Fracking Can Go Ahead in Lancashire

07.10.2016 -

In the first test of its new powers to overturn local councils’ anti-fracking decisions, the UK government has decided to allow Cuadrilla to go ahead with shale exploration at New Preston Road in Lancashire. Starting in spring of next year, the gas company will begin test-drilling four wells. Lancashire’s county council had rejected two applications by Cuadrilla to drill wells at Preston New Road and Roseacre – both near Blackpool – overriding its own planning council’s recommendations. The privately owned British-Australian company appealed the decision, which then went to a public inquiry.

The council had cited visual impact of the activity as well as noise from drilling and traffic  for its decision to reject. While reversing the decision for New Preston Road, the UK government’s Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, deferred a decision that would give Cuadrilla permission to drill at Roseacre. The delay will give the company time to deal with road traffic issues, but Javid said he was inclined to approve this permit as well, meaning that four additional wells could be fracked in Lancashire.

“Shale gas has the potential to power economic growth, support 64,000 jobs, and provide a new domestic energy source, making us less reliant on imports,” said Javid. “We will take the big decisions that matter to the future of our country as we build an economy that works for everyone, not just the privileged few,” he added.

The only fracking activity approved by a local council since the end of the one-year UK-wide moratorium in 2012 will see energy group Third Gas drill a single well place at Kirby Mispelton in North Yorkshire. The timetable is not clear, as the plans have been delayed by an appeal from Friends of the Earth. Nottinghamshire’s county council has delayed until Nov. 15 a decision on whether to allow iGas to drill an exploratory shale well, near Doncaster, also following an intervention by Friends of the Earth.

Cuadrilla’s CEO, Francis Egan, said the news that Preston New Road can go ahead “has given Lancashire a big vote of confidence in its economic and energy future.” However, environmental advocates and anti-fracking campaigners, along with the Green and Liberal Democrat parties, called the government’s decision – made possible by a change in laws implemented last year by then-prime minister, David Cameron – a dangerous precedent. A Labour party conference recently voted to ban fracking, should it regain control of the government.

Swiss-based olefins and polyolefins giant Ineos, which has been leaning heavily on the devolved Scottish government to end its moratorium on fracking, has said it will apply for five drilling permits, all in England, this year. Originally, the company had planned to apply for 30 permits. As the discussion continues to rage over how rapidly, or if at all, the UK’s North Sea offshore gas assets are dwindling, some scientists remain concerned about the impact of shale gas, especially in light of the country’s plans to ratify the Paris climate change pact this year.

Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence unit, an environmental think-tank, said the government should tightly regulate emissions from fracking, pointing out at the same time that – in contrast to gas imports –fugitive emissions of methane will count toward the UK’s domestic climate change targets.