of water, sand and a chemical called polyacrylamide, under high pressure, from the horizontal well into the surrounding shale rock.
Polyacrylamide is assessed by the Environment Agency as non-hazardous to groundwater and is used to reduce friction as the water passes through the wellbore, and forms just 0.05% of the frack fluid. It is a commonly used chemical in the UK, for example in garden products, water treatment and contact lenses. Learn more about how the Environment Agency regulates us here.
Once the gas is released in the tiny fractures, held open by the grains of sand, the gas travels up the well to surface. When the hydraulic fracturing is completed the flow rate of natural gas produced from each well is tested over period of approximately six months.
Our comprehensive environmental monitoring of our Preston New Road site is ongoing, and you can continue to keep up to date with the latest data via our ePortal, this will also include daily seismicity monitoring during hydraulic fracturing operations. You can view the ePortal here.
The mineralogy of the Lancashire Bowland shale has been analysed in detail using X-ray diffraction of shale core samples and cuttings taken from the Preese Hall well. This analysis has confirmed that both the Upper and Lower Bowland shales are very well suited to hydraulic fracturing as they are formed from a highly siliceous matrix with consistently low overall clay content and not reactive clays.
The purpose of exploration is to establish exactly how much gas a well could produce. Cuadrilla retained Anderson Thompson, a team of reservoir engineers, geoscientists and hydraulic fracturing specialists, to undertake analytical research on likely gas recovery volumes from horizontal wells to be drilled in the Lancashire Bowland shale. Anderson Thompson has broad international basin experience and specialist knowledge of the Permian, Eagle Ford, Bakken, Marcellus and Montney shale plays in North America.
Using input data from the Lancashire Bowland exploration wells that Cuadrilla has drilled to date, including the Preese Hall well, which was hydraulically fractured and flow tested in 2011, Anderson Thompson modelled potential gas recoveries from a 2.5km horizontal well. The results of this modelling forecast that, over a 30 year period, a most likely volume of 6.5 billion cubic feet (Bcf) of gas would be produced from a 2.5km horizontal Bowland shale well.
Any company wishing to explore for or extract gas using fracking in the UK has to complete a number of regulatory steps before they can begin.
Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences (PEDLs) are issued by the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA). The licences give operators exclusive rights to explore for and extract oil and gas in a specific area but not the right to drill.
As part of the petroleum licensing process, and prior to awarding a licence, the OGA assesses the operator’s technical, financial and environmental expertise. The OGA also checks prior to the drilling and, where relevant, production stage that the company has sufficient funding and appropriate insurance.
Once an operator is awarded a PEDL, they must go through the process outlined below in order to drill an exploration well, whether the well is to be fracked or not. If the company decides it would like to frack, then it must take the extra steps as described.
Planning permission for any project is required from the Mineral Planning Authority, which is typically part of the local County Council. The Mineral Planning Authority assesses whether the proposed development is suitable for the site and considers issues such as effects on traffic due to the site, noise and visual impact. As part of the process the Mineral Planning Authority also consults the Environment Agency to check that any environmental risks have been adequately addressed.
The Mineral Planning Authority will review the formal application to determine if there is a need for a full Environmental Impact Assessment on a case by case basis. Operators will also need to present to the Mineral Planning Authority their plan for restoration of the planned development site, which will outline actions that the operator proposes to take once operations have finished.
Separate planning permission is required for the exploration and production phases on any site.
Before any oil or gas operation commences in England, operators must submit details of their plans to the Environment Agency (EA) for assessment of risks to the environment and the issuing of relevant permits. The EA’s responsibilities include:
The EA assess the risk to the environment and will not issue permits if the level of risk is assessed as unacceptable. They also give members of the public the opportunity to raise any issues they think they should consider through an open consultation. Operators must meet all baseline monitoring requirements set out in planning permission and environmental permits before drilling can begin and must also notify the environmental regulator of their intention to drill.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) regulates the safety of the operations. It is responsible for ensuring that risks to workers and the public are reduced as far as possible. HSE regulations require an independent and competent person to examine the well’s design and construction to ensure that measures are in place to control major hazards to people from well-related activities and accidents.
The operator must notify the HSE of the well design and operation plans at least 21 days before drilling is due to start.
Once permissions have been obtained from the relevant regulators, all relevant consultees have been notified and permits are in pace, the OGA is responsible for issuing a consent to drill.
The planning and environmental permitting steps must be repeated at each exploratory stage of the site’s development, to drill any further wells and before the site goes into production.
If company decides to proceed with fracking, then there are further regulatory steps they must complete. HSE inspectors will inspect the site with officers of the EA before any fracking takes place.
If a company wishes to frack a well, they must produce a Hydraulic Fracture Plan and submit it to the OGA. This plan must include an evaluation of the risks of a seismic event and must include appropriate plans to monitor seismicity before, during and after the well operations.
The OGA will expect operators to show a full understanding of the risks of fracking. Operators will need to inspect the historical and background seismicity and any stress or tension in the ground to understand the risk of creating earth tremors.
A detailed Hydraulic Fracture Plan to address the risk factors for each well is required as part of the application, and both the EA and HSE will also review the plan.
The Infrastructure Act 2015 introduced 13 additional conditions which must be satisfied before a company is able to frack. These include requirements to have independent well inspections, conduct monitoring of methane in groundwater and monitor methane emissions (including baseline monitoring 12 months prior to any fracking).
Well operators have a legal duty to manage and control the risks to their employees, contractors and the general public. The HSE monitors well operations to check these legal duties are carried out. Its specialists will check construction matches the design by reviewing the operations reports it receives from the well operator and conducting site visits as considered appropriate based on activity and risk.
The HSE intends to jointly inspect drilling and fracking operations with the EA during the exploratory phase. Conditions attached to permits will set out the minimum level of site-based monitoring and reporting. The EA and HSE inspectors can visit any site at any time if there is a matter of concern.
Planning authorities are responsible for enforcing any conditions attached to the planning permission. For example, this may include monitoring of noise or dust levels.
Cuadrilla has all the permits and permissions in place to hydraulically fracture up to 45 stages of the second horizontal well at its shale gas exploration site in Preston New Road (PNR).
The work will be completed by the end of November and followed by flow testing of the well, with gas flow results expected early in 2020.
You can read comprehensive guidance and information from the Government on ‘fracking’ for shale gas here.
This will cause low level induced micro seismicity as fracturing fluid including sand is pumped into the well at high pressures to create tiny fractures in the shale rock.
Local people should be reassured that any resulting ground motion will be far below anything that could cause harm or damage and is likely to be much less than caused daily by other industries such as quarrying or construction or even heavy goods vehicles travelling on our roads.
Please see our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for a wide variety of further information on how seismicity is created and regulated, as well as many other topics including the process of fracturing and environmental regulation and responsibility. You can also watch a short video we produced with the assistance of Liverpool University, this video shows what micro-seismicity looks like.
Very small movements will be detected due to the highly sophisticated monitoring system in place at PNR. The British Geological Survey (BGS), which monitors seismicity at PNR, has published comprehensive information here. In particular the BGS says:
A high number of temporary seismic stations around Blackpool allows us to detect much smaller seismic events than we are typically able to do in other parts of the UK. The BGS permanent network of sensors across the UK is usually able to detect most earthquakes with a magnitude of 2.0 ML or above anywhere in the UK, although this may vary from place to place and at different times. All of the events detected near Preston New Road in 2018 had magnitudes far below our normal detection threshold and were only detected because of the increased number of seismic stations.
Seismicity is regulated at PNR by the Oil and Gas Authority using a ‘traffic light system’. You can read more about this here.
Further information on the table above
Cuadrilla Resources is a British company based in Bamber Bridge near Preston in Lancashire. It is privately owned between Australian company AJ Lucas (96%) and current and former Cuadrilla employees (4%).
Cuadrilla holds licences in the North of England in Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Yorkshire and in the South East of England in Surrey and West Sussex. In the past, the company has held licences across Europe which have been sold or released.
You cannot currently buy shares in Cuadrilla. Cuadrilla Resources is a privately owned company.
Fracking is the process of extracting natural gas from rock formations by injecting fluid at high pressures to release the gas. The wells which are drilled vertically, and subsequently horizontally, are drilled, cased and cemented. Fracking fluid is then pumped at high pressure to create micro-fractures in the rock to release the gas. The fracking fluid is a combination of: water; proppant (sand) which is used to keep the fractures in the shale open; and friction reducer, polyacrylamide, which is non-toxic and non-hazardous and approved for use by the Environment Agency.
There are no plans to use previously fractured wells to store nuclear waste. In the case of our Preston New Road exploration site, once operations have been completed, the well pad and associated surface works will either be taken on into production, subject to further planning and other consents and EIA, or decommissioned and restored to its current agricultural use in accordance with planning approvals.
We are not planning to use the perforating technique at the Preston New Road site. Instead, the wells will be completed with coiled tubing manipulated frac sleeves. This means that the access to the formation is achieved by opening ports that are installed in the casing when it is cemented in the ground. The ports are opened using coiled tubing, which is a flexible pipe that is run into the well.
The Preston New Road site and site access, extends to approximately 2.65 hectares (ha) and are located within a parcel of agricultural land of around 7.2 ha. Approximately 1.55ha of the site is a compacted crushed stone surfaced well pad from which the drilling, hydraulic fracturing and flow testing activities will be undertaken.
The remainder of the site consists of surface water collection ditches, landscaped bunds (from topsoil and subsoil excavated during construction of the well pad), fencing and the land required for the extended flow test pipeline and connection. It is the 1.55 ha well pad which is approximately the size of a rugby pitch.
Flaring only takes place during the initial flow test stage. Cuadrilla uses an enclosed flare which conceals the flare flame.
For the regulation of flaring, see the Department for Energy and Climate Change’s Onshore oil and gas exploration in the UK: regulation and best practice which is available at here.
Even though the risk is very low, our incident management plan will allow Cuadrilla and the emergency services to respond to any emergency incident at the site. Unfortunately, we are unable to publish this, however we can confirm that the incident management plan is tested periodically and all personnel and visitors to the site are made fully aware of the emergency procedures.
We are regulated by the Oil and Gas Authority, Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive, with others such as the British Geological Survey monitoring us too.
For information about the industry and the regulatory framework, please visit the United Kingdom Onshore Oil and Gas website www.ukoog.org.uk.
There are a number of safeguards in place to ensure that our operations do not cause damage or harm to local residents or property. For example, during fracturing operations, seismic activity around the site is monitored. A traffic light system determines whether the injection of water is safe to proceed:
Operations stop for a period of 18 hours if a tremor of local magnitude (ML) 0.5 or greater is detected. This level is well below what could potentially cause any damage at the surface and this pause allows any further seismicity to be limited.
Furthermore, other extractive industries – notably quarrying and deep geothermal – are not subject to the same restrictions as shale gas when it comes to induced seismicity and ground vibration. Given that we halt hydraulic fracturing activities at 0.5 ML, we are confident that our operations will not result in a level of seismicity that would be of a significant enough magnitude to cause damage.
Cuadrilla was the first operator to work within the micro-seismic Traffic Light System (TLS), regulated by the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) and as a result have a unique data set of information and operating experience.
It is no secret that we asked the OGA to review the TLS in December 2018 following hydraulic fracturing operations and that remains a high priority for us and other UK shale operators. The upper operating limit, set at just 0.5 on the Richter scale, was purposefully positioned at an extremely conservative level, far below anything that can be felt at surface, much less cause any damage to people or property. The Government was very clear at the time about the intention to review this limit as operational experience and data became available.
We have said many times that the work at Preston New Road induced micro seismicity. Any movement underground is called an earthquake but as the British Geological Survey (BGS) says itself, those events detected at Preston New Road were far below anything they would normally be able to detect.
On the BGS website they note that: “A dense network of temporary seismic sensors around Blackpool allows us to detect much smaller earthquakes than we are typically able to do in other parts of the UK. The BGS permanent network of sensors across the UK is usually able to detect most earthquakes with magnitudes of 2.0 ML or above anywhere in the UK, though this may vary from place to place and also at different times. All of the events detected near Preston New Road have magnitudes that are far below our normal detection threshold.”
The University of Liverpool released a report in 2018 to help put the low-level threshold of the Traffic Light System into context. The researchers indicated that vibrations experienced during everyday life are equivalent, or exceed, those that may occur from induced seismicity during hydraulic fracturing operations. You can view the paper here.
Petroleum Exploration and Development Licenses (PEDLs) are granted to oil and gas companies, like Cuadrilla, who then apply for planning permission to pursue hydraulic fracturing at sites within the identified PEDL. The Oil and Gas Authority has published a map of these PEDLs which can be found here.
The area you are referring to falls under PEDL 165 license area, which covers much of Lancashire and would therefore show up on a search for any property within this area. We are at present focused on our Preston New Road site and the status of all of our existing sites can be found here.
Exploration, appraisal, production and restoration:
In 2017, we launched an ePortal, which provides data on our Preston New Road operations. Cuadrilla’s ePortal can be viewed here. Data relating to noise, air quality, water and traffic information can be found in the monthly reports section.
Questions on environmental protection were addressed in detail during the planning process undertaken by the County Council, the Planning Inspectorate and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and also during the Environment Agency’s environmental permitting process.
More information on issues relating to environmental protection can be found in our Environmental Statement, which is available here.
On health risks, Public Health England published a comprehensive study on shale gas operations in 2014, concluding that: “An assessment of the currently available evidence indicates that the potential risks to public health from exposure to the emissions associated with shale gas extraction will be low if the operations are properly run and regulated”, see here.
The use of natural gas extracted from shale rock has significant potential to further reduce the UK’s overall CO2 emissions. By replacing liquefied natural gas imports, and continuing to decrease reliance on coal, with shale gas produced onshore we can help to reduce the UK’s carbon footprint and provide a cost-effective source of energy for our homes, businesses and industry.
The Committee on Climate Change recently published a report which recognises that we will continue to be using significant quantities of natural gas in the UK out to 2050 and beyond in conjunction with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology and in producing hydrogen as an alternative energy for the future.
All concerned about addressing climate change should accept that using natural gas extracted here in the UK, such as the 1,300 trillion cubic feet beneath our feet in the Bowland Shale, is environmentally far more responsible than importing gas from thousands of miles away. The committee’s report highlights some tough proposals if we are to become net zero by 2050, but it is also clear that our demand for gas will remain and could be 86% imported gas by then if we don’t establish our own source.
There is a negligible risk of water used in hydraulic fracturing reaching local water supplies as fracking takes place at depths of between 2,100 and 2,300 metres, therefore fractures cannot and do not extend the thousands of metres upwards that would be necessary to pollute fresh water aquifers.
Furthermore, groundwater and surface water are tested on a monthly basis in order to identify any chemical imbalances, the results from which are uploaded to our e-Portal. The results are measured against the baseline data that was collected for 12 months prior to the commencement of our hydraulic fracturing operations.
The preferred make-up option for fracking fluid used as part of the hydraulic fracturing process consists of the following:
The overall composition of our fracking fluid is 99.95% water and sand and less than 0.05% friction reducer. Our fracking fluid has been assessed and approved for usage in our operations by the Environment Agency.
The preferred option for the fluid we use in hydraulic fracturing will remain ‘slickwater’, which is 99.05% sand and water with only 0.05% of a friction reducer (polyacrylamide – commonly found in things like contact lenses). However, the option to use gelling agents will give us more flexibility during the hydraulic fracturing to help transport the proppant (sand) along the length of the fractures.
With regards to how we will treat waste water, flowback fluid will be separated out into solids, water, condensate and gases, which will then be stored temporarily on site and removed to an appropriate water treatment facility permitted by the Environment Agency.
Any flowback fluid not re-used will be taken by tanker to an Environment Agency approved treatment facility for treatment.
Information relating to traffic management can be found within our Traffic Management Plan, which is available here. The use of the routes from the M55 junction 4 and from the M55 junction 3 are the only routes proposed for HGVs during all phases of the project.
You may also find our ePortal of interest which details key data in relation to traffic movements.
We would recommend that you visit our website https://cuadrillaresources.com/ where you will find a wealth of information related to the benefits of shale gas, our work in the community and our commitment to ‘Putting Lancashire First’. You may also find the United Kingdom Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG) website useful http://www.ukoog.org.uk. This provides general information about the benefits of Onshore Oil and Gas.
Cuadrilla has always respected the right to peaceful and lawful protest, however we continue to condemn unlawful, irresponsible and reckless behaviour that impacts law abiding local residents and businesses.
However, Cuadrilla is committed to working closely with Lancashire Police to reduce anti-social behaviour.
With regards to house prices, a study which was funded by the industry and conducted by global real estate company, Jones Lang LaSalle, found that the exploration and development of onshore gas has had “no material impact on local prices”. The research uses properties within a three mile radius of Cuadrilla’s Elswick and Preese Hall sites in Lancashire as case studies, and found that the property market near the two sites have outperformed those in the North West and Lancashire as a whole over the 1995-2014 period. The full report can be found here.
Cuadrilla has previously conducted a small number of tours for local people. Site visits during certain stages of operations are a little more challenging as the site will be busy and we’ll be hosting multiple contractors and regulators at this time. However, we are considering how best to give people in the local community the opportunity to see what’s going on during our work through the use of streaming video and other tools.
The Community Benefit Fund is paid to the local community when the drilling of a new well for hydraulic fracturing commences. Payments are currently split between the Community Foundation for Lancashire, which distributes money to community projects local to the Preston New Road shale gas exploration site, and residents living closest to the site.
The residents’ share has been divided between all households within one and a half kilometres of the site, a decision that was taken from the result of a Community Consultation Survey which took place between 18th August and 15th September 2017. At this time, 79% of survey respondents selected option B as their preferred option, which states that households located within 1km of the centre of the site would receive an equal share of 60% of the fund and households located between 1km and 1.5km of the centre of the site would receive an equal share of 40% of the fund.
There was no referendum on hydraulic fracturing in the county. A majority of the councillors on the Development Control Committee voted against the recommendations of the local authority’s planning officers and voted down the Preston New Road application. This was reversed by the then communities secretary, Sajid Javid, on appeal, which is common for all sorts of developments as part of the planning process. Lancashire County Council did have a vote before Christmas in 2018 which resulted in a show of support for the high regulatory standards surrounding our site.
We are proceeding with exploration operations at Preston New Road as we have secured planning consent for these activities as well as other regulatory approvals. Whilst opposition to shale gas operations does exist, in common with many land use proposals, we have also received significant support from many people within the County. Like us, they see the potential for our industry to boost Lancashire’s economy and create opportunities for local people.