2017 saw drilling get underway at the site of the UK’s first horizontal shale gas wells. But, despite expectations, there was no high volume hydraulic fracturing – at least at the time of writing.
There were 12 months of protests in Lancashire and four months in North Yorkshire. Protests camps were established and in one case evicted.
The country’s biggest shale gas company was granted an injunction on an unprecedented scale against anti-fracking protests. It also began legal proceedings against the National Trust over land access, launched appeals on two planning applications and carried out seismic surveys across large areas of countryside.
Two wells were drilled in the Weald basin. One ran into technical trouble. The other led to a long-running planning dispute with the local council. For detailed headlines from 2017 click here
Cuadrilla at Preston New Road
Cuadrilla began site construction work at its Preston New Road site on 5 January. Daily protests continued from that date onward at the site and at Cuadrilla’s contractors and suppliers. On the latest figures, there have been 331 arrests at Preston new Road. Policing costs have totalled £2,946,407.
In July, the national group, Reclaim the Power, worked with local protesters to obstruct deliveries to the site and from local suppliers. The protests, mainly lock-ons and lorry surfing, included three Lancashire councillors on one occasion. Cuadrilla criticised the road closures. Protesters said the road often did not need to be closed and blamed the police.
Officers from other forces were brought in to help Lancashire police. After a week, North Wales withdrew its officers. The Police and Crime Commissioner tweeted:
“No more @NWPolice officers will be going to facilitate Cuadrilla’s business in Lancs. Let them pay for their own security.”
Cuadrilla said many fracking protests were not peaceful, lawful or local. Lancashire campaigners said this statement was untrue.
Protesters filmed the wheelchair of a disabled protester was overturned by police. An 85-year-old woman was dragged across the road. Another woman reported she was knocked unconscious and needed hospital treatment.
Police sent a file to prosecutors on an alleged assault of a protester by a security guard. Politicians from Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens visited protesters at the site to show their support.
Local councillors have pointed to a deterioration in relations between protesters and the police. A report by the monitoring group, Netpol, published in November, concluded that large numbers of police were using aggressive tactics to make it hard for people to protest against fracking. A freedom of information request revealed that in July police used force 165 times in 19 days.
Opponents of Cuadrilla’s operation have also accused the county council and Environment Agency of failing to enforce conditions at the site.
The traffic management plan is now in its 11th version and restrictions on the designated route for heavy vehicles have been relaxed. Cuadrilla admitted bringing its rig on to the site outside permitted working hours. More than 4,000 people signed a petition in four days calling for the rig to be removed. Cuadrilla later sought, and was granted, a change to the rule that had prevented overnight deliveries. It presented evidence about protesters causing delays to 999 calls. This evidence was later revealed to be not approved by the ambulance service.
On several occasions, drone photos revealed rainwater flooding the surface of the site. This led to breaches of environmental permit conditions. Cuadrilla is now seeking to treat surface water on site and dispose of it in a local brook. The company has been allowed to increase the volume of fracturing fluid used per day– leading to concerns about an intensification of fracking.
The community campaigners, Preston New Road Action Group, and activist Geza Frackman, took the Energy Secretary to the High Court over his 2016 approval of planning permission of the Preston New Road scheme. The campaigners lost this case but went to the Court of Appeal. The outcome of the appeal is still awaited.
In April, the government refused funding for policing of the protests at Preston New Road. The Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner applied again later and the decision is still awaited from the Home Office.
Drilling of the first two boreholes began in August. Cuadrilla hosted three online tours of the site. Fracking is expected during the first half of 2018.
Cuadrilla’s other Lancashire sites
A date was announced (10 April 2018) for the reopening of the public inquiry into Cuadrilla’s Roseacre Wood site. Cuadrilla announced two new routes for heavy goods vehicles to the site, in the addition to the one rejected by a planning inspector. Opponents of the scheme said more lives would be at risk.
Cuadrilla said a nesting Little Ringed Plover had caused another delay to the restoration of the Becconsall site near Banks. It asked for more time to restore the site. But Lancashire County Council refused in October to extend the planning permission. No work has been done at the site since a well was drilled in 2011.
Third Energy and Kirby Misperton
Third Energy said in November it was ready to frack its KM8 well at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire – expected to be the first high volume frack on the UK since 2011. But at the time of writing the final approval by the Energy Secretary, Greg Clark, is still awaited.
The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy discovered a loophole in the Infrastructure Act which allowed wells, like Third Energy’s KM8 well, drilled before 2016 to avoid the need for ministerial consent for fracking. The Department closed the loophole in November but it said there would be a delay to a decision on fracking at KM8.
Friends of the Earth had alleged that Third Energy had failed to carry out correctly the monitoring required by the Infrastructure Act before fracking can commence.
Daily protests have been underway outside the Kirby Misperton site since September when Third Energy began moving in equipment.
Police have repeatedly removed viewing towers at the site entrance. They made national headlines when they also removed a tea stall operated by a local 79-year-old woman.
The latest figures from North Yorkshire Police said there had been 74 arrests and policing the protests has cost a total of £563,299.
Opponents of Third Energy’s operation have criticised the lack of enforcement of the traffic management plan and other planning conditions. They have also criticised what they called inconsistent and heavy-handed policing.
The Third Energy company behind the Kirby Misperton operation has failed to file its accounts on time. Accounts for 2015, also filed late, in February 2017, revealed a record loss of £3.8m.
INEOS in the East Midlands
INEOS submitted plans for shale gas exploration – though not fracking- in three villages in the East Midlands: Marsh Lane, Derbyshire; and Harthill and Woodsetts in Rotherham borough.
All the local parish councils have strongly opposed the plans. A petition against the Marsh Lane plans now stands at more than 89,000. At an exhibition in Marsh Lane in January, residents shouted at INEOS executives as they left the community hall.
In November, INEOS said there had been unreasonable delays over the Marsh Lane and Harthill decisions and it appealed against non-determination. The decisions will now be made after public inquiries, although Derbyshire and Rotherham councils still intend to meet and discuss the proposals. The Harthill application, expected to be discussed on 25 January 2018, had looked likely to be refused after the highways department said it would have an unacceptable impact on road safety.
In July, INEOS sought an interim injunction at a private hearing against anti-fracking protests. It presented thousands of pages of evidence, much of it taken from social media posts and websites. The company said it faced an imminent and serious threat from “persons unknown” at its sites and offices and those of its contractors. The injunction, described as unprecedented and draconian, was opposed by two anti-fracking campaigners, Joe Boyd and Joe Corre.
Their challenge at the High Court in September resulted in the removal of a section on harassment from the injunction order. But most of the injunction was unchanged, including prohibition of the protest tactics of slow walking and lorry surfing.
This month, Mr Justice Morgan refused the campaigners’ requests for an appeal. They now intend to go directly to the Court of Appeal in January 2018 to challenge the injunction.
INEOS has also been carrying out seismic surveys in its East Midlands licences. It has begun legal action to force the National Trust to allow access to historic parkland at Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire. The Trust denies it has behaved unreasonably.
INEOS also became embroiled in a dispute with residents near Bolsover over the discolouration of water. The company and Severn Trent said the problem was caused by a broken pipe elsewhere.
The new Conservative MP for Derbyshire, Lee Rowley (left), used his maiden speech to oppose fracking at Marsh Lane. He also chaired a debate in the neighbouring village of Eckington between David Keseteven, of Eckington Against Fracking, and Tom Pickering, of INEOS. The vote at the end was overwhelmingly against INEOS’s plans.
The former MP, Labour’s Natascha Engel, who supported the INEOS plans and lost her seat, has been commissioned by the company to write a booklet about shale gas. A running project involving north Derbyshire schools pulled out of INEOS sponsorship.
IGas in Nottinghamshire
IGas’s plans to explore for shale gas at Tinker Lane near Blyth were approved by one vote at a meeting of Nottinghamshire County Council’s planning committee. After several delays, the council signed a legal agreement with IGas over its other exploration site in the county at Springs Road, Mission. IGas began work at both sites in December.
Egdon at Wressle
North Lincolnshire councillors voted twice against plans by Egdon Resources for oil production at the Wressle site near Scunthorpe. The company appealed and the application went to a six-day public inquiry. Opponents of the scheme raised concerns about plans to acidise the well and use a proppant squeeze to stimulate the well.
The council argued that there had been material gaps in the information provided by Egdon to the council and there remained “an insufficiency of information” to address concerns about contamination of groundwater. The company argued it had provided everything the council had asked for. Its lawyer told the inquiry: “It remains a mystery as to why the members made the decisions that they made”.
Oil in the Weald
In the past few days, planners at West Sussex County Council have recommended approval of Cuadrilla’s flow testing plans for its well at Balcombe, despite 2,700 objections. The decision is expected to be made at meeting on 9 January 2018.
Opponents of drilling for oil in the Weald established a camp outside the Angus Energy oil site at Brockham near Dorking, in Surrey. They noticed that work, described by the company as a well workover, was going on overnight. The company later announced it had drilled a new sidetrack well into the Kimmeridge limestone. Surrey County Council said Angus did not have planning permission. Angus said it did.
In October, the company said it would submit a planning application for “regularisation” of the sidetrack. It told investors production from the Kimmeridge limestone would begin in the first quarter of 2018. But it appears that the application, outlined in a screening request to the council, do not include commercial production. A retrospective planning application for equipment at the site was approved in September. Councillors at that meeting accused the company of betraying their trust.
Work got underway in May to drill an oil exploration well at the Broadford Bridge site, near Billingshurst in West Sussex. The site had been operated by Celtique Energie before being sold to UK Oil and Gas Investments.
Opponents of operations at the site said UKOG was drilling at a different depth and formation for a different substance than that approved in the planning permission granted to Celtique Energie in February 2013. They said the scheme risked pollution of groundwater and local streams. UKOG accused them of scaremongering. No information sessions had been held with local people by the council or the company so Broadford Bridge Action Group set up two panel hearings, one in Pulbrough and one in West Chiltington, attended by 300 people.
In August, it emerged that UKOG had been forced to drill a sidetrack after a section of the well had been washed out. In October, UKOG announced there were cement bond problems in the well.
West Sussex County Council approved an extension of time to the planning permission in September to allow flow testing of the well. Local people have filmed the company working on Sundays, apparently in breach of a planning condition. The Environment Agency approved an environmental permit for flow testing. Local people said their concerns had been ignored. At the time of writing, there have been no details on the results of the flow testing. [A statement to investors published after this article revealed that one test of one section was not commercially viable but the company was looking for two other sites in the Weald: DrillOrDrop report]
Bury Hill Wood
Surrey County Council deferred decisions twice on the traffic management plan for Europa’s oil exploration scheme near Leith Hill. Local people said they were concerned the proposals for bringing in deliveries would trap them in their homes. Europa has appealed to the planning inspectorate over a non-determination of the traffic plans. A protest camp, established on the exploration site in October 2016, was evicted in June 2017.
UKOG was granted a five-year-extension of its Horse Hill licence near Gatwick Airport in Surrey. The county council approved plans for flow testing and more drilling at the site. In December, the operator, HHDL, said it would be applying for permission for oil production and more drilling.
Angus Energy also drilled a sidetrack well, with planning permission, at its site at Lidsey, near Bognor Regis, in West Sussex. A lorry delivering to the site used a wrong route, in breach of a planning condition and legal agreement. The company said in November the flow rates of oil were well below expectations.
The Environment Agency and Portsmouth Water objected to UKOG’s planning application for oil production at Markwells Wood, a remote site in the South Downs National Park.
The local campaign group, Markwells Wood Watch, commissioned a review of the UKOG groundwater risk assessment. The review said water contaminated by oil exploration or production at the site could quickly reach the Bedhampton & Havant Springs, eight miles away, which supply water to Portsmouth.
UKOG withdrew its application in May and said it would submit a new application by the end of the year. At the time of writing, no new application had been made public.
Drilling in Cheshire
In July, IGas announced plans to test its well at Ellesmere Port. Hundreds of people objected to the scheme. It emerged when the application was submitted that IGas drilled the Ellesmere Port well 1,000m deeper than the original documents had suggested. IGas critics had long suspected that the well had been drilled into shale, rather than coal measures. The planning decision is expected on 25 January 2018.
In October, the company also announced it wanted to drill and frack a new well on the edge of the Ince Marshes. It has submitted a scoping request to Cheshire West and Chester Council. If approved, this would be IGas’s first fracked well.
The British Geological Survey confirmed in September that its underground research centre, to be called UKGEOS, would drill 80 observation boreholes across the Ince Marshes.
In the 2017 election campaign, Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens pledged to ban or oppose fracking in England.
The Conservative manifesto promised to make non-fracking oil and gas applications permitted development in England, avoiding the need for planning permission. It also said major shale gas applications would be handled by the national planning regime. This would mean that decisions would be made by a planning inspector or minister, rather than a local planning authority.
In the election, pro-fracking Tories were returned to Westminster for the Fylde and Thirsk and Malton constituencies where Cuadrilla and Third Energy sought to carry out fracking. But the pro-fracking Labour MP, Natascha Engel, narrowly lost her seat in North East Derbyshire to the Conservative Lee Rowley, who opposed shale gas development in the constituency.
The Scottish Government carried out a public consultation on fracking. 99% of the participants said they opposed the process. The energy minister, Paul Wheelhouse (left) announced a ban on fracking in October, backed three weeks later by a vote in parliament. INEOS, which has shale gas licences in the central belt of Scotland, said the decision “beggars belief”.
In November, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, told the boroughs to block plans for fracking in the city.
Public opinion and the media
The government’s quarterly survey of attitudes to fracking saw support fall to record lows of 16% in September and 13% in November. Opposition reached record highs of 30% in May, 33% in September and 36% in November.
The advertising watchdog warned Friends of the Earth against repeating claims about the effects of fracking on health and property prices without adequate evidence.
In a formal ruling on a newspaper supplement by INEOS, the Advertising Standards Authority, upheld one complaint and dismissed two others. One of the complainants has appealed to the ASA’s independent adjudicator. The outcome is still awaited.
Research by Edinburgh University attracted national headlines when it concluded that a shortage of waste treatment facilities – and the cost of treatment at £1m per well – could limit development of fracking in the UK.
The head of oil and gas at the Enviornment Agency, urged drilling companies to obey the rules to win back public trust.
Mark Ellis Jones, the EA’s onshore oil and gas programme executive, told a meeting in London in July:
“For the industry, compliance with our environmental permits is probably the most important single thing they need to do.
“To demonstrate to the local community and to us as the regulator that the operations they are proposing are safe for people and the environment.
“This is going to be key to regaining the trust and their social licence in the communities in which they operate.”
Opponents of the industry have said oil and gas companies continued to breach conditions. In the new year, DrillOrDrop will be publishing an investigation on compliance with conditions.
For the 12 days of Christmas, beginning on Christmas Day, DrillOrDrop will be posting photos that chronicle the news from the past year.
Categories: Daily headlines