Is Cuadrilla preparing to pull out of the south?

30th May 2014

This week, Cuadrilla announced it had submitted a planning application to hydraulically fracture up to four wells at one of its sites in Lancashire. But what are the company’s plans for southern England?

Cuadrilla recently gained planning permission to test the oil exploration well it drilled last year at Balcombe (though this decision is being challenged by a local residents’ group). But the company said last year that Balcombe was unlikely to be a production site. And it said this week it had no plans for its other sites in the south. So are there signs that Cuadrilla is preparing to pull out of the region?

Cuadrilla has interests in four areas in Kent, Sussex and Surrey:

  • PEDL (Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence) area 244, in West Sussex, which includes the Balcombe well
  • PEDL 247, to the east of PEDL 244, stretching south and east into East Sussex as far as Heathfield
  • EXL 189 in Kent, which includes the Cowden 2 well, drilled in 1999 by Archean
  • PL 055 in Surrey, which includes the Lingfield 1 well, also drilled in 1999 by Archean

Cuadrilla’s website says the planning permission inherited from the previous operator of the Lingfield site expired in November 2011. “We have not carried out any work during our period of ownership”, it said.

On the Cowden well, it said: “There is no intention at the current time to carry out any additional work at Cowden in Kent following some initial evaluation in 2010 of the well”.

The licences for PEDLs 244 and 247 were granted to Cuadrilla on July 1st 2008. Both licences have an Initial Term of six years, which is due to expire on June 30 this year. Both licences require the operator to drill a well before the end of the Initial Term – known as the Drill-or-Drop commitment.

Cuadrilla met the Drill-or-Drop commitment for PEDL 244 by drilling the Balcombe well. But the company may not continue to a production phase there. It told the BBC’s John Moylan last August Balcombe was unlikely to be a production site. “It believes there are likely to be other sites which are better suited because of transport and infrastructure requirements”, John Moyland reported.

In PEDL 247, Cuadrilla appears not to have met its commitment. The most recent database of onshore UK oil wells published by DECC last week has no wells drilled in PEDL 247.

Under the terms of the licences, Cuadrilla has to tell the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) what it plans to do about areas 244 and 247 at least one month before the Initial Term expires. Today is the last working day of that notice period. We asked DECC’s press office what information it had received from Cuadrilla about 244 and 247. It promised to respond by the end of the day – but it didn’t. We’ll let you know when we hear.

We did, however, hear back from Cuadrilla’s PR company in response to our questions on the Kimmeridge Oil Shale Project, which is mentioned regularly by its Australian investor, A J Lucas. We asked about the location, objectives and timescale of the project. PPS replied yesterday with this statement, which further suggests the company is losing interest in the south:

“Kimmeridge Oil Shale Project (KOSP) is a generic name given to a particular prospect in the South which covers more than just Cuardrilla’s licence areas. The licences Cuadrilla currently holds are Weald PEDL 247, Bolney PEDL 244 and Cowden EXL 189. A J Lucas is an operating partner in Bolney PEDL 244. We currently have no plans for work to take place at any of those sites and our focus is on our two proposed sites in Lancashire.”

So why the change of focus? Last summer’s protests against Cuadrilla’s activities at Balcombe certainly drew unwelcome public attention to the onshore oil and gas industry in southern England. It provided a focus for opposition among groups that formed across the Weald, from Kent to Hampshire. Now other companies, like IGas and Celtique Energie, are under scrutiny in the region. And when they submit planning applications there is huge opposition. The consultation for Celtique Energie’s proposed exploration well at Fernhurst, which closed last week, attracted more than 4,700 objections.

An indication of what the industry thinks about Cuadrilla emerged at a meeting of the Institution of Engineering and Technology on May 20th, the subject of which was UK Fracking: Managing the Risks. A member of Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association is a member of IET and attended the meeting. He wrote a report in the latest FFBRA newsletter which included this:

“John Blamires, chief operating officer of IGas, gave a smooth sales presentation. It was obvious that IGas is frustrated by the bad publicity that Cuadrilla keeps generating.”

So is this the beginning of the end for Cuadrilla in the south? When we hear more, we’ll let you know.

2 replies »

  1. We won! See you for my Crown Court Appeal Ruth. That pro-fracking district judge Andrews should be struck off for skewing court proceedings in such a filthy way! Nasty little man!

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