The shale gas firm, Cuadrilla has confirmed that drilling began today at its site at near Blackpool.
The Preston New Road site at Little Plumpton will see the first horizontal shale gas exploration wells in the UK.
A spokesperson for the company said drilling began early this afternoon but was unable to give a precise time.
Drilling will continue 24-hours a day and the company has estimated it will be completed before the end of the year. Fracking is not expected to take place until December or early next year.
Cuadrilla’s spokesperson said the company would drill the pilot well vertically to about 3,500m. Samples would then be taken from the shale rocks. Based on analysis of the samples, Cuadrilla wold then decide where to drill the first two horizontal wells, which would be at depths of 2,000-3,500m.
A neighbour of the site said this afternoon she could hear the drilling from her home. “It sounds like an elevator going up and down intermittently”, she said.
An opponent of Cuadrilla’s operations described the news as “a sad day for Lancashire and democracy”. Lancashire County Council refused planning permission for the site but its decision was overturned after a public inquiry by the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid. A case at the Court of Appeal will be heard at the end of this month.
A spokesperson from Preston New Road Action Group said:
“Preston New Road Action Group are bitterly disappointed that Cuadrilla have reportedly commenced drilling at the Preston New Road site, despite a legal challenge still being in progress.
“They seem to have a total disregard for the local community, despite on many occasions saying they wish to be good neighbours.
“Once drilling commences the local community is subjected to 24×7 drilling with the impacts that it is likely to have on their lives. As the rig was delivered during the night they have already breached planning conditions which does not bode well for the future.”
Friends of the Earth called on the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, not to give final consent for fracking at the site. The organisation began a petition this afternoon, which had reached almost 2,500 signatures by 5.10pm.
“It’s not too late for the government to admit it has got it wrong on fracking.”
Helen Rimmer, Friends of the Earth North West campaigner, said:
“The start of drilling means that local people will be subject to 24 hour noise, 7 days a week, from a fracking project that they don’t even want.
“Fracking is bad news for the local community, bad news for our environment and is the wrong solution to our energy needs.
“But it’s not too late for the government to admit that it has got it wrong on fracking and put an end to this risky industry before it starts. Now is the time for Greg Clark to show he’s serious about climate change and say no to fracking before it begins.”
Elisabeth Whitebread, energy campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said:
“As Cuadrilla’s drill works round the clock to bore a test well two miles deep, growing numbers of protestors will continue to oppose fracking. Residents are already reporting noise from the drill and are rightly concerned about the impact of new fracked gas on our climate.
“We already have more gas than we can afford to burn so this disruptive search for shale gas which would add to global warming is illogical. Is Theresa May really going to stand by and allow the launch of a new fossil fuel industry in the UK in 2018? That’s not the action of a climate leader.”
Gareth Redmond-King, head of climate and energy at WWF, said@
“The Secretary of State should refuse permission for licences to frack until the companies involved can convince experts that this is part of a cleaner, greener energy future for the UK – one that respects people, nature and wildlife.”
In a statement released this afternoon, Cuadrilla said:
“There is no precedent in the UK on how long the horizontal wells through the shale will take to drill however Cuadrilla currently estimates these will be completed before the end of 2017.”
The site has planning permission to drill and hydraulically fracture a total of four wells.
Today’s news coincided with an announcement by the company that it was releasing the first community benefit payment of £100,000.
Cuadrilla’s chief executive, Francis Egan, said in a statement:
“Today is an important milestone for the energy industry in the UK as well as the community in Lancashire.
“In addition to the jobs created, and the nearly £3million of investment that Lancashire has received to date as a result of our shale gas exploration, the local community will now also directly benefit.
“Following on from this Community Benefit Fund payment a consultation will now start with the community to decide how best to distribute the payment to good causes in the area. We are very proud to be the first British onshore shale gas operator to make this happen.”
Cuadrilla said local residents would be surveyed by MES (Membership Engagement Services), an independent research, engagement and communications company, hon what the money should be spent on. The Community Benefit Fund will be managed by the Community Foundation for Lancashire.
Local residents will also be consulted on whether they wish payments for the other three wells to be paid into the fund or distributed to individual local households through a separate scheme. If these wells are also drilled, the fund would pay out another £300,000, the company said.
The industry body, UK Onshore Oil and Gas, established the community benefit fund scheme and welcomed Cuadrilla’s first payment. Ken Cronin, the organisation’s chief executive, said:
“I am delighted the first payment under our scheme has been made and look forward to hearing and seeing the interesting ways this money will be spent in the local communities over the coming months.”
Under the UKOOG scheme, communities will receive £100,000 for sites that host exploration wells where hydraulic fracturing takes place and 1% of revenue for those sites that produce commercial quantities of gas.
A spokesperson for Backing Fracking, which describes itself as a residents’ collective that supports shale gas extraction, said this evening:
“Lancashire has already experienced an influx of cash in the form of money spent with local suppliers, but it’s important that host communities feel the benefits more deeply for themselves. The £100,000 community benefit payment is a step in the right direction and will hopefully be put to good use.”
Lancashire for Shale issued this statement on 18 August:
“Lancashire For Shale welcomes this significant drilling milestone on the journey to delivering the economic benefits from shale gas to the people of Lancashire
“It is particularly noteworthy that the start of drilling has triggered the promised donation of £100,000 to an independent community benefit fund, for community projects to be agreed with local people. Cuadrilla is once again meeting its commitments.”
This post will be updated with more reaction as it comes in