Tanker leaving Preston New Rd site.           Photo: Ros Wills

The shale gas company, Cuadrilla, is seeking permission to add new chemicals to its fracking operations in Lancashire.

In details published today, the company said it wanted to change the composition of the fracking fluid so that more sand could be carried into fractures in the shale rock.

This follows news earlier this month that Cuadrilla had fully fracked only 5% of its first well at the site at Preston New Road near Blackpool. Fracking operations, between October and December 2018, were paused at least five times because they induced earth tremors measuring 0.5ML or above. Fracturing equipment has since been moved off the site.

Today’s application to the Environment Agency also seeks permission to use methanol, alternative drilling muds and a new biocide. If approved, the changes would additionally make it clear that Cuadrilla can frack each well more than once.

Local opponents of Cuadrilla’s operation described it as a “desperate attempt to revive a dying industry” and said it felt as if they were being “fracked by trial and error”.

This is the latest in a series of changes to the environmental permit for Preston New Road. Cuadrilla submitted its first application nearly five years ago in June 2014. These latest proposals, if approved, would become version nine.

The changes incorporate “operational refinements identified during site operations to date”, Cuadrilla said, and “more precisely reflects the site’s procedures and operational controls”.

A public consultation began today and continues until 30 March 2019.

Proposed changes

Frack fluid
Cuadrilla said it was seeking approval for the use of what it called “an optimised hydraulic fracturing fluid” to allow for “operational flexibility during hydraulic fracturing”.

The company’s environmental manager, Nick Mace, said:

“we’d like to modify our fracturing fluid so that more sand can be carried into the shale rock with the water when we recommence hydraulic fracturing operations at the Preston New Road site. To do this we proposed to add some chemicals which have already been approved for use elsewhere in the UK by the Environment Agency.”

During hydraulic fracturing last year, Cuadrilla complained that it had been unable to pump sand far enough into the shale rock without causing earth tremors.

The waste management plan, which accompanied today’s application, said the company wanted to use a more viscous fracking fluid than had been tried so far.

Higher viscosity fluid can transport sand at lower rates. It also helps to initiate fractures and increases the fracture width to allow more space for the sand, the waste management plan said.

The application proposes increasing the concentration of friction reducer in the fracturing fluid from 0.05% to 1%. It also considers the use of gelling agents, at about 4% by volume, to transport the sand along the lengths of the fractures.

So far, Cuadrilla has said it added only the friction reducer, polyacrymalide, and sand to the water to frack at Preston New Road.

The new application lists about 40 hydraulic fracturing fluid additives, described variously as cross linkers, gelling agents, carriers, pH buffer/activator, cleanup/flowback aid, clay control/brine, carrier, gel breaker, delay agent and scale control.

The company said the additional ingredients would remain non-hazardous to groundwater. They were commonly found in food, toiletries and other products used around the home, it said.

Other chemicals
Hydrochloric acid
Cuadrilla said this would help reduce fracturing pressure. It would dissolve drilling mud remaining in the wellbore and “facilitate entry of the fracturing fluid from openings in the production tubing to the body of shale”. The company said the acid would be used on the well before fracking. An estimated 3-15m3 per fracture stage would be needed. It would be stored at a strength no greater than 10%, the company said.

Cuadrilla said this would be used to prevent the formation of gas hydrates during well suspension. An interim decision by regulators has considered methanol non-hazardous to groundwater, Cuadrilla said.

Described as a non-hazardous biocide, Cuadrilla said this was an alternative way of treating bacteria to ultraviolent light

Drilling muds
Cuadrilla said it was considering the use of low toxicity oil based drilling muds in sections of the well isolated from the Sherwood Sandstone formation. .The application lists 41 additives, 14 of which are presumed to be hazardous.

Multiple fracks
Cuadrilla said the new permit would clarify that each horizontal well could be re-entered and hydraulic fracturing may be conducted on more than one occasion. Each re-entry would be individually planned and managed, the company said.

Well workovers
The documents stated that periodic well workovers or other well interventions would potentially be needed at Preston New Road and would be covered by the revised permit.

Flare stacks PNR            Photo: Ros Wills

Flaring and nitrogen lift
The waste management plan said propane could be added to help burn gas produced from the initial well test. DrillOrDrop asked Cuadrilla a series of questions about flaring and whether shale gas was being vented at Preston New Road.

The spokesperson for the company said:

“We consider that there is more than sufficient information provided about our application to vary the current permit at Preston New Road. We respect this process and Cuadrilla has nothing further to add at this stage.”

Cuadrilla seeks to reduce the frequency of surface water monitoring to monthly, which was, it said, “more proportionate to risks presented by the site”.

On air quality monitoring, the company is seeking to stop collecting data on a range of pollutants at off-site stations. The substances include methane, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, nitric oxide, sulphur dioxide, ozone, total petroleum hydrocarbons, VOCs, particulates (PM10 and PM2.5) and dust. Cuadrilla said collection of this data had been superseded by onsite continuous monitoring.

A spokesperson from Preston New Road Action Group said:

“It feels as though we are being fracked by trial and error: this seems like another desperate attempt to resurrect this dying industry.

“How will changing the fracking fluids prevent seismic events? Just more worry for the unfortunate guinea pigs living close to the site.”

Frack Free Lancashire said

“We are concerned (but not entirely surprised) that after years of claiming that the only two chemicals to be used in UK fracking were polyacrylamide and hydrochloric acid, that they should now be seeking, after just one failed frack, to expand the list of chemicals available in their inventory to add to their fracturing fluid.”

The group added:

“Equally concerning is the list in the application documents of 41 potential additives to their drilling fluids of which no less than 14 are described by Cuadrilla themselves as “potentially hazardous”.

“We predicted that the list of chemicals would inevitably be expanded as this project continued and will continue to monitor the situation.”

More questions
DrillOrDrop also asked Cuadrilla for clarification on a range of issues arising in the revised waste management plan. This included questions about drilling muds, the use of methanol and hydrochloric acid, re-fracturing of the wells, fracturing plans for wells 3 and 4, and waste sand. The company was not willing to answer our questions.

Updated 21/2/2019 to increase the number of hydraulic fracturing fluids additives listed in the application