The government has granted final consent for fracking at the UK’s first horizontal shale gas well at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site in Lancashire.
The announcement, from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, came on the final day of parliament.
Cuadrilla welcomed the news and said it would now apply for consent to frack the second well, where drilling was completed earlier this month.
Friends of the Earth and local residents said they would continue fighting fracking.
The Treasury decided that Cuadrilla had adequate financial resilience to undertake the work, but set a condition on one of the project’s backers, Spirit Energy.
The company must submit accounts for the last financial year, or transfer £557,000 into an escrow account set up to hold funds until a condition has been met.
Spirit Energy was formed in 2017 when Centrica’s Exploration and Production business was merged with the Norwegian firm Bayerngas Norge.
“Meet expectations of local communities”
The energy minister, Claire Perry, said in a statement:
“Shale gas has the potential to be a new domestic energy source, further enhancing our energy security and helping us with our continued transition to a lower-carbon economy. It also has the capacity to deliver substantial economic benefits, both nationally and locally, as well as through the creation of well paid, high-quality jobs.
“We already have an excellent, long-standing reputation for safe oil and gas exploration. Our world class regulations will ensure that shale exploration will maintain robust environmental standards and meet the expectations of local communities.
“I have carefully considered Cuadrilla’s application and I am content that Hydraulic Fracturing Consent should be granted in this instance.”
“World class shale gas exploration site”
Francis Egan, chief executive of Cuadrilla, said:
“We are very pleased to be the first operator in the UK to have been awarded final consent to hydraulically fracture the UK’s first onshore horizontal shale exploration well.
“This is a testament to, and underpinned by, our strong track record of running a world class shale gas exploration site at Preston New Road, in compliance with robust health, safety, environmental and planning regulations.
“It is also a win for Lancashire, which has already benefited directly from over £10m of investment as a result of our exploration works at Preston New Road to date.
“We now look forward to submitting a fracture consent application to BEIS for our second exploration well and moving on to fracture the shale rock and flow the natural gas which we believe will make a major contribution to reducing the UK’s gas imports and improving our environment and economy.”
“Localism is a sham”
Frack Free Lancashire said it was saddened that permission had been granted, regardless of opposition from local councils, MPs and residents.
“They have now proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that localism is a sham.
“The irony of allowing this water intensive industry to go ahead at exactly the moment when the country is in the grip of the worst drought for 40 years, will be lost on nobody.
“The fact that they are also proposing to kill off small scale renewable investment by removing the feed-in tariffs at the same time as enabling fracking is further evidence that this government’s energy policy is hopelessly out of step with the real world and the issues that we all face as a result of imminent climate change.”
Liz Hutchins, director of campaigns at Friends of the Earth, said this was “a dark day for the climate”:
“The government backed the wrong horse. Renewables have cleared the finishing line and have taken the cup while fracking is limping along on the first stretch.
“They have also had to really push the boundaries of planning law by trying to change regulations to go all out for fracking, and they’ve put everything into resuscitating this nearly dead-on-its-feet industry.
“Sneaking these unpopular decisions out at the eleventh hour shows a brazen disregard for people everywhere suffering from climate chaos.
“Today of all days, as Europe burns, and the UK is a tinder box, this is reckless behaviour towards our environment and the planet’s future.”
The go-ahead came as a legal challenge by Friends of the Earth against regulation at Preston New Road is still being considered by the High Court.
Cuadrilla’s first well was completed in April 2018 and targets the Lower Bowland shale at a depth of 2,300m. The second well is at 2,100m and targets the Upper Bowland shale.
Following hydraulic fracturing of these first two horizontal wells, Cuadrilla said it would run an initial flow test of the gas produced from both wells for approximately six months.
“Kick in the teeth for localism”
The Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, speaking in the House of Commons Summer adjournment debate this afternoon, said:
“This is an absolute kick in the teeth for the local community, who almost unanimously oppose fracking in their back yard, and who have been fighting an incredibly strong campaign against it.
“However, it is not just a kick in the teeth for localism; it is an extraordinarily perverse decision, given the reality of accelerating climate change. The Government are locking us into a whole new fossil fuel industry at exactly the time when the experts are telling us that we must leave the majority of known fossil fuels in the ground.”
Referring to the heatwave, she said:
“The idea that now is a good time to give the green light to fracking, while making it more difficult, for example, to pursue renewable energy … seems to be taking stupidity to new heights.”
“Forget fantasy dash for gas”
Green Party of England and Wales co-leader Jonathan Bartley said:
“The Government is entirely wrong to give permission to frack. At the same time as it is suppressing peaceful resistance, it is railroading through its own path to environmental destruction. “We stand in solidarity with all those putting themselves in the way of the drills and will continue to resist this destruction.
“We stand in solidarity with all those putting themselves in the way of the drills and will continue to resist this destruction.
“It has taken 7 years to get this far, we urge the government to forget the fantasy of a dash for gas and invest in a renewable future.”
Ken Cronin, chief executive of UK Onshore Oil and Gas, said:
“This is a momentous achievement and UK Onshore Oil and Gas wish to congratulate Cuadrilla, its suppliers and staff for their success.
“At a time when the UK, and indeed the whole of Europe, is becoming ever more dependent on imported fuels it is very encouraging that we are taking steps to reverse the trend. By doing this we will bring back home the job opportunities, investment and tax revenues lost by outsourcing our energy needs while securing our energy future and signalling that the UK is beholden to no one now or into the future.
“I am also pleased to see that the two wells at Preston New Road have helped drive over £10 million into the Lancashire economy and create over 60 jobs, whilst communities are directly benefitting through Lancashire based funds and payments. This is just a flavour of what a fully-fledged UK onshore gas industry can provide.
“With 84% of us heating our homes with gas, industry using it as a vital feedstock and gas meeting nearly half of our electricity demand, the question is not whether we use gas, it’s where we source it from, and the answer should be at home. With this in mind, Lancashire can today be proud that it is at the forefront of Britain’s indigenous energy revival.”
A spokesperson for Frack Free United said:
“Yet again this government never ceases to amaze! This is a disappointing decision that could open the flood gates to a shale fail. The government are sorely out of touch in making this decision. Third energy’s hopes of coming back to Ryedale hang on a decision by this very same minister. Claire Perry, our message is simple: LISTEN to the people, LISTEN to the evidence mounting against fracking, this is an atrocious decision. We are groundswell rising, we will fight all the way to prevent an industrial onslaught and the fracking up of our communities.”
“Astonishing scope to grow”
Lee Petts, chairman of Lancashire for Shale, said:
“This is fabulous news for Lancashire, putting it squarely at the forefront of the UK’s nascent shale gas industry. The opportunity for local suppliers to gain a significant first-mover advantage cannot be overstated. Already, operations at Preston New Road have seen millions of pounds spent with Lancashire businesses, and the scope for that to grow in the future is astonishing – there really is nothing with the quite same potential to change the game for Lancashire’s economy.
“We are delighted that the Secretary of State has recognised this potential, and given Cuadrilla the final approval it needs to get on with demonstrating that Lancashire shale gas can be recovered in commercial quantities so that we can better assess the role it will one day play in meeting our energy needs as a nation.”
25/7/18 Report updated to include condition on Spirit Energy