Britain’s biggest shale gas company told officials it needed more time to carry out agreed work on a drilling licence in Greater Manchester.
Ineos Upstream, owned largely by Britain’s richest man, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, hinted that it did not have the capability to complete its commitments on time in the Barton Moss licence, PEDL 193, while also doing work in the East Midlands.
In a letter to the regulator, the Oil & Gas Authority, Ineos said it needed extra time for items in the work programme in PEDL193 because of “unexpected delays” in acquisition of data beyond its control. It also left out a previous commitment to frack in the licence area.
The company said in the letter its immediate priority was to “progress consented operations in the East Midlands”. It was probably referring to its interests in IGas shale gas sites at Misson and Tinker Lane in north Nottinghamshire, and its own site at Harthill in south Yorkshire, approved a few days before the letter was written in June 2018.
The requested six-month extensions for seismic testing, a planning application and drilling an exploration well in PEDL193 would be “the most effective schedule”, it said.
It proposed acquiring the seismic data by 31 December 2020, submitting an application to drill a new well by 31 December 2022 and drilling the well by 31 December 2024.
The company said these changes would “on current understanding” be “within our control and capability to discharge”. The OGA approved them in a reply in September 2018.
Ineos also asked the regulator to extend the length of this phase of the licence until 30 June 2025. But the OGA reply put the expiry date at 31 December 2024.
The correspondence was revealed in the OGA’s response to a Freedom of Information request released yesterday.
The contents have surprised anti-fracking campaigners, who have been watching for developments at the Barton Moss exploration site in Irlam, scene of protests in the winter of 2013-2014.
It also contradicts information given to parliament earlier this year.
Information in a parliamentary answer by the energy minister, Claire Perry in February 2019 said the PEDL193 work programme included fracking one well.
Ms Perry quoted dates from an OGA report dated December 2018. This referred to drilling, fracking and flow testing a well by 30 June 2024.
But based on the correspondence between Ineos and the OGA, this information appeared to be out of date. Ineos no longer sought to frack or flow test and these operations were no longer included in the approved work commitment in the OGA letter. The deadline for drilling, agreed by the OGA, was six months later than the date given by the minister. Summary of changes to work programme for PEDL193 (pdf)
The Ineos request is the latest extension to the deadlines for PEDL193.
A previous report by the OGA, issued in July 2016, required the PEDL193 licence holder to:
- acquire new seismic data by June 2018
- submit a planning application to drill a new well by June 2020
- drill, frack and flow test the well by June 2021
The OGA reports are regularly revised. But the 2016 details for PEDL193 were unchanged in an update from June 2018.
The most recent changes to the work commitment for PEDL 193 do not mean there will be no fracking at Barton Moss or elsewhere in the licence. But it would mean that Ineos was not obliged to frack and would not risk losing its licence if it did not comply.
- A separate FOI response on Barton Moss by Salford Council confirms that the well has been suspended but not abandoned.