Fracking firm Cuadrilla is getting rather prone to bad headlines. But a recent stunt it pulled is quite something.
Fracking: contention in Lancashire
Cuadrilla has been courting controversy for quite a while now. It’s been the subject of countless demos, political criticism and campaigns. But at the centre of the row is the site at Preston New Road in Lancashire.
In July 2018, the government officially gave Cuadrilla the go-ahead to start extracting shale gas. But the decision drew protests from locals. Then, a judge jailed three activists (whom another judge promptly freed). But after a court case, bad weather and protests stopped it, Cuadrilla finally began work on 15 October. This led to more protests. Then, in late 2018, dozens of earthquakes occurred near to the site, just as Cuadrilla began to frack. Government regulations meant the company repeatedly had to stop work. This was due to the strength of the tremors.
Then, rumours spread that it was in dire straits, which it denied. But now, evidence has come to light that it may have pulled a PR stunt last year, which is certainly not a good look.
As independent news site DrillOrDrop reported, in November 2018 Cuadrilla released a short promotional video of gas reportedly burning at the site. It heralded the news as “significant”. Cuadrilla’s CEO Frances Egan said:
this is a good early indication of the gas potential that we have long talked about.
Here’s Cuadrilla’s “significant” gas find, filmed via drone:
But as DrillOrDrop revealed, Cuadrilla did the whole thing using a sleight of hand.
Hang on a minute…
An Environment Agency report showed that gas levels coming out of the Preston New Road site were extremely low. So Cuadrilla added some propane into the mix to make the flare light. You could say Cuadrilla used a ‘bit of magic’ which made the situation seem better than it was.
Campaigners on Twitter were not happy:
And here’s all the great press @CuadrillaUK received on the 2nd November when they fired up the PNR flares to burn the propane (& some natural gas found in the shale)
— Russell Scott (@RussellScott1) January 14, 2019
As Green Party MEP Keith Taylor summed up:
— Keith Taylor MEP (@GreenKeithMEP) January 15, 2019
Nothing to see here!
Cuadrilla told DrillOrDrop:
As you are aware, we are now in the flow testing phase at Preston New Road and will look to publish results in due course. We are very encouraged by what we are seeing but are not providing a daily commentary on testing.
That told DrillOrDrop, then.
But campaign group Frack Free Lancashire found the whole thing reeking of desperation. A spokesperson told The Canary:
It appears that the shale gas industry is so very desperate to appease investors and shareholders, that their PR machine is once again in full cycle. The magical ‘flare’ video that appeared to show the first flow of fracked gas from the Preston New Road site, made the news across the world. However, when the layers are peeled back, it appears all is not what it seems. With the Environment Agency confirming in a compliance report that the gas flow levels were so weak that they had to be helped along with propane as a support fuel, the fracking industry has exposed how frantic their methods are, to convince the public and beyond of the viability of shale in the UK.
And, ‘that’s magic!’. Using sleight of hand, Cuadrilla created the impression that its gas discovery at Preston New Road was more than it was. Even the late Paul Daniels would have been impressed with that.
Since you're here ...
We know you don't need a lecture. You wouldn't be here if you didn't care.
Now, more than ever, we need your help to challenge the rightwing press and hold power to account. Please help us survive and thrive.