Cuadrilla announced yesterday that it had restored its shale gas site at Grange Road, Singleton, in the Fylde region of Lancashire. The work to return the site to farmland was completed two months before the deadline set by a planning inspector – but it was almost seven years after the time limit for restoration agreed in the original planning permission.
Another Cuadrilla site in the region, at Becconsall, was restored in August this year, almost six years after the original deadline.
The restoration works bring to an end Cuadrilla’s early attempts to frack for shale gas in the Fylde. Singleton and Becconsall, along with Preese Hall, were described by an industry insider as the company’s three original shale gas exploration wells in the region.
Cuadrilla said it had restored Preese Hall, at Weeton, in April 2015 (link). Another site, at Anna’s Road, Westby, was returned to farmland in July 2014, the company said (link). Of all these sites, only Preese Hall saw high volume hydraulic fracturing and none went into production.
The company’s latest fracking plans are centred on Preston New Road, near Blackpool. It began fracking there on 15 October 2018 but operations appear to have stopped on 2 November 2018 and there have been no public reports that fracking has resumed. The company’s remaining shale gas proposal in the Fylde, at Roseacre Wood, is awaiting a decision by the local government secretary, expected early in 2019.
Eight years at Singleton
Permission was originally granted to frack for shale gas at Grange Road, Singleton, on 21 April 2010. A condition of the consent was that the site would be restored within 18 months of the start of work.
Work began on 20 July 2010, which put the deadline for restoration at 19 January 2012.
A month before the deadline expired, Cuadrilla applied to extend the consent for testing the well and restoration until 20 July 2013. It had been unable to frack because of the moratorium following earthquakes linked to the company’s operations at Preese Hall.
This application was later withdrawn when Cuadrilla said it no longer intended to frack at Singleton. But in the meantime, in May 2014, Cuadrilla applied for a second time to extend the deadline, this time for three years, to use the site for pressure testing and seismic monitoring.
The application was decided by Lancashire County Council a year later on 20 May 2015. Had the application been approved, it would have taken the deadline to 20 May 2018. But councillors refused permission.
Cuadrilla appealed and the planning inspector, Elizabeth Ord, overturned the council’s decision. In her decision document of 23 February 2016, she said the site must be restored within three years, taking the deadline to 23 February 2019.
The Cuadrilla chief executive, Francis Egan, said of the restoration:
“We’re committed to Lancashire and as part of our exploration efforts in the County and this includes restoring sites to their former pre-exploration use.
“The restoration works at Grange Hill are a fantastic example of how we return the land back to its original state after exploration. It is also the second restoration project to be completed by Cuadrilla this year, as we removed the wellhead and restored the former exploration site at Becconsall to its original ‘Greenfield’ status in August.”
Eight years at Becconsall
As Mr Egan said, the Becconsall site was finally restored in August 2018. This was almost six years after the deadline set in the original planning consent.
Cuadrilla was granted permission to drill for shale gas at the Becconsall site on 20 October 2010. The consent included a condition that the site should be restored within 18 months of the start of work.
Work began on 28 March 2011, which put the restoration deadline at 27 September 2012.
Eight days before the deadline, on 19 September 2012, the company made its first application to delay restoration – to 28 March 2014.
Before this application was heard, Cuadrilla made a second request for a further extension of consent and for a mini-frack at Becconsall. This would have taken the deadline to 28 September 2014.
But councillors did not decide on the application because Cuadrilla withdrew it on 22 September 2014.
In the meantime, the company made a third application to extend permission at Becconsall. This was approved and gave the company three more years to carry out pressure monitoring. The deadline was set at 31 October 2016 if pressure monitoring equipment were installed.
Cuadrilla announced it would begin restoration in spring 2016. But no work was carried out. Lancashire County Council admitted a loophole in the condition. The 31 October 2016 deadline did not apply because pressure monitoring equipment had not been installed.
The deadline was extended for a fourth time until 1 May 2018. In practice, the work had to be carried out by 31 October 2017. This was because another condition prevented work during the winter bird season (31 October-31 March) and there was not enough time to finish the work between 1 April 2018 and 1 May 2018.
In a rare move, in March 2017, councillors brought the restoration deadline forward. They told Cuadrilla the deadline should instead be 31 August 2017.
But just under a month before the deadline expired, the company applied for another extension to 31 October 2018. This would have been the fifth extension but this time, the council refused.
Despite this, Cuadrilla did not begin restoration until April 2018 and the company said the site was fully restored in August 2018.