Investigation finds multiple planning breaches and technical problems at Cuadrilla’s drilling sites

All the exploratory shale gas wells drilled by Cuadrilla in Lancashire had some technical difficulty and none were restored by the date set in the original planning permission.

These are just two of the findings from an investigation by into problems at the company’s UK operations.

We identified 10 breaches of planning conditions and five examples of drilling problems, including the now well-known fracking-induced earthquakes. There were also three reprimands, as well as accusations of well integrity failure, trespass and damage and several cases where it wasn’t clear whether or not Cuadrilla had broken regulations.

Summary list of Cuadrilla’s problems and Details


The findings come as Cuadrilla has finally been granted planning permission to return to its site at Becconsall, near Banks, to carry out pressure testing. Lancashire County Council issued a formal decision notice on Friday 1st May, seven months after agreeing to the application. But so far it has not given details of one important planning condition designed to protect over-wintering wildfowl.

A local campaign group, Ribble Estuary Against Fracking, said in a statement yesterday: “We will continue to chase the missing conditions from Lancashire County Council, monitor what is going on and inform local people of developments.”

Earlier today, we revealed that fields leased by Cuadrilla for ducks and geese displaced by the drilling compound at Becconsall had been let at the same time to a local gun club for winter sport. See our full report

Cuadrilla breached three conditions of an earlier planning permission at Becconsall designed to protect the birds. It drilled beyond an agreed 90-day limit and a cut-off date and failed to restore the site by the specified deadline. The latest permission means that the drilling compound that should have been at Becconsall for 18 months, will now be in place for more than five years.

Cuadrilla's drilling compound at Becconsall in an area used by wintering ducks and geese

Cuadrilla’s drilling compound at Becconsall in an area used by wintering ducks and geese

Technical problems

Cuadrilla had to drill side-tracks to its well at Becconsall and at another Lancashire well at Grange Road, also known as Singleton. The Health and Safety Executive confirmed that the side-tracks were needed to bypass equipment that had become stuck in the wells.

At Anna’s Road, also in Lancashire, Cuadrilla had to abandon a well after a packer became trapped and could not be removed.

The biggest technical difficulty were the earthquakes at Preese Hall in spring 2011, induced by fracking. The Guardian reported that in 2012 the then Energy Minister, Charles Hendry, reprimanded Cuadrilla for delays in reporting the earthquakes to the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Since then there have been accusations of a technical well integrity failure at Preese Hall, which Cuadrilla denies.

Site restoration

Cuadrilla failed to restore Preese Hall by four dates set in various planning permissions. There were also missed restoration deadlines at Anna’s Road, Becconsall (see above) and Singleton.

At Singleton, Lancashire County Council’s development control committee refused an application last month (8th April 2015) for seismic monitoring, pressure testing, abandonment and restoration. The decision has yet to be confirmed but it means there has been no planning permission in place for the site since the previous permission expired on 19th January 2012.

Other problems

There were complaints that Cuadrilla’s contractors trespassed on private land when they were carrying out seismic testing in Lancashire. The company was also censured by the Advertising Standards Authority for a publicity leaflet delivered in the county.

At Balcombe, in West Sussex, Cuadrilla was accused of breaking the noise conditions at its exploratory oil drilling site. The company denied this. But there were breaches of the conditions on working hours, which were sanctioned by Sussex Police.

The company has also had difficulties with changes to environmental permit arrangements and planning rules in both Lancashire and West Sussex.

Summary list of Cuadrilla’s problems and Full details and links

Our investigation compiled the list from planning application documents, responses to Freedom of Information requests, media reports and information collected by local residents and the campaign group, Frack Off.

3 replies »

  1. Sounds more like hick ups rather ‘breach’ of conditions. Every development has their little glitch. As long as regulations continue to be in place, and I am sure they are as can be seen by the details of the article above, and Cuadrilla doesn’t get out too much out of line then they should be allowed to do their jobs as does the regulators and scrutinisers.

  2. No Tommie, not hiccups. they were breaches of conditions which were contracted. An early warning of how things will develop should the industry be allowed to continue. Regulations are already weak, and if Cuadrilla can’t even adhere to those when operations are on a tiny scale in comparison to the thousands of wells that are planned, they have clearly demonstrated they cannot be trusted not to compromise our air and water quality. Such disregard for regulation, at a time when government and industry are claiming fracking can be carried out safely when regulated, would be laughable if it wasn’t posing such a huge risk to the environment and human health.

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