Cuadrilla Resources is giving up on its exploratory shale gas site at Becconsall on the edge of the Ribble Estuary.
The company confirmed that work to plug the well and restore the site would begin in the spring next year.
A spokesperson said:
“In accordance with the planning consent, well plugging and site restoration work will be carried out after the wintering bird’s season, ending 31st March 2016 and before the deadline set by Lancashire County Council of 31st October 2016.”
“Cuadrilla will inform local residents in advance of exactly when the work will begin next year.”
The decision marks the end of the company’s involvement at the site, also known as Banks or Hesketh Banks, going back to 2010.
The site has seen a drilling problem and a breach of planning conditions. It is also environmentally sensitive, at under 1km from the Ribble Estuary which is protected under European and international wildlife designations. DrillOrDrop reported earlier this year that Cuadrilla had previously leased land as a refuge for wintering geese that was also used by a wildfowl shooting club. Link to investigation
Decision to leave
The spokesperson for Cuadrilla said the company had “no plans for development” at Becconsall. She said:
“An exploratory well was successfully drilled by Cuadrilla in 2011 with rock samples recovered and other geological measurements recorded. No fracking took place at the site.”
Most recently, the site has planning permission to install monitors in the well to measure the pressure of the gas in shale rock. But the spokesperson said:
“The planning consent contained a condition which required Cuadrilla to place all pressure monitoring equipment on site by 31st May 2015.”
“The equipment could not be secured and mobilised to site within that timeframe and therefore rather than seek to vary the planning condition Cuadrilla decided not to pursue the pressure testing and will move on to plug the well with cement and fully restore the site in 2016.”
The spokesperson added:
“During the summer of 2015 Cuadrilla decommissioned 159 seismic monitoring stations near to the site, with permission of the relevant landowners. All of the sites were fully restored by October 2015.”
A Lancashire County Council (LCC) planning officer, acting under delegated powers, first granted permission to Cuadrilla in October 2010 for an exploratory well on the site. A condition of the permission included a requirement that drilling operations should be completed in 90 days. Another was that the site should be restored after 18 months.
Work started in March 2011. A vertical well was spudded on 23rd August 2011. A horizontal side track was spudded on 13th October 2011. The Health and Safety Executive said the horizontal well was “drilled to bypass equipment which had become stuck in the original borehole and could not be recovered”.
A court case in 2012 heard evidence from the LCC planning officer, Stuart Perigo, that Cuadrilla had breached the permitted 90-day drilling limit.
The company asked for extensions of planning permissions in 2012, 2013 and 2014. The most recent application, approved in September 2014, was finally confirmed on 1st May 2015. The delay appears to have been caused by negotiations over a Section 106 agreement. This required mitigation land for wintering wildfowl displaced from their feeding grounds by the site.
The conditions of the most recent permission required the site to be restored by 31st October 2016.
The company must inform LCC planners seven days before it begins plugging and abandoning the wells. All hard-standing, aggregates and lining systems from the compound must be removed from the site.
The sub-soil must be treated and then the topsoil added on top to a minimum depth of 150mm. According to the conditions, the top soil must be “left in a state that will enable to the land to be brought to a standard reasonably fit for agricultural use”.
Passing places created on the route to the site and a widened junction must be returned to their former condition.
There is also a condition that there must be an approved programme of aftercare for five years to “promote agricultural use”.
Ribble Estuary Against Fracking said it was not surprised that Cuadrilla had decided to remove the monitoring stations. In a statement the group said:
“[Cuadrilla’s] failure to comply with time frames and mitigation measures imposed on them by Lancashire County Council has shown their disregard for the planning process and has left locals with many unanswered questions.”
“The first application to drill at the site in 2010 slipped through quietly without the need for a committee decision by LCC. Alarm bells soon rang as the 0.99ha site avoided the 1 hectare rule for which an Environmental Impact Assessment would have been compulsory.”
“A time extension and fracking application at the Becconsall site followed in 2012 by which time Cuadrilla had been found responsible for causing 50 seismic events through fracking at their Preese Hall Site near Blackpool.”
“The River Ribble Estuary is designated as a RAMSAR wetland site of international importance as it is home to tens of thousands of European protected geese and swans who spend the winter feeding on the mudflats of the Estuary and in the surrounding fields.”
“Situated only 700 metres from the Estuary and within a Biological Heritage Site, the Becconsall well posed a threat to the ongoing success of some of our most important wetland migratory species. Concerns were raised by Natural England, Friends of the Earth, Lancs County Council Ecologist and a REAF commissioned ecology consultant who conducted an extended phase 1 habitat survey.”
“Referencing reports on the failings at Preese Hall and peer reviewed scientific data on the effects of fracking to human health and the environment REAF raised objections to the development of the Becconsall Site.”
“Lancs County Council Development Control Committee gave permission for REAF to present their findings. Immediately after the presentation by REAF members the applicant withdrew an application which involved hydraulic fracturing of the well. A subsequent application to perforate the well and monitor was passed but the applicant failed to meet conditions and now intends to restore the site next spring back to prime agricultural land.”
Cuadrilla’s other sites in Lancashire
Cuadrilla was refused permission on 8th April 2015 for a similar scheme at its site at Singleton. This would have allowed for seismic monitoring, pressure testing, abandonment and restoration. There is currently no permission in force for the site.
The company’s spokesperson added that Cuadrilla’s focuss remained on proposed sites at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood. The company was refused permission in June this year to drill, frack and test up to eight wells. It is now preparing for an appeal against the decision which is due to be heard in Blackpool in February.
Updated: 20/11/15 to include reaction from Ribble Estuary Against Fracking