Dismissal of legal challenge against ministerial approval Lancashire fracking site – more details and reaction

pnr 170410 Ros Wills 4

Preston New Road shale gas site on 10 April 2017. Photo: Ros Wills

Campaigners have described as a “terrible precedent” the dismissal of their High Court action against the ministerial approval of fracking at a site in Lancashire.

Judge Sir Ian Dove, sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice in London this morning, rejected the challenges against the Communities Secretary brought by Preston New Road Action and local campaigner, Gayzer Frackman. Breaking News

They had argued that Sajid Javid had acted unlawfully and unfairly in granting planning permission to Cuadrilla to drill, frack and test up to four shale gas wells near Blackpool.

But Sir Ian Dove rejected all the grounds of both challenges.

Cuadrilla has welcomed the decision and said it was “great news” for local businesses and workers in Lancashire.

The ruling appears to clear the way for the company to continue its operation at Preston New Road. It also brings to an end the Cuadrilla’s planning battle over the site. Lancashire County Council refused permission in June 2015, despite the recommendation to approve by planning officers. The inspector at a 19-day public inquiry also recommended approval, which was adopted by Mr Javid.

Cuadrilla’s chief executive, Francis Egan, said this morning:

“We are very pleased that the Planning Inspector’s recommendation and the Secretary of State’s decision to grant planning consent has been upheld by the High Court. We respected the democratic right of those opposed to this consent to challenge the Secretary of State’s decision.

“However we always remained confident that that the planning consent would stand, particularly after such a lengthy and thorough review of the application and positive recommendations for approval by both the professional Planning Officers at Lancashire County Council and subsequently an experienced Planning Inspector.

“This is also great news for all those local businesses and workers in Lancashire that are currently and will in the future be benefiting from the increased revenue and job opportunities that our operations are bringing to the county. Work continues on the construction of the exploration site and we look forwards to progressing to the drilling stage of our operations within the next couple of months.”

“Terrible precedent”

Campaigner, Gayzer Frackman, from Lytham, had argued that the minister’s decision failed to consider climate change and gaps in regulations to protect public health.

Preston New Road Action Group had argued that Mr Javid had misunderstood or misapplied local and national planning policy in approving the fracking scheme.

In a statement after the ruling, Preston New Road Action Group said its members had “reacted with heartfelt disappointment” that Mr Justice Dove has ruled in favour of the Secretary of State, Sajid Javid MP.

“The group challenged the lawfulness of Sajid Javid’s overruling of Lancashire County Council’s solid decision to refuse Cuadrilla planning permission to frack at the Preston New Road site. The group sought to have Sajid Javid’s determination declared unlawful, weighing on five points of law having being breached.

“Today’s decision also sets a terrible precedent for other communities facing the unconventional gas industry. The fracking industry does not constitute as sustainable development and is a backwards step for the UK’s commitment to mitigating climate change and upholding the Paris Agreement.”

Pat Davies, Chair of Preston New Road Action Group said:

“The ramifications of allowing an unwanted industry to proceed, against the express wishes of the democratically-elected local planning committee and local community’s wishes, are immense.

“Residents are suffering ill health and overwhelming anxiety about their future, with concerns for the the environment they and future generations live in. The Fylde Coast will become the guinea pig for this dirty industry and no longer be a safe or desirable place to live, work or retire to.

“For residents to have no say in shaping the community they live in, is also against the overarching commitment outlined as a key aim within the government’s own National Planning Policy Framework.

“This contradictory approach smacks of muddled thinking at best, or autocracy at worst. If a planning process can be controlled by external corporate interests and the government policy of the moment, it is neither fit for purpose and begs the question whether local democracy now plays any valid part in the planning process.”

Claire Stephenson from the group said:

“Justice and democracy have not been observed in Lancashire. We are truly dismayed at this decision. We will now take time to reflect on the ruling and liaise with our legal counsel to advise us further. We said no and we will continue to say no. This is not the end.”

Other reaction

Elisabeth Whitebread, Greenpeace UK Energy Campaigner:

“Lancashire said No to fracking from the start but the government overruled local people and the local council. In this legal challenge Preston New Road Action Group has represented thousands of people. Ordinary members of the community have been peacefully opposing fracking for six years and they won’t stop now.

“Lancashire needs clean, reliable energy, innovation and job creation, not disruptive drilling, noise, air and light pollution. Our government should listen to the public, stop prioritising fracking, and instead support cutting edge renewables and battery storage, which can meet our energy needs.”

Gareth Redmond-King, Head of Energy and Climate, WWF:

“This government is keen on people having the final say on wind farms, but not so much when it comes to fracking. This decision clearly flies in the face of the will of local people in Lancashire. Their voices have been loud and clear on this issue – that unconventional oil and gas are neither good for people nor the planet – and this view has been woefully ignored. Rather than fracking, the UK Government needs to focus investment in innovative, low carbon technologies to provide for our energy needs.

“They really have to set out how we will reach the UK’s emissions targets – they need to publish their plan to reduce emissions. Fracking will not help us reach these carbon targets – in fact, it hinders it, by opening up a new source of fossil fuels when what we most need to do is leave most of the world’s remaining gas, coal and oil in the ground.”

Lancashire For Shale:

“As far as we are concerned, the High Court has vindicated the previous decision of the Secretary of State and it is the only sensible and logical decision they could have reached.

“We believe that this decision underpins the planning consent granted, and that shale gas exploration will continue to be beneficial for the people and economy of Lancashire

“We call on the activists to stop disrupting Cuadrilla’s supply chain and local road users near to the site, by accepting this democratic decision. Let’s move forward, based on the fact that justice has been served.”

Backing Fracking:

“We are delighted that Justice Dove, who we understand is very experienced in these matters, has concluded that the Secretary of State was right to approve Cuadrilla’s shale gas plans on appeal in October last year.

“This decision will no doubt disappoint some local campaigners, but we hope that they will accept it and choose not to pursue any further form of appeal just like their fellow campaigners in North Yorkshire when they lost a similar legal challenge last year.

“We hope it also sends a clear message to the national protestors that have been involved in weeks of disruptive direct action at the site itself and the premises of local suppliers to Cuadrilla: the democratically made laws of the land have been complied with in full, it’s time to pack up and find another cause to oppose. They never really had a social licence to protest in the manner they have been anyway, but this High Court decision removes any last remaining justification for their actions. It’s now time to let Cuadrilla get on with finding the answers we’re all looking for: can this gas be extracted in sufficient quantities to enable a viable shale gas industry to grow in Lancashire, creating jobs and boosting the economy?

This section will be updated with other reaction as it comes in. DrillOrDrop has also reported in more detail on the judge’s ruling.

33 replies »

  1. As expected. Who pays costs should be interesting – did I read earlier that there was a £5k cap? Should be a lot higher if EOI and Greenpeas are funding the lost cause cases?

    Will Gayzer Frackman be changing his name again? Mr. Green Lightfracking?

    • Yeah it’s capped Paul but this is the last time due to the change in law. Sneakily David Cameron introduced this cap in 2013 which has held us up since. He was a phoney PM not that May is much better.
      GP and FoE are trying to bring a JR to prevent the law being amended and guess what…. They are using the cap.
      Today’s announcement is the final nail in the coffin for antis in terms of preventing exploration.

      • I think your comments are over simplistic – this was a challenge. Despite the government’s best efforts there is still a raft of planning policy, guidance and legislation that can restrict surface development.
        Not to mention England is a small, densely populated country – hence the recent ReFine study that calculated only 10% of each PEDL will be capable of development. Plus there is significant public opposition as well.
        I have only mentioned England in reference to the fact that NI Scotland and Wales have a moratorium in place and devolved planning responsibilities.

        • Is this the same ReFine who told us all the UK wells are leaking methane equivalent to two sheep passing wind? Or was that some other group?

        • Hi KatT. The Refine study assumed a lateral well length of 500m. If that turns out to be very much on the low side then the 25% extraction refine predicted (the figure you quote of 10% isn’t the amount of resource accessible) will be very wrong.

          Given that laterals are being drilled of 18,000ft Refine using 500m looks incorrect. Refine do not even support how they came up with the 500m value, they just declare it ‘reasonable’. I would have thought in a science paper it would have been nice to at least declare how you come up with key variables. After all, if the 500m value turns out to be incorrect then the entire paper is worthless and there is every reason to question the 500m value since UK wells already achieve beyond this.

          If we assume that the paper is correct in its findings for surface well pad constructions (the paper has assumed square well pads and doesn’t discuss the affect of farmers accepting well pads and therefore setbacks from farms not neccessarily meeting the values used in the paper) then if laterals end up being 1500m or 2000m (or more) then obviously the figure for how much of the resource is accessible increases very sharply.

          • From 2008:

            Maersk Oil Qatar has finished drilling the longest well (BD-04A) in the world with a length of 40,320 feet (12.3 km), beating the 20 year old record of the Russian Kola Peninsula exploratory well. With a horizontal section of 35,770 feet (10.9 km) Maersk Oil’s well also extended the company’s previously held world record for the longest horizontal well by 9,000 feet (2.7 km). The entire horizontal section of the well is placed within a reservoir target which is only 20 feet (6 m) thick.

            BPs (now Perenco) Wytch Farm drilling capability:

  2. The Rosacre site will not be straightforward – given the officers recommended refusal, the council recommended refusal and the Inspector recommended refusal.

    • Agreed KatT. Rosacre may well be fully refused if Cuadrilla haven’t come up with an acceptable traffic plan. But Cuadrilla only ever needed approval for one site. Preston New Road should be sufficient to confirm reserves and commerciality which were evident from the test results at Preese Hall.

      • That is very interesting Paul – so why does the industry say they will need 40 to 100 wells to determine whether the industry will be viable or not?

        • 40 – 100 wells in the whole of UK perhaps, geology is the issue? Not in the Fylde. Flow rates at Preese Hall were great, some reserves will become P1 after the 4 PNR wells. The shale is quite sandy in the outcrops at the FOB where I have looked at them with 2 geologists, I expect Cuadrilla have a pretty good idea now of GIP, the wells at PNR will help with a recovery factor. You don’t think Cuadrilla are pursuing this play just to annoy the antis do you? All this talk of it will be “un-economic” (read John Powney’s repetitive posts) are misleading. There will be another JP post with the same repetition after he reads this post. Ponzi schemes etc. etc. …….

          This is about testing the commerciality of shale gas in the Fylde area, each time a well is drilled and tested the data refines the model. I don’t know how many wells Cuadrilla need before confirming commerciality (or not) but I do know that 4 wells at PNR will be a significant step forward in the process.

          It is of course entirely possible that Cuadrilla will determine that it is not commercial and they will stop (if you believe JP / Refracktion etc. who have an amzing crystal ball). But Enemies of Industry, Greenpeas etc. are clearly very worried that it may be economically viable – otherwise why continue to waste money trying to stop it?

          • Paul – nobody is claiming to have a crystal ball – go easy on the straw men or you’ll be in full Peeny mode 😉 What we do have is the estimates of the UK extraction costs made by a variety of bodies, the forecasts for wholesale gas futures for the next 7 years or so and a memory of somebody called Mr Micawber.

            What we don’t have (in spite of asking several times in several places for it) is any evidence to suggest that those extraction / wholesale cost forecasts are inaccurate, or any better data to replace them with.

            Of course further tax breaks and subsidies could still make exploration and production attractive to the industry.

  3. Just some gas news to illustrate why it’s better to be self-sufficient in gas supply. The UK’s biggest gas storage facility at Rough is facing severe technical problems, basically due to age. There will be a report on its future around June. However gas storage across Europe is anyway facing difficulties basically due to current low prices and the glut of LNG especially from the U.S. shale industry. In the winter we will be increasingly dependent on imported LNG to cover spikes of increased demand. The rise of LNG makes it an increasingly transportable, internationally tradeable commodity like oil.

    But we are in a transition stage internationally where many nations in the East are aiming to move out of coal (the political imperative is to reduce pollution rather than reduce CO2) so LNG demand will increase especially in the winter months across the northern latitudes. I guess all this points to increased insecurity of supply in the UK plus greater volatility in the short-term price of both gas and electricity generated from gas. In my view the development of a UK shale industry will go some way to insuring against this insecurity and volatility.

    I see no reason why shale gas and renewables should not live in perfect harmony. In the Summer months this year, with the unexpectedly high solar power output and average wind output, it looks to me like our electricity could be easily generated during most of the day from a combination of wind, solar, nuclear and wood chips. I would predict electricity generation’s CO2 output will fall to a record low this summer even at a time when national GDP is rising. We might even need to call in demand increases to regulate the voltage. BUT of course, to power gas appliances and central heating, and when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, especially in the winter, we will need back-up, which of course is where gas is essential.

  4. The government has declared it is going all out for shale and is clearly intent on doing so at any cost. The Committee for Climate Change have three key requirements, without which fracking cannot happen, one being that it cannot happen without CCS. Recently released (govt) figures from BEIS show CCS flat lining at zero until 2035. Discuss.

  5. “Memory of Mr. Micawber”! I have a memory of Mr. Salmond-$110/barrel.

    I would expect the oil/gas industry to know a great deal more about costs and future prices. Their exploration costs are well known to them and the likely return prices. Check out details given today for Sea Lion. Yes, they could be uncertain about the certainty, but that is the reason for drilling test wells and obtaining clarification. We will see what we will see.

    • Uncertain about the certainty? That sounds like Donald Rumsfeld’s famous speech which is always worth revisiting:
      “Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.”
      Isn’t it wonderful to see how are in such safe hands? This is why I trust the o&g industry implicitly, I know they have their best interests at heart and are unknowingly knowing and certainly uncertain about exactly what they are doing……i am knowingly certainly uncertain about that unknown unknown…..or am I?

    • “I would expect the oil/gas industry to know a great deal more about costs and future prices.”

      Yes Martin – that’s precisely the point I am making – we can see published cost estimates from a variety of bodies, and we can look at the actual futures quotes online – or we can rely on statements like that.

      Hmmm, let me think…

      No it’s still not you I’ll be taking any notice of Martin. Sorry.

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