Cuadrilla has confirmed that no work will be carried out at its oil exploration site at Balcombe in West Sussex before May this year.
The company told DrillOrDrop it was prioritising work to frack for shale gas near Blackpool in Lancashire.
This means the Balcombe well will have been suspended for more than three-and-a-half years.
Cuadrilla has applied for a variation of its environmental permit for Balcombe. (DrillOrDrop report) Under the terms of its current planning permission, the company must begin flow testing the well by 2 May 2017 and complete operations and site restoration within another six months.
A spokesperson said the company was in talks with West Sussex County Council:
“With regards to the flow test in Balcombe, as we have consistently said over the last three years, we needed to prioritise our work in Lancashire and, following the granting of planning consent last Autumn for our Preston New Road site, which is now under construction, this remains the case.
“We are in discussions with West Sussex County Council on the best way forwards as regards our site at Balcombe, given the current planning application expires on 2nd May.
“We commit to informing local residents in May with full details on how we aim to proceed. We can confirm no works will be undertaken before then.”
The application to vary the environmental permit at the Balcombe site includes details of a new flare and different monitoring arrangements for air and water quality during the well test. There is also a request to remove two waste products from the permit.
The spokesperson said:
“As regards the variation of the permits, I can confirm that, in order to meet new requirements from the Environment Agency, we have submitted a variation of our current environmental permits for approval for our Balcombe site.”
The Balcombe well was drilled in August 2013 but suspended a month later because planning permission expired before flow testing could be carried out. A new planning permission for flow testing was granted in May 2014 but no work has been carried out on the well since September 2013.
The No Fracking in Balcombe Society, which opposes Cuadrilla’s operation in the village, said last week it expected Cuadrilla to apply to extend the current planning permission and then sell the licence to another operator, probably UK Oil and Gas plc.
The consultation period for the Balcombe environmental permit application runs until 25 April 2017. Link to consultation web page.