A Barnsley man’s decade long battle with his insurance company over mining subsidence could be a lesson to all residents living above old mine workings, should fracking come to Barnsley.
Ken Jones warns, “Subsidence is one of the main reasons to ban fracking in old mining areas. It is important that people understand we are living on top of a honeycomb of old mine workings that have partially collapsed or potentially could do in the future. Ten affected my home according to British Coal data. Any disturbance caused by fracking could result in further movement in these unstable workings, which are then transferred to the surface.”
Barnsley was literally built on coal. Hundreds, if not thousands of old mine workings follow the coal seams that lie under the town. According to Coal Authority maps, much of Barnsley sits on top of shallow mine workings which are often less than 30 metres below the surface and for which only approximate records exist.
Ken bought his house in Ardsley, to the east of Barnsley in 1983. Like many properties in the area, it suffered from a history of subsidence due to the old mine workings underneath. This affected the property by damaging the damp proofing, causing cracks throughout the house, damage to drives, walls, paths and the support structure of the access road. It jammed windows, doors and cupboards.
“There were ten mine workings that had caused damage to the house since it was built,” explained Ken.
Further subsidence caused damage to Ken’s house in 2006. However, when he tried to claim compensation, British Coal rejected his claim, as mining had ceased in Barnsley in 1994.
“British Coal had used this ploy in the past. However, I had done my homework and found plenty of information that showed residual movement of old workings can continue indefinitely, as the ground continues to settle. The minor earthquake that hit Barnsley in 2007 made the damage worse”
What followed was a near decade long battle with his insurance company.
“I claimed for the damage in 2006 and my insurer tried to blame tree damage! This was discounted when they were given British Coal data on trees and subsidence. They then tried blaming shrub roots, clay shrinkage, property age and weather. It took three years before they eventually started repairs.
“The insurers claimed completion in June 2009, however the damp course failed again, the drive turned into a shambles and cracks continued to appear all over the house.
“In the meantime I built a new house and decided to sell the old one, which was valued for around £220,000.
“We moved out October 2009. I advised my insurer that I could not sell until all of the cracks and the drive had been sorted. My insurers continued to delay and I eventually took them to the financial services ombudsman.”
Ken won his case but found that his problems were still far from over.
“I sold the house in April 2014 for £155,000 as is, with thousands of pounds of work still to do and £65,000 under its original valuation.
“I claimed my loss against my insurer and the ombudsman made a decision that both myself and the insurer had to abide by. This was in March 2015. So far my insurer has not met the ombudsman’s requirements or paid me any money. This is ten years into a residual subsidence claim!
“Should fracking cause earthquakes in Barnsley, such as those that happened in Blackpool, there could be thousands of cases like mine.”
A local geologist (who wishes to remain anonymous) confirms Ken’s warning, “any seismic activity can cause faults to ‘slip’, as also can the injection of large quantities of liquid. The main threat would be the vibrations created in the fractionating process. The vibrations from fracking can cause old roadways to collapse so accelerating subsidence. Even though this takes place at depths of a kilometre or more they can still cause vibrations at the surface.
“Subsidence could release gases trapped within old workings or contaminated liquids. There are places in Barnsley that still use bore holes for their water supply. Should the aquifers become contaminated, areas of Barnsley could lose their water supply.
“Vibrations can cause slag on heaps to form a slurry during wet periods, increasing the risk of collapse. Some slag heaps still contain contaminated materials buried inside. It could be disastrous if one of these were to destabilise.”
Some insurance companies will not insure against damage caused by fracking. Advice on the UKOOG (UK Onshore Oil & Gas) website states that claims would have to be made against the company that caused the damage. This means that householders would have to initiate their own legal proceedings.
The Guardian reported in December 2013, that the environment minister had rejected a cross-party call for fracking companies to sign a bond that would require them to pay for any pollution caused by the fracking process. Should a company declare itself bankrupt, it will be left to the taxpayer to pick up the tab. There is no reason to suspect that it would be any different if that company had also caused damage to Barnsley resident’s homes.
Sign our petition calling on Barnsley Council to reject fracking here.
View British Coal maps.
Note: Names have been changed in this story to protect identities. Maps are based on British Coal Authorities information and are approximate for illustration purposes.