Lessons for us from Cuadrilla’s PR gambits

Having talked to quite a few people who attended Camp Frack, it is clear that Cuadrilla’s people have been trying to prepare PR responses to the opposition – as we would only expect. Apparently they are ‘very clever’ and ‘quite persuasive’. Again, we should expect no less from people with their eyes on billions of pounds!!One theme they seemed to be bandying around has clear parallels with the situation here in South Wales, so merits particular examination. This is their claim that shale gas extraction has been going on for decades and therefore we have nothing really to worry about. You may remember Tim Yeo’s Shale Gas Inquiry trotting out similar lines. Cuadrilla have apparently gone so far as to cite the example of their Elswick site as producing gas safely since 1992, with Cuadrilla’s Mark Miller telling Camp Frackers that he had personally visited 70 or 80 gas wells in the UK where there had been no problems.

On closer inspection, Elswick has a lot of similarities to the Coastal Oil & Gas site at Cwmcedfyw Farm (between Llangynwyd and Bettws). I am now beginning to see how this very small site fits into the big picture. (At this point, I must acknowledge the work undertaken by our Fractivist colleagues of the FRACK OFF campaign in untangling Cuadrilla’s spin – http://frack-off.org.uk/why-does-cuadrilla-own-an-old-gas-well-near-elswick-in-lancashire/)

The Elswick-1 gas well was actually brought on stream in 1993 by a company called Independent Energy. It produces gas from a permeable sandstone reservoir and is used to generate power which is fed into the electricity grid. The reason for the gas being used to produce electricity is that it is coming from one isolated gas well far from other oil and gas infrastructure. It would be prohibitively expensive to build a pipeline to feed the gas into the National Transmission System (as it would to compress the gas and tanker it away) and so burning it on site to produce electricity is a much cheaper option. This essentially the same scenario as the Cwmcedfyw site, except that the gas is being extracted from coal seams. In the grand scheme of things, both of these sites is pretty cheap and simple to exploit, but tiddly compared to what the frackers have their eyes on. They have much bigger fish to fry, but maintaining the fish analogy, they are using a sprat to catch a mackerel!

Mark Miller, CEO of Cuadrilla Resources, has gone to print to say: “Our Elswick site has been producing gas since it was hydraulically fractured in 1993 without any inconvenience for the local community” (http://www.southportvisiter.co.UK/views-blogs/southport-visiter-letters/2011/08/11/southport-letters-11-08-11-101022-29213386/). Similar statements have been made in other local papers.

The PR strategy is clear enough. They are implying that what was done at Elswick is similar to what they propose with their Shale Gas developments. They want people to think that just because Elswick-1 has had little impact on the local community, there is nothing to worry about with their new plans. But hang on minute ……

In fact, Elswick-1 has next to nothing to do with Cuadrilla at all. They did not drill it or operate it until they bought it in January 2010, a couple of months after they obtained the Preese Hall planning permission. (Elswick is about 3 or 4 km from Preese Hall). In case you still need to join up the dots here, could it be that the curious investment in an old, small-scale electricity generating site is purely PR investment in making us believe we can trust Cuadrilla to frack away safely?

I would suggest that Coastal Oil & Gas’ investment in the tiddly Cwmcedfyw project only makes sense in a similar vein.

Cuadrilla’s duplicity over Elswick-1 goes a lot further. It is a conventional gas well, consisting of one single vertical borehole into sandstone. Any fracking to stimulate it would have probably been a one-off, old-style fracking, requiring just sand and water. In this sort of permeable rock, one single vertical well can access the entire gas field. Shale on the other hand is impermeable and requires heavy fracturing to get the gas to flow at all. It also means that it is necessary to frack pretty much the whole shale gas field. This is why Cuadrilla have talked about 400 wells across 40 sites in their plans for Lancashire (10 wells radiating out, up to a km or so, to horizontally penetrate the shale from each site). Hardly comparable to Elswick-1, would you not agree?

Coastal Oil & Gas’ hopes to pull off a similar PR stunt with Cwmcedfyw have already hit a couple of obstacles. The site has already seen an unprecented pollution incident in the local stream, for which BCBC have issued a fine to the landowner – who seemed curiously keen to take the rap. There have also already been incidents in the narrow lanes around the site, where lorries have strayed off agreed routes to and from the very remote site. They have also given the lie to the jobs boost their activities can bring to locals by using a Sunderland based drilling company employing Liverpudlian labour on the site. Once it is up and running it will not require anything other than occasional maintenance visits.

A second theme that Cuadrilla have been constantly keen to push is that they will not be a threat to water quality.
First of all, what do we make of their claim that their frack fluid is “supplemented with microscopic amounts of everyday chemicals typically found in peoples homes”?

I have just had a good look under my sink and in my shed and found plenty of things that I would not recommend anyone, bar perhaps Mark Miller, tries to drink! I also failed to find two of the ‘household’ ingredients that they condescend to list.

Taking Caudrilla’s own figures from their own website we find that their frack fluid contains:

  • Fresh water and sand 99.750% (why they feel the need to use ‘fresh’ water considering what they do to it is another question!)
  • Hydrochloric Acid 00.125%
  • Polyacrylamides 00.075%
  • Biocides 00.005%

This adds up to: 99.955%

Before anyone starts talking about rounding, I would point out that it is Cuadrilla that have chosen to round to the nearest 0.005% and deliberately leave 0.045% unaccounted for. Remember how clever we said they were?

It is anyone’s guess what that 0.045% includes. There are literally hundreds of chemical nasties that have been traced to frack fluid around the world. But it is not as if even the ones they have owned up to are pleasant, is it?

I found a variety of biocides in my shed. They included rat killer, ant killer, slug killer, weed killer and diesel. By definition, biocides kill living things.
I did not find hydrochloric acid, I am pleased to say. It is highly corrosive and a key frack fluid component as such as it opens up the pores of rocks. It is, however, also highly corrosive to human tissue – with known potential to severely damage respiratory organs, eyes, skin and intestines.
As for polyacrylamides, these flow enhancers are not in themselves toxic, but it is known that commercially available polyacylamide commonly contains residual amounts of acrylamide, which is a dangerous nerve toxin and carcinogen. Furthermore, there are studies that suggest that polyacrylamide may well de-polymerise to form acrylamide in some environmental conditions.

If these are the ones Cuadrilla are owning up to, what on earth are they keeping hidden?!

Not to worry – as they say, we are only talking ‘microscopic amounts’ to use their own words. But as world renowned Dr Theo Colbourn has proven, it only takes billionths or trillionths of concentrations of some of the known frack chemicals to cause devastating health effects.

Again using the industries own figures, an average ‘frack’ uses about 4.5 million gallons of water. Cuadrilla tell us that 0.25% of this is nasty chemicals.
Do the maths!
0.25% of 4.5 million gallons is 11250 gallons of nasty chemicals per frack. Hardly microscopic!

Cuadrilla tell us they plan 10 wells per site, and during the lifetime of a well it may need fracking, perhaps, 6 times (being conservative).
That is 675000 gallons of nasty chemicals per site.
Cuadrilla plan 40 sites in Lancashire, so that is 27 MILLION GALLONS of chemicals that Cuadrilla plan to pump into the ground beneath Lancashire, give or take a bit!!

And not a drop will ever pass our lips! Excuse me!!

South Wales has substantially more potential than Lancashire, so we could be looking at hundreds of millions of gallons of toxic chemicals pumped under South Wales if the frackers get their way.

The recover some of this as produced fluid – around 50% on average, but this can vary greatly depending on local conditions. This throws up another set of worries and concerns – highlighted by Cuadrilla themselves, would you believe. Again quoting there own website:

“Upon returning to the surface, they are stored in steel tanks and at no point come in contact with the ground. In the unlikely event that any liquid was spilt on the surface, seepage at ground level is prevented by the installation of an impermeable membrane on land at and surrounding the well site.”

Extraordinarily comprehensive and expensive precautions for a fluid they insist is no danger to us, wouldn’t you say?!!

Yoe see, these produced waters are often much more hazardous than the already dangerous frack fluids themselves. Shales often contain dangerously high levels of radon, radium and uranium. Now those precautions make sense, don’t they?

I will rest my case here – for the time being at least!


5 thoughts on “Lessons for us from Cuadrilla’s PR gambits

  1. Luke Ashley

    Good work Andy.I`ts what I`ve known for quite some time now but never quite managed to explain it as clearly as you have.
    I remeber a while ago, when I was letting people know about fracking coming to UK, I was sending links and stuff to Green Party websites and FB pages saying,`If you want more members get on the side of the Fractivists`. Not sure if it was my doing but very grateful that the Green Party is now taking a BIG interest.
    I suppose I will have to keep my end of the deal now and join up.


  2. swanseaandllanelligreenparty Post author

    To be honest with you, the Green Party has been rather slow at getting up to speed with this issue until quite recently. I could have done more to promote the issue within the party, but deliberately chose to put my efforts into to supporting non-political grass roots campaigns such as ‘The Vale Says No!’ and ‘No Fracking UK’. I believe that such camapigns, and the work you have put in, Luke, with groups like ‘Fracking Hell (UK)’ achieve more than groups perceived to be politically motivated.
    Having said that, it is also clear that success for the Green Party at the ballot box will greatly enhance the the speed with which our goals re fracking, climate change etc will be achieved.
    To do this we need to keep recruiting people, such as yourself, who can appreciate the eco-socialist goals of the Party. So welcome!


  3. Denis

    It must have taken quite a lot of time to write the above invective. I am sure your imagination is such that you could write a book of fiction which would frighten everyone and make you millions.

    Alternatively you could do something useful like invent a machine that can generate electricity from the hot air that you spout.

    But, I doubt if you will do that because I suspect you and and your Frack Off friends just love to appose everything just for the sake of it.


    1. Bridgend or Swansea Green Party - South Wales West Post author

      I will take the compliment re my writing, although there little need for imagination when presenting factual cases.

      Unfortunately, a machine that generate electricity from hot air would struggle to gain traction all the time vested interests in pursuing fossil fuels have a stranglehold on our power structures. This is a claim you may think comes from an overactive imagination, but it is an opinion honed from years of studying and teaching relevant subject matter.

      Rather than take cheap shots at those with the passion and commitment to try and steer us toards a better future, why don’t you get out a bit more and educate yourself about the world you live in – the political structures you support with your complacency; the environment that is your life support system, as well as mine (and our grandchildren’s); and the economic structures that keep you and me in our place while an undeserving ‘elite’ screw us all over repeatedly.

      In short, offer something constructive to the debate – or frack off!



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