Today we were treated to two interviews with Francis Egan. The first was on Radio 4’s Today Programme with Justin Webb and the second was a rather testy affair with Graham Liver on Radio Lancashire. It’s fair to say that he didn’t shine in either of them.
In the Radio 4 interview he concentrated on two things – firstly a frankly rather bizarre claim that the science around fracking has only existed since AFTER the 2019 moratorium and then the “fact” that main conclusion of the OGA reports on the two wells at Preston New Road was that the seismic activity induced by fracking was “largely imperceptible”.
The quote I’m going to look at here is this one:
Francis Egan : Well, yes. And I have to confess, I wonder why we ever stopped it in the first place. Because the.. the science, far from following the science, the science followed the moratorium, the scientific study wasn’t announced until about four months after the moratorium reported a year later, and demonstrated that the so called earthquakes that were the reason for the moratorium are largely imperceptible or to the degree that could be perceived were about half the level of construction.”Francis Egan, Radio 4 Today Programme 6th April 2022
Justin Webb: And that scientific study that you were referring to was from the Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering, wasn’t it as well?
Francis Egan: Well, they did an initial one. But the more recent study was, was commissioned by the regulator, formerly the oil and gas authority, and it’s reported in 2020.
The first thing you will notice is that he torpedoes his own claim that the science has only been done since 2020 in the last sentence where he actually admits that the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering had done a report before. He preferred not to admit that that report was issued 10 years ago in 2012. (So some science HAD been done then!).
The confusion around which report he was referring to was no doubt due to the Press Release that Cuadrilla put out yesterday which stated :
The Royal Society, one of the world’s most reputable scientific organisations, could not have been clearer when they said that the “seismic risks are low”, and are less noticeable than the hundreds of naturally occurring seismic events which happened in the UK every year. https://cuadrillaresources.uk/cuadrilla-response-to-government-shale-gas-review/
For clarity the link they provide is to the 2012 report mentioned above. I think we can be pretty confident then that Mr Egan was in fact aware that some science had been done before the report he is hanging all his hopes on.
The claim he makes that the traffic light system, which was devised after a scientific review of the Preese Hall earth quakes, in which Cuadrilla had a part in designing, and which resulted in the moratorium coming into force was not “following the science” is clearly rubbish and should have been questioned by a knowledgeable interviewer. He was allowed to get away with it by Justin Webb though.
The Traffic Light System was in fact based on recommendations made in the report “Preese Hall Shale Gas Fracturing Review & Recommendations For Induced Seismic Mitigation” by Dr Christopher Green, Professor Peter Styles and Dr Brian Baptie. Most people would agree that that too constitutes “science”.
The “scientific study” of 2020 to which he refers was in fact two reports, based on data from the two wells at Preston New Road, by the OGA.
In these reports they attempt to apply learnings from the data at PNR (and other data) to see whether they feel it is scientifically reasonable to claim that seismic activity can be predicted with any level of accuracy and timeliness. If they had shown this the reports would of course have already been used as supporting evidence to attempt to get fracking restarted.
They also comment on the levels of anticipated seismicity and what impacts these might have.
It is clear from the Executive Summary of the second report that the authors would not expect their work to be used to justify a resumption of fracking in the UK:
This work was not intended to review any existing regulatory controls such as the Traffic
Light System (TLS), nor is it a comprehensive review of the current scientific landscape following the effective moratorium on high-volume hydraulic fracturing announced by the government on 2 November 2019.
This is further caveated by the statement that
whilst recently-identified novel methods offer some potential, it is not yet possible tohttps://www.nstauthority.co.uk/media/6970/oga-summary-of-pnr2-studies-final.pdf
accurately predict the seismic response to hydraulic fracturing, if any, in relation to variables such as site characteristics, fluid volume, rate or pressure. Where induced seismicity has occurred, mitigation measures have shown only limited success, and there can only be low confidence in their effectiveness currently.”
The report on the first well is equally cautious
“For future operations, the possibility of larger events could not be excluded and these could cause damage and disturbance unacceptable under the current BEIS policy guidance. The methods for predicting event maximum and magnitude need further testing and cannot be viewed as reliable for PNR.”
This report goes into some detail about the level of damage that might be caused by quakes at likely, possible and unlikely levels, which it summarises thus:
The model estimates that the ground motion from a 2.5 ML “likely” event would be felt for distances of about 2 km from the epicentre, but with no expected impact on buildings or structures
The report notes however that seismic events occurring at shallow depths are often reported as ‘loud bangs’ or ‘crashes’ and that, even at this relatively low magnitude, a combination of possible felt and heard effects, coupled with the fear of possible future events, could be a cause for concern for at least some of the local population.
The 3.5 ML “possible” scenario leads to a significant increase in the extent of shaking, with an event likely to be felt across the Fylde, including Blackpool and parts of Preston. As outlined in Figure 3, the model predicts that perhaps 1 percent of all buildings in the study area would sustain cracked plasterwork, and 0.2 percent would sustain slight structural damage or moderate non-structural damage, with 0.1 percent of buildings possibly sustaining chimney failure.
The 4.5 ML “unlikely” scenario would be widely felt, covering much of the region including all of Blackpool, Preston and beyond. The scenario indicated that there could be widespread building damage in the study area, with cracked plasterwork affecting approximately 10 percent of buildings, more serious structural damage (of varying degrees) affecting 5.4 percent of buildings, and 5.4 percent also likely to suffer chimney failure. Some damage would be caused to buildings outside of the study area.”
The fact that the “possible” level it models (3.5ml) would cause one in 1,000 buildings across the Fylde, Blackpool and Preston to suffer chimney failure is quite staggering when you compare this to Mr Egan’s claim that the reports merely
demonstrated that the so called earthquakes that were the reason for the moratorium are largely imperceptible or to the degree that could be perceived were about half the level of construction.
The report also points out that we “receptors” are quite likely to be concerned by these events
the experience from PNR shows that there is very limited tolerance to seismic events that are felt, and that even very few events are likely to be considered a public nuisance.
Finally there are further instances where the reports reiterate that there is currently no way to predict seismicity with any degree of accuracy:
“none of the four “real time” maximum magnitude prediction models were very successful when applied to each fracturing stage separately”
“Methods for predicting the maximum magnitude that adopt a link between injected volume and the maximum magnitude of induced events lack convincing empirical evidence or proven theoretical basis”
The study found that when the four models were tested against the observed seismicity using the injection volume and seismicity for each fracturing stage separately, they were not very successful in forecasting maximum magnitude. … The tests also found that the notification time for many of the successful forecasts was very short giving insufficient warning to perform practical operational mitigations.”
So it’s is pretty clear that Mr Egan’s attempts to dismiss the previous inconvenient science and to pretend that the OGA report somehow legitimises his desire to cover the Fylde in well pads regardless of the consequences are at best disingenuous. It’s a shame that we don’t have interviewers on Radio 4 who are well enough informed to question his claims.
Which brings me on to Radio Lancashire and Graham Liver.
Mr Liver was not, it seems in the mood to let Mr Egan get away with quite as much as Mr Webb. The result was an angry and petulant Mr Egan giving a car crash of an interview. Of course he repeated the rubbish about the science from this morning but I wasn’t quite so ready for his rant about Russians and paedophiles. I suspect his PR agency will be giving him some extra homework tonight!
There is a transcript below for you to enjoy:
Graham Liver and Francis Egan – Radio Lancashire 6 April 2022 – 8:07 am
Let’s speak to their chief executive Francis Egan who joins us live on breakfast this morning, Francis.
Good morning. Can you answer Mr. Menzies questions?
Oh, yes, of course. He didn’t sound like a man who had made up his mind and wasn’t listening to anybody else as he’s accused his Conservative colleagues, as I have to say, in that clip. But, of course, the the the wells at Preston New Road, which he says are not viable. Um I don’t know what his technical qualifications are. But I can assure you they are viable. I can also tell you that the the scientific study, the scientific evidence that the government claims it’s following was actually initiated six months after the moratorium. So far from the science, being led by the science, the science didn’t get get initiated by the government, the studies into the wells weren’t launched until March 2020, with the moratorium being announced in November 19. And those studies concluded that the vast majority of what your first contributor calls earthquakes were imperceptible, so she must have amazing perception to have perceived them. And the 2.9 event that has exercised Menzies created ground vibrations, half the level typically allowed from a construction site. So I think some facts have been brought to bear since the moratorium was announced and frankly, I’m amazed that it takes three months for them to actually review this and say it is safe.
So in the past two years, have you found a revolutionary new method of fracking that safe because you couldn’t even stick to your agreed traffic light system? Could you?
(Audio quality very bad in next section) The 0.5 described by Liverpool University as the equivalent of sitting on an office chair Graham, so sitting your office chair, was accepted by us on the basis that it would be reviewed over time and amended, it was never reviewed at the time and now is the time to review it. And that was the basis that we and other industry members far from happily was effectively gotten to are insane. And unless this country agreed on the basis of that construct this country with the RAF, treble Northwest, eight months sonic boom, most of the train systems country, so it’s either the country wants to develop its own sort of just pretend it can’t be done safely.
Francis, I’m afraid the phone line, the phone line, I’m afraid Francis is really, really bad. I’m going to try to ask you a few more questions. Try not to move or try to move near a window. If you can
No, it’s fine. It’s working now. So has this. Let’s let’s ask that question again. Because you couldn’t really hear it as much as I said, in the past two years, have you found a revolutionary new method of fracking that’s safe because you couldn’t stick to your agreed traffic light system could you? You agreed to the system, you couldn’t stick to it? Have you found a revolutionary new method method of making fracking safe?
But there is no need to find a revolutionary new method, the method is safe, the traffic light system at 0.5, as I was trying to say to you, this was equivalent to sitting down on an office chair, and we signed up to it on the basis it would be reviewed over time and amended to an appropriate level. So if you were to stick with that, of course, you’d have to shut down most of the industry in the country. So there is no need to find some new revolutionary method, there is just a need to have the same the same regulations applied to fracking, as you apply to construction as you apply to geothermal as you apply to transport.
Are you saying now that people in Lancashire just have to put up with it now to improve our energy security.
Well, people in Lancashire just have to put up with their gas bills going through the roof. And and we were assured that would never happen by the government. We were told there was plentiful, cheap gas available in the world, we argued that it was insecure and not safe to be reliant on foreign imports of gas. And we were told we were silly. That hasn’t proved to be the case. So decisions need to be made clearly.
But it’s going to be a very, let’s say fracking starts again. It’s going to be a very, very, very long time, before we see a change in our energy bills from fracking.
Well, it’s going to be a time before you see a change in your energy bills from nuclear power stations, onshore wind, offshore wind, hydrogen, that the energy policy, frankly, of this country has been a mess. And it’s going to take some time to unwind that, but but it’s I think it’s time that we realize we need to secure our own domestic supplies of gas, which everybody recognizes will be needed for decades to come.
Very quickly in a statement yesterday, which you put out, you cited a questionable claim from eight years ago that Russia is actively engaged in anti fracking groups. Do you really believe that?
Well, I wasn’t my claim. It was the NATO security general who made that claim. So I was quoting him, not me.
Yeah but that as an unsubstantiated claim by him.
Well, I’m sure you’d have to ask him how he substantiated and not me, it’s not my quote. It’s his quote. But I can tell you that having been described on Russia today and UK television as the moral equivalent to paedophiles gives you some indication of where Russia was in the whole debate.
Paedo.., why are you bringing paedophiles in here?
Because on Russia today, the presenters on Russia Today described Cuadrilla and other frackers as the modern equivalent of paedophiles.
Right? Do you think this was suitable to put it in your press release, this?
Absolutely – suitable to put in the press release? Of course, why do you think the NATO Secretary General said it?
but .. linking anti fracking groups in Lancashire, someone like Barbara Richardson, who I’m not going to speak for Barbara, but I imagine is someone who is not known for protesting, and you’re linking her to Vladimir Putin?
I didn’t link anybody to Vladimir Putin, I think should read the press release.
Do you really think you’re going to get people on your side by being like this?
Being like what? Sorry.
Some may say slightly aggressive?
I don’t think so. No, I’m I’m merely defending my corner from accusations that I’m somehow linking Barbara Richardson to Vladimir Putin, I would certainly wouldn’t dream of doing that.
So in terms of this review, … the government have given you this time period, are we going to see anything new off the back of it?
Well, you’re going to have to ask the government that rather than me, it’s their review, not mine, I’m afraid.
But if nothing if nothing has changed, you say you haven’t found a new, revolutionary way, the science hasn’t changed, then we’re not going to see a return to fracking are we?
Well I started by the interview by explaining that the science took place after the moratorium was introduced. And the science clearly demonstrates already that it’s safe to do it, so I don’t think it needs a long review.
Okay, Francis Egan. We’ll leave it there. But thank you ever so much for joining us this morning. That’s Francis Egan, the chief executive of Cuadrilla.