Toxic waste fluid from the UK’s only functioning fracking site in Lancashire was (and quite possibly still is) being brought to a local Leeds waste treatment plant, and the residue later discharged into the south Leeds water system with only limited safety tests, campaigners have discovered.
FCC Environment run a water treatment site next to Yorkshire Water’s Knostrop sewage plant in Cross Green, immediately across the River Aire from Hunslet. They specialise in industrial, chemical and hazardous waste liquids, and are one of only a handful of sites nationwide accredited to handle waste fluid from fracking.
Fracking (officially known as hydraulic fracturing) is a controversial and much-contested new industry, in which high-pressure water is pumped underground to drive out gas reserves. It’s still in its infancy in the UK, with only one site – Preston New Road in Blackpool – conducting live tests. Over 200 licences (covering over 500 sites) have been granted for exploratory operations across the country, and – if the industry takes off – the UK would likely see over 1000 sites. Those pushing fracking argue it could provide the UK with several decades’ worth of natural gas.
However, campaigners insist that – even if people still believe in fossil fuels – it’s a discredited and inefficient industry, which poses multiple proven health risks to local communities and wildlife. Just in the past week, further significant earth tremors have seen the Preston New Road site suspend operations, and also an academic report suggesting previous estimates of the UK’s frack-friendly gas reserves were wildly exaggerated.
Although there are only limited plans as yet for fracking in Leeds, local campaigners have long argued that waste fluid – containing various industrial chemicals, hydrocarbons including benzene and xylene, and radioactive elements including radium – would be brought to Knostrop by the tanker load. They also insist that there was no proof that the waste would or even could be safely treated, nor adequately monitored – by either FCC or later Yorkshire Water – before it was discharged into the River Aire. In the USA, where the fracking industry is far more developed, there is a long-standing and unresolved debate as to whether fracking waste fluid is effectively treated.
With no obligation upon FCC Environment to publicly disclose whether they were receiving fracking waste, the matter was shrouded in mystery – until the Environment Agency earlier this year disclosed in a letter to West Yorkshire MP Yvette Cooper that Cuadrilla (the company running the Preston New Road operation) was already sending waste fluid to Knostrop.
The letter proceeded to state that liquid waste resulting from the treatment process was subject to relevant testing for toxicity and radioactivity, and that these ensure that “people and the environment are protected and are not adversely affected as a result of the discharge”.
However, Yorkshire Water surprisingly still has a live page of their website stating that they are “currently unaware of any firm proposals by FCC Environment to send waste water from the fracking process to our Knostrop Waste Water Treatment Works in Leeds”. And furthermore, local anti-fracking campaigners have also discovered via a Freedom of Information request to the Environment Agency that neither they nor Yorkshire Water do in fact carry out radioactivity monitoring on waste liquids discharged into local water systems.
Cllr Lisa Mulherin – Executive Member for Climate Change, Transport and Sustainable Development – told South Leeds Life:
“Leeds City Council is opposed to fracking, and fundamentally disagrees with the Government’s approach of forcing it on unwilling local communities. I share the serious concerns about fracking’s devastating and long-lasting impact on our environment. To see its by-products being transported to Yorkshire, then released into the River Aire without any consultation, is an outrage. I have written to the Government asking that the process be halted, until we have more information – and I will continue to push for the Government to halt fracking completely.”
Shelley Bath, for Frack Free Leeds, added:
“We will not rest until we have the answers that we need to protect the communities and wildlife living around Knostrop and along the River Aire.”
We also approached FCC, but did not receive a response.
To find out more, visit backingfracking.org for pro-fracking voices (although anti-fracking researchers claim this is ‘front’ group for the fracking companies), or sites includes drillordrop.com and frack-off.org.uk for anti-fracking voices.
Frack Free Leeds and associated groups also hold regular local meetings.
Photo shows local residents demonstrating outside the Preston New Road fracking site in Blackpool.