DrillOrDrop’s round-up of the likely action on fracking and onshore oil and gas developments in 2019
Fracking, drilling, testing
Attention early in 2019 is likely to focus on Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site near Blackpool. The company has fracked one well and reported flows of shale gas. But there is no news on when the extended well test might start or if the second well will be fracked imminently. Equipment has been dismantled and moved off the site in recent weeks.
Under the terms of Cuadrilla’s planning permission, the company has 14 months left in which to drill two more wells and frack three. A condition of the consent, granted by the then local government secretary, Sajid Javid, was that the company must complete drilling and fracking within 30 months of the start of drilling, which began in August 2017.
Will Third Energy frack its well at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire? To date, there has been no public statement that the government has granted final fracturing consent for the KM8 well or that the company has passed its financial resilience test, required in 2018.
IGas has said it will turn its attention to the shale gas exploration site at Misson Springs in north Nottinghamshire after failing to find the Bowland Shale at Tinker Lane nearby. As operations wind down at Tinker Lane, opponents are preparing to move their protest operation to Misson, where IGas has permission for two wells.
UKOG and its partners at Horse Hill, in Surrey, are expected to announce the results of flow testing in the Kimmeridge formation. The company has permission to drill two more exploration wells at the site and recently submitted a new application for a further four. At UKOG’s site at Markwells Wood in the South Downs, the company has until 17 January 2019 to remove equipment and materials.
At Brockham, in Surrey, Angus Energy said before Christmas it had begun a Kimmeridge flow test programme. We’ll be reporting on any result from this site and from the short flow test at another Angus Energy site at Balcombe, in West Sussex.
Rathlin Energy began preparations late in 2018 to drill a second well at its West Newton-A site in East Yorkshire. Under the terms of the exploration licence, the well must be drilled by June 2019. Information on the company’s plans is released through a community liaison group. The next meeting is due on 15 January 2019.
South of the Humber, Egdon is expected to drill an oil exploration well at Biscathorpe, before moving on to its site at North Kelsey.
Ineos is expected to begin work at one or both of its shale gas exploration sites at Bramleymoor Lane, Marsh Lane, in Derbyshire, and Common Road, Harthill in south Yorkshire (but see Decisions and challenges). This year is also likely to see seismic testing at Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire after the National Trust dropped its refusal to allow Ineos access to the site.
Ineos, like the rest of the companies awarded licences in the 14th round, are now half way through the five-year initial, or exploration, stage of their licences, with no wells drilled and permission granted for just two sites. Collectively, these companies have until July 2021 to complete drilling, fracking and testing commitments in their work programmes. The total commitment amounts to:
- 37 firm commitment vertical wells
- 14 firm commitment fracked horizontal wells
- 47 drill or drop wells
- 3D seismic testing in 15 licence areas
- 2D seismic testing in 40 licence areas
Changing the rules
Will the industry increase pressure on ministers to relax the seismic traffic light system. These are the rules which require companies to pause fracking for 18 hours if they induce tremors measuring 0.5ML or more? That looks likely following strong hints from both Cuadrilla and Ineos.
Cuadrilla’s two-month fracking operation at Preston New Road triggered 57 seismic events, the largest of which measured 1.5ML and was felt by local people. The company said it had paused fracking five times.
And will the government give way? Claire Perry said in October 2018 it would be “foolish” to change the rules at that stage. But she told The Times for a report published on Boxing Day that “the limits would need to be reviewed when the industry became operational”.
The government is expected to announce the results of a consultation on whether to treat non-fracking shale gas schemes as permitted development, avoiding the need for planning permission. The consultation, which ended in October 2018, also considered a proposal to classify major production sites as nationally significant infrastructure.
Conservative councillors and MPs have opposed the proposals and the government was warned that it could lose its parliamentary majority if the issue went to a vote.
Decisions and challenges
The Scottish government is expected to finalise its policy against fracking in Spring 2019. This follows a second consultation, which ended in December 2018. The first consultation in 2017 attracted more than 60,000 responses, the vast majority opposing fracking. Ineos and Reach Coal Seam Gas brought a legal challenge the current moratorium but the judge ruled the case was premature because the government’s policy had not been finalised.
Rulings are also expected early in the new year on challenges brought by Friends of the Earth and Talk Fracking on the government’s revised national planning policy framework. They argued at a High Court hearing in December that Mr Brokenshire had acted unlawfully in failing to carry out a strategic environmental impact assessment or consider new scientific evidence.
IGas plans to test its gas well at Ellesmere Port come under scrutiny at a public inquiry, starting on 15 January 2019 in Chester. The refusal of planning permission will be defended by Cheshire West and Chester Council and the campaign group, Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton.
A Harthill resident is bringing a judicial review against the decision to grant planning permission to Ineos for its shale gas site in the village. The case will be heard in Leeds on 25 January 2019.
Campaigners are due to challenge injunctions granted to Ineos and UKOG that outlawed specified protests near their sites. The Court of Appeal is expected to hear all the cases in March 2019.
Will Ineos appeal against the refusal of planning permission for shale gas exploration at Dinnington Road in Woodsetts in south Yorkshire? And will Egdon appeal against the latest in a series of refusals for long-term oil production at Wressle near Scunthorpe. Both companies have said they will but so far neither has formally lodged an appeal.
A decision is expected early in 2019 from the local government secretary, James Brokenshire, on whether Cuadrilla should get the go-ahead for drilling and fracking up to four wells at Roseacre Wood near Blackpool. An inquiry on the company’s revised traffic management plans was held in April 2018 after a previous planning inspector recommended the scheme should be refused on road safety grounds.
DrillOrDrop will be following the Horse Hill application for long-term oil production and UKOG’s exploration proposals, expected in 2019, for the Isle of Wight. We’ll also be watching what Europa does in Surrey after it pulled out of Leith Hill in 2018, any developments with Third Energy in North Yorkshire, and what happens at Balcombe.
In north west England, we’ll be looking out for Aurora’s application to frack at Altcar Moss near Formby and a fracking proposal for the Ince Marshes in Cheshire by IGas. We’ll also follow the application by the British Geological Survey, submitted just before Christmas, for an underground laboratory at the Ince Marshes.
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