A Freedom of Information request has exposed a company flouting health and safety law

Fracking KM8
Steve Topple

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request released to campaigners has revealed that a fracking company was found to be in breach of numerous health and safety regulations at one of its sites. And campaigners say the document  “beggars belief”, showing that the company is “not fit to frack”.

Dogged by controversy

The government has granted Third Energy a licence to extract shale gas by hydraulic fracturing (fracking) at the KM8 site. It’s situated in the village of Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire. But its operations have been controversial, with local residents and campaigners protesting around the site since December 2016. They call themselves ‘protectors’. So they set up the Kirby Misperton Protection Camp to highlight the opposition to fracking that exists in the area.

The company has been dogged by controversy; you can read The Canary‘s coverage here. But now, an FOI passed to The Canary has revealed a letter detailing a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspection at Third Energy’s conventional gas site in Pickering, North Yorkshire. And it shows multiple breaches of health and safety regulations.

Multiple breaches of regulations

The HSE Executive found that Third Energy’s Pickering site had:

  • Inadequate emergency and rescue plans for employees working at height.
  • Insufficient records of well integrity prior to 2015.
  • A safety management system that did not conform with current health and safety law.
  • Insufficient procedures to detect pressure changes within the well. This could have resulted in the loss of well control and release of toxic fluid into the surrounding environment.
  • Inaccessible control units that would have been utilised to prevent a gas leak.
  • No back-up remote control device to stop gas leaks should the main controls fail.
  • No pressure gauge to control drill-pipe pressure, which is required by law.
  • Operational valves positioned too close to the ground. This presented risks to the health and safety of the operator.

Third Energy says… 

A Third Energy spokesperson told The Canary:

The recent statement made by Frack Free Ryedale about Third Energy’s Kirby Misperton wellsite is, yet again, fundamentally incorrect and nothing short of scaremongering.  The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) documents cited have nothing to do with the Kirby Misperton site nor the hydraulic fracturing operations but follow from an inspection visit to the conventional Pickering wellsite in March 2017 with relation to short-term workover operations.   The post visit report highlighted parts of the operation that could be further improved.  If the HSE inspector was of the opinion that an activity involves (or will involve) a risk of serious personal injury then a prohibition notice could be issued halting all work and the activity would not be able to continue until specific action points are remedied. This was not considered or issued. Third Energy has responded to these comments in a formal correspondence and closed out the actions.

Third Energy also said…

Alan Linn, Director for Third Energy, told The Canary:

Our regulators are hands-on and prior to the commencement of significant operations the HSE inspects both the relevant site and the control documentation. The HSE have inspected the wellsite at Kirby Misperton ahead of hydraulic fracturing operations and have audited the supported documentation. Third Energy has followed the regulatory regime for associated hydraulic fracturing. We are very conscious of the obligations under this regime and have done everything that is required by the regulations. We have all the required approvals from the regulators for associated hydraulic fracturing and we await the Secretary of State’s consent.

We are very disappointed that for the second time in the space of a week, members of the public who oppose our consented operations have misinterpreted technical information, which we feel has sought to damage our reputation as a fully compliant and safe company. In my experience of working in the oil and gas industry for over 30 years, the role of the regulator is to ensure operations remain safe, but also to seek continuous improvements to operations and safety at sites. It would be unusual, in my experience, for a regulatory officer to visit an active wellsite and not make comments on areas of the operation to be further improved. Third Energy maintains an open-door policy and anyone interested in finding out more about our operations, or seeking an explanation of a technical document can contact us to arrange a meeting or ask for more information about our activities.

Anti-fracking campaigners say…

But campaigners from the group Frack Free Ryedale disagree. They told The Canary:

The news that Third Energy has yet again fallen short on their safety requirements should set alarm bells ringing across Yorkshire… If this is how it performs when the HSE is strictly monitoring it, then heaven help us if we end up with thousands of fracking wells across Ryedale.

Third Energy is a cowboy operation, simply not fit to frack. Because time and time again, it shows contempt for the safety of the local community and its own work force. But the litany of health and safety failures revealed in this is simply astonishing.

And Ryedale District Councillor Dinah Keal said:

The incompetence of Third Energy simply beggars belief. The UK government must now intervene and refuse permission to Third Energy for its risky fracking plans at Kirby Misperton. And it must ensure a thorough investigation into its current operations.

The future of fracking?

While Third Energy’s operations at Pickering are conventional, the HSE report does not bode well for fracking. Because if a company can have so many health and safety breaches in an industry that has been in existence for decades, what hope for standards is there in the relatively new fracking industry?

Get Involved!

– Sign the petition to make fracking illegal.

– Read more about fracking from The Canary.

Featured image via Yorkshire’s Fracking Frontline/Flickr

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