DAMNING REPORT ON THIRD ENERGY SAFETY FAILURES AND INSPECTION REGIMES
To read a Word Document version of this page, please click on the link below. This version also includes screenshots of the original documents that have been obtained under Freedom of Information requests.
Third Energy safety record failures – briefing document
Third Energy claim that they have an ‘excellent safety record’ and have ‘operated without any significant incidents’. For example, the following is taken from the corporate responsibility section of Third Energy’s website:
“Third Energy has been drilling, developing and producing gas in North Yorkshire for over 20 years with an excellent safety record. and we are compliant with national and international health and safety regulations. For the past two decades, we have operated without any significant incidents in our areas of operation.”
This statement is fundamentally flawed for a number of reasons.
In the past few years the safety record of Third Energy (previously called Viking Gas UK Ltd) in Ryedale is one that has included a documented sour gas leaks, problems with flooding, staff accidents and clashes with the HSE regarding well-casing design, procedures and poor maintenance regimes. This is hardly the ‘excellent’ track record proclaimed by Third Energy.
This has particular relevance at this time, as Third Energy intend to utilise an existing pipeline during their proposed fracking operation at their KM8 well-site in Kirby Misperton for transporting fresh water to the site and gas away from the site to Knapton Generating Station.
The pipeline is part of a network that connects Third Energy’s existing sites with Knapton Generating Station, which is also owned and managed by Third Energy. However, this pipeline network has been the subject of intense criticism from the HSE in 2008 for poor management and inadequate standards, dating back for “many years”, and has also been the subject of at least one serious sour gas leak, which according to the HSE-held records happened at the Pickering well site in 2014.
We have obtained the following information from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) via Freedom of Information (FOI) requests:
‘Poor standard’ of management on the existing pipeline
On the 26th August 2008, the HSE conducted its annual pipeline review and the findings were so worrying that the HSE wrote a scathing letter to the operators of the pipeline, which contained a very critical review of the current condition of the pipeline and the poor standard of management of said pipeline.
The HSE inspector stated, “I refer to the above meeting and my subsequent email dated 22/08/08. While I see the implementation of your pipeline management system document as a positive step forward, I do remain disappointed at the speed of its implementation. I see from my notes of our last meeting 6th February 2007 that implementation was expected by mid-April 2007.”
“Of particular concern is the continuing poor standard of cathodic protection applied to the pipeline system. It is believed that this is due primarily to the failure of isolation joints on the system, a situation that has continued unresolved for many years.”
“As I mentioned in my email, I remind you of regulation 13 in the pipeline safety regulations 1996, which places an absolute duty on operators to maintain pipeline in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair. ’
I also believe that in line inspection, utilizing intelligent pigging techniques, which represents good practice within the pipeline industry is required to quantify the level of degradation, which may have taken place to date. Unless substantial progress in these areas is reported to me by the time of our next review meeting, I shall be left with no alternative than to serve an improvement notice on your company.”
Sour Gas Leak in February 2014
On the 13th February 2014 at 10.49 a.m., an operative from Third Energy noticed water ‘bubbling’ in standing surface water at the Pickering site. The operative contacted the site manager at Knapton Generating Station and the pipeline was ‘shut’ and ‘de-pressured’. Later that morning, Third Energy inspected the site and confirmed the bubbling was in fact ‘sour gas’.
Sour gas is a form of natural gas that contains increased levels of hydrogen sulphide. which is a colorless gas with the characteristic bad smell of rotten eggs. It is also heavier than air, very poisonous, corrosive, flammable, and explosive, and also very toxic in small amounts, according to some reports.
Sour gas explosions are a genuine threat and have occurred multiple times in the USA and Canada over the last 5 years, as you can see here and here.
Over the course of the next five weeks Third Energy completed a repair of the damaged pipeline. The five week period is shown on this schematic, showing – the blue-shaded table on the right – that work repairing the leak started on 25th February and was completed on 28th March.
However, it is not known how long this pipe was leaking the highly toxic and explosive sour gas.
Residents living near the route of this ageing and poorly-managed pipeline would be forgiven if they thought that following the leak that the HSE would increase the number of inspections to the site.
Failure of the HSE to inspect the pipeline.
Despite this leak, documents reveal that the last inspection on the pipeline was 2010 and there isn’t an inspection planned this year or scheduled at any other time in the future.
An email from the HSE obtained under an FOI request states the following:
Please see link below for details of the intervention planning process for onshore pipelines: Click Here.
It therefore appears that the HSE have stopped inspecting the pipeline, meaning that the current state and integrity of this underground pipeline is unknown. This is a serious concern, given that the pipeline is central to the application to frack at KM8, as it will transport water to the site, and also take the gas away from the site to Knapton Generation Station during the production test and commercial production phases.
The document below contains the original email sent by Third to the HSE when they first discovered the leak in Pickering.
‘Environmental incidents’ in 2009
The HSE letter (dated August 2008) referenced earlier on in this document highlights quality and safety concerns that had ‘continued unresolved for many years’. Unfortunately Third Energy continued to use the pipeline and in 2009 the HSE conducted two further reviews which highlighted numerous health and safety issues with the pipeline.
These included three environmental incidents, one injury to personnel that resulted in an employee having time off work (LTA), six near misses and five minor injuries, also called non-LTA’s.
We had requested copies of the environmental incidents and the lost time events, However, the HSE has now destroyed the relevant information relating to these incidents, so we may never know the seriousness of the three environmental incidents or injuries sustained to personnel.
A copy of the HSE’s 2009 reports is shown below.
Flooding at Marishes
In January 2013 Third Energy’s drilling contractor, Moorhouse Petroleum, emailed the HSE to report that Third Energy’s Marishes site was under three feet of water because the two rivers enclosing the site had burst their banks and flooded the site.
Third Energy in 2013 also submitted a screening request to North Yorkshire County Council for permission to drill two exploratory wells, one of which was specifically targeting the Bowland Shale. This indicates that they are considering using Marishes as a potential fracking site in the future.
To date a full planning application hasn’t been submitted by Third Energy at this site, but one should seriously question the risk posed by flooding in the area should Third apply to frack near Marishes in the future.
The current Third Energy site at Marishes in Ryedale is sandwiched between two important water sources, the River Derwent and Costa Beck. The River Derwent and its tributaries are protected under EU legislation, and are considered significant for nature conservation, ecology and landscape. The area contains a diverse range of habitats many of which are designated sites, while the river itself is also used for drinking water abstraction for towns such as Scarborough. Therefore any contamination of this waterway due to flooding could potentially lead to significant environmental issues.
This issue has particular resonance at this time due to the widespread flooding suffered by the north of England, including York and areas of North Yorkshire, and the potential risk to water supplies and residents if fracking were to be allowed in these areas.
Email from Moorhouse Petroleum, on behalf of Third Energy, to the HSE regarding the Marishes flooding incident is shown below.
Insufficient well-casings or barriers at KM7
In 2012 The HSE were again critical of Third Energy, this time at their KM7 well site in Kirby Misperton. At the time Third Energy wanted to re-stimulate an existing well to produce gas. However, the current proposed construction only provided a single barrier between the annulus and the outside world. Good practice requested a minimum of two barriers.
An email from the HSE on the 16th November 2012 highlighted the serious problems with the current proposals stating the following: “I have had a conversation with Viking UK gas (now Third Energy) regarding the proposal to produce from the annulus and advised that the potential of hydrocarbons that are sour and corrosive through the annulus with a single barrier (annulus valve) would not accord with industry best practice or their own policies and procedures”. Furthermore I “do not believe that this proposal aligns itself with the ALARP principle”. (note that alarp means ‘as low as reasonably practical’)
Following the email exchange, The HSE attended a meeting with the operators in 2012 and highlighted in their power point presentation to the operator that “more work [is] required to determine risk to life of people outside the fence.”
Eventually Third Energy relented and proceed in-line with the HSE requirements. However, this clearly demonstrates an operator who was willing to ignore ‘good practice’ industry guidelines despite the risk it posed to life ‘outside the fence’.
See below for HSE email relating to the failure to observe industry ‘best practice’ in Third Energy’s proposals for the well.
Third Energy’s safety record in Ryedale is one that has included a documented sour gas leak, problems with flooding, staff accidents, environmental incidents and clashes with the HSE regarding well-casing design, procedures and poor maintenance regimes. This is hardly the ‘excellent’ track record proclaimed by Third Energy.
The HSE have not inspected the existing pipeline since 2010, despite the serious incident involving a sour gas leak in Pickering, which is one of the most populated areas of Ryedale. This clearly demonstrates the HSE is simply not regulating this industry rigorously enough and – with budget cuts yet to bite – one could justifiably assume this is likely to get worse
The overall picture shows that, far from having ‘gold standard regulations’, the current regulatory system appears to be one of self-regulation by an operator who is willing to cut corners, and a Health and Safety Executive that one assumes is either under-resourced or lacks regulatory bite.
The implications for fracking in North Yorkshire, and for the country in general, are very worrying. If this is how things are regulated when there are only a few wells for the HSE to monitor, how would the regulatory system cope if there were thousands of fracking wells stretching across North Yorkshire and Lancashire, and in other parts of the country?
And finally, would you want Third Energy to frack hear your home?
Additional supporting documentation
Please click on the links below to view the full documents issued by the HSE in response to our FOI requests that form part of the report above.