The shale gas company, Cuadrilla, said this morning it estimated fracking would begin between April and June this year.
It said it had finished drilling a vertical pilot well at the Preston New Road exploration site near Blackpool and was preparing for horizontal drilling.
A spokesperson said:
“As we are about to start the horizontal drilling we estimate to start fracking in Q2 [quarter two]. As no-one has drilled horizontally into shale rock in the UK before this is an estimate, as there is no precedent.”
The company said it was confident there was “a very sizeable quantity” of shale gas in the Bowland shale.
In a statement it said it had drilled to a depth of more than 2.7km at Preston New Road and recovered 375ft of core samples from three intervals of the Upper and Lower Bowland shale formations.
The company’s chief executive, Francis Egan, said:
“We are very encouraged by our early analysis of the data and confident that there is a very sizeable quantity of natural gas in the Bowland Shale.
“In addition we can confirm that the rock composition is very suitable to hydraulically fracture. This give us great confidence as we start drilling what will be the first horizontal well drilled into UK shale rock.”
Today’s announcement comes as Cuadrilla awaits the result of a legal challenge by local campaigners. Preston New Road Action Group and Gayzer Frackman went to the Court of Appeal in August 2017 to contest the decision by the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, to grant planning permission for the Preston New Road site.
The ruling in the case, by three Appeal Court judges, is expected this afternoon.
This morning at Preston New Road four opponents of Cuadrilla’s operation took part in a lock-on protest outside the entrance.