EA warns Cuadrilla over breach of waste permit

The Environment Agency has issued a warning to Cuadrilla over the handling of waste at its fracking site in Preston New Road, Lancashire.

Preston New Road
Green World

Fracking firm Cuadrilla has been warned by the Environment Agency (EA) after contravening regulations relating to the management of waste on its Preston New Road site in Lancashire.

Following a Waste Stream Audit carried out by the EA between 7 December 2017 and 9 March 2018, concerning the main waste categories produced at the Preston New Road site – waste drilling muds and drilling cuttings, waste cement, waste suspension brine/spacer fluid and waste ditch water – Cuadrilla was found to be in breach of its waste permit and Waste Management Plan under the waste Duty of Care responsibilities and the Hazardous Waste Regulations.

The EA’s Compliance Assessment Report stated: ‘Overall, we are satisfied the audited waste streams were removed offsite to appropriately permitted waste facilities, for treatment and disposal in line with sound waste management practices. Nevertheless we have identified areas where improvements should be made to waste management practices.’

Issues found include the following:

  • On at least 22 occasions, waste contractors removing waste from the site then temporarily stored waste at an unpermitted site ‘for longer than is acceptable for the transportation of waste between producer and disposer’. Cuadrilla has a duty of care to ensure that any waste it produces is lawfully managed.
  • The amount of waste drilling muds produced was significantly higher than estimated in Cuadrilla’s Waste Management Plan, with over 2,500m³ produced per well compared to the estimate of 400m³ per well.
  • Waste spacer fluid and suspension brine should be collected as separate waste fractions from other wastes produced on site. However, these wastes were often removed from the site as waste drilling muds and/or returned slurry cement waste.
  • Around 56 loads of extractive waste removed from the site were observed by the waste carriers to have water content levels above 90 per cent, described as ‘unexpectedly high’.
  • Waste streams were not accurately described.
  • 10 per cent of waste movements were subcontracted by the primary waste carrier to other companies, at least one of which was unlicensed.
  • Cuadrilla’s Duty of Care notes were incorrectly completed.

The report gave the fracking company’s management system and operating procedures a Compliance Classification Scheme grade of C3, which equates to ‘a non-compliance which could have a minor environmental effect’, and stated that ‘other than the provision of advice and guidance, at present we do not intend to take further enforcement action’, although that ‘does not preclude’ the EA from taking further action if the agency’s advice is not followed.

Cuadrilla was given three weeks to make improvements in the areas highlighted, with further checks to be carried out by the EA after that time.

A Cuadrilla spokesman said: “The EA concluded that overall they were satisfied that all of the audited waste streams were removed offsite at Preston New Road to appropriate waste facilities. We have addressed minor non-compliance issues and made improvements to the processes we have in place at site and with our contractors.”

The Green Party has responded to the announcement, with Jenny Jones, Green Peer in the House of Lords, saying: “Cuadrilla has repeatedly shown contempt for our environment and the local community around its Lancashire site. The irony of a fracking company which criminalises peaceful protest to have itself broken the law is not lost on us.

“The dodgy disposal of waste is just the latest in a long list of corner-cutting by frackers in Britain, and it’s time the government saw sense and dropped its illogical support for a dysfunctional industry. Fracking is dirty, dangerous, expensive and unnecessary. The government must end its reckless dash for gas and instead invest in cheaper, cleaner renewable energy for the future.”

The warning issued to Cuadrilla by the EA follows the news in July that the company has been awarded the first fracking permit since the introduction of a new regulatory regime, with Chief Executive Francis Egan stating that an application to frack a second well at the Preston New Road site would be submitted shortly.