The shale gas company, Cuadrilla, confirmed that some equipment from its Preston New Road site near Blackpool was being demobilised today.
But the company refused to comment on whether this meant fracking had paused – at least for the time being – in Lancashire. Opponents of the company’s operations suggested the development could be the result of financial difficulties as investors “turned their backs on fracking”.
Observers outside the site had reported that up to five fracking pumps, a control panel and other equipment were taken off this afternoon.
In a statement, the company said:
“Lancashire’s shale gas exploration company Cuadrilla today said it was demobilising some equipment from its exploration site before Christmas, but already looking forward to welcoming it back in 2019.”
The statement added that Cuadrilla
“anticipated that equipment would be back on site in 2019 to continue operations within its current planning permission which includes the hydraulic fracture of the two existing wells at Preston New Road and completion of up to four wells in total for exploration purposes.”
A spokesperson added:
“We won’t be facilitating interviews at this time or commenting further.”
Fracking at Preston New Road has induced a total of 57 earth tremors and microseismic events since it began on 15 October 2018. The largest, measuring 1.5ML (local magnitude) and 1.1, were felt locally.
The company has confirmed it stopped fracturing operations five times in the past two months.
Three of the earth tremors were classified as “red events” under the seismicity regulations because they measured 0.5ML or more and happened during fracking. After these events, Cuadrilla had to pause fracking for 18 hours and check the integrity of the well.
There were also four trailing events – tremors measuring 0.5ML or above when fracking operations were not underway.
In October, Cuadrilla called for the 0.5ML threshold to be lifted and suggested that under the regulations it may be difficult to demonstrate whether the Preston New Road well was commercially viable.
Correspondence, seen by DrillOrDrop today, suggested that the final frack at Preston New Road – at least in this phase – was yesterday (Monday 18 December 2018)
According to the correspondence, the company had now “fracked every stage” of the first well. It’s understood the second well does not yet have final approval for its hydraulic fracturing plan.
The correspondence, from the British Geological Survey to a resident, said:
“Cuadrilla have now fracked every stage. I believe that that means this well is done.
“There is the second well, but Cuadrilla haven’t got a frac plan for that one yet so it will be a while before anything happens there.”
Preston New Road has seen the first UK fracking for shale gas since 2011, when Cuadrilla’s operations at Preese Hall induced earthquakes measuring 2.3 and 1.5 and led to a moratorium. The site also has the first horizontal shale gas wells in the UK.
Most of Cuadrilla’s statement dealt with what the company described as “an amazing year”.
The chief executive, Francis Egan, said:
“We drilled the first two horizontal wells into UK shale, both safely and successfully completed, secured the country’s first ever hydraulic fracture consent and agreed the associated operation plans and then hydraulically fractured our first well.
“In recent weeks we have repeatedly seen natural gas flowing back to surface along with the water injected during the fracturing process and this flow of gas is in fact earlier than expected.”
He described the earth tremors as “challenges” and the regulations as “restrictions”. But he added:
“this early gas flow is a hugely encouraging signal of the potential locked up in this natural gas resource to heat our homes and businesses for many years to come.”
Mr Egan added:
“We believe that we are beginning 2019 in a place where our local community, our Regulators and national and local government can be assured by the evident professionalism and highly skilled approach of Cuadrilla.
“We are on the cusp of unlocking a huge economic opportunity which can benefit Lancashire and the UK for decades to come and reduce our ever growing reliance on imports of natural gas from all corners of the globe.”
“No confidence in Cuadrilla’s performance”
Opponents of Cuadrilla’s operation, Frack Free Lancashire, welcomed the news that, in its words, “Cuadrilla are retreating from the site over Christmas to lick their wounds”.
The group said:
“2018 has indeed been an amazing year for Cuadrilla, but not in a good way. They have suffered serious delays, breached their permissions on at least 9 occasions, provoked 57 earthquakes and seen their parent company’s share price drop like a stone
“The local community takes no comfort from reassurances about safety given those 9 breaches and 57 quakes to date.
“We have been watching Cuadrilla operate since 2011 and nothing we have seen gives us any confidence in their performance.
“We believe this removal of equipment may be indicative of potential resourcing issues as investors turn their backs on the fracking industry in general, following a series of bad news stories over the last few weeks.
“Only this week Igas had to admit to not having even been able to locate the Bowland Shale beneath their Tinker Lane site. This is not an industry which inspires confidence.
“Cuadrilla’s only hope for 2019 would now appear to be to persuade the government that the “gold standard” regulation, that the community was promised to protect it from seismic activity, should be weakened to allow them to carry on.
“This must not be allowed. If they can’t operate within the limits of the system they claim to have developed themselves they should remove the rest of their equipment and leave the Fylde once and for all.”