Cuadrilla Resumes Fracking in UK
With the opening of a well by shale gas exploration company Cuadrilla early this week, fracking activity resumed in the UK for the first time in seven years. In July, the Australian-owned company had received the government’s final go-ahead to drill at the Preston New Road site in Lancashire.
After a number of delays due to litigation, Cuadrilla began opening the first well on Oct. 15 amid protests from anti-fracking activists. UK media reported that campaign group Reclaim the Power used a van to block the entrance to the site near Blackpool for 12 hours; however, as the company already had the needed equipment in place, it could begin drilling quickly.
The campaign group said the action was in response to the government’s “green Great Britain week,” which it said was “a token attempt to hide a series of climate-wrecking decisions.”
Preston New Road, a focal point for UK anti-shale campaigners since October 2016, when London overturned a decision by Lancashire‘s county council to extract shale gas at the site, is now expected to see the country’s first commercial shale exploitation.
Fracking of two horizontal exploration wells is expected to last three months, after which Cuadrilla said the flow rate of the gas will be tested. Francis Egan, the company’s CEO, repeated earlier statements – challenged in some quarters – that if exploitation proves commercially viable, shale will “displace costly imported gas with lower emissions, significant economic benefit and better security of energy supply for the UK.”
Three protestors who were arrested in July for climbing onto a company truck containing drilling equipment bound for Preston New Road meanwhile have been freed following a successful appeal. The court said it had concluded that the awarded prison sentences of up to 16 months were “manifestly excessive.”
In 2015, the Lancashire council blocked a Cuadrilla bid to resume fracking on the Fylde coast, citing visual and noise impacts, but the plan was subsequently overturned by national authorities. The company’s first attempt at drilling on the coast was suspended in 2011 after a series of minor earthquakes raised concerns.
The seismic activity in the wake of the early drilling effort led to a UK-wide moratorium on fracking, which was lifted at the end of 2012. Scotland launched its own moratorium in 2015, followed by a public consultation in which an overwhelming majority supported a permanent ban.
Chemical producer Ineos, which uses shale-derived ethane as a feedstock at its Grangemouth site, continues to fight the Scottish ban on several legal fronts, while at the same time battling local councils in England opposed to drilling on their territory, as well as the National Trust charity.
UK energy minister, Claire Perry, who has criticized anti-fracking protests, has suggested that rules designed to halt fracking operations if they trigger minor earthquakes could be relaxed as the shale industry expands. Current regulations mean even very low levels of seismic activity require companies to suspend drilling operations.