Campaigners who fought Cuadrilla’s fracking plans near Blackpool for nearly five years are now questioning the company’s motives for another site a mile away.
Cuadrilla is seeking five more years at its Elswick gas site, which was due to be restored last year.
The site, which has not produced gas for nearly seven years, is off the same road as Cuadrilla’s failed proposal at Roseacre Wood to drill and frack up to four wells.
This was refused permission in 2019 by the then local government secretary, James Brokenshire.
At Elswick, Cuadrilla has said it wanted to resume gas production, install a new generator and refurbish the site. There are no plans to frack or drill further wells, the company has said.
But a community group which opposed the Roseacre Wood site at two public inquiries said today:
“Roseacre Awareness Group is very suspicious about Cuadrilla’s motivation regarding this request for an extension of planning permission at this site.
“Cuadrilla say they only want to replace a broken generator and restart production even though this site has not been producing any gas since 2013 so it is hardly a priority. Why have they not done this before? Why apply to extend permission now?”
Temporary planning permission was first granted for Elswick in 1994. There have since been three other time extensions of consent, the most recent to until February 2019.
Cuadrilla said in an application submitted this month to Lancashire County Council that “on balance the benefits of the development are considered to offset any disbenefits and environmental effects”.
It said the proposal supported government policy to “maximise security of gas and oil supply”.
The UK, the company said, was becoming increasingly dependent on imports of gas from Russia and that Norwegian gas production was predicted to fall by up to 35% by 2035.
The Elswick site has no connection to the gas grid. Any gas produced is burned in a small generator to produce electricity. Waste gases from the flue are emitted to the atmosphere.
The company conceded that the well had been shut in for seven years and there had been no gas production since 2013 because of a mechanic failure in the generator.
It estimated that the site could produce 250,000 standard cubic feet per day (sfcd).
Data from the Oil & Gas Authority shows that the last full calendar year for gas production at Elswick was 2012, when the site produced up to 37,669 scfd. At its peak, in March 1997, Elswick produced up to 306,000 scfd.
The planning application, currently out for consultation, includes a 61-page planning statement and a 76-page transport plan.
A spokesperson for Roseacre Awareness Group said:
“An awful lot of time and expenditure has been spent for a small conventional gas site that has not produced any gas for many years and one which we doubt makes a lot of money.”
The group was particularly concerned about Cuadrilla’s traffic plans for Elswick.
The company proposes to bring heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) to Elswick along the northern section of what was called the “green route” to its Roseacre Wood site.
This went from the A585 onto the B5269 Thistleton Road, on to Elswick High Street and then a right turn into Roseacre Road.
In his decision notice refusing permission for Roseacre Wood, Mr Brokenshire said: “there would be additional adverse economic impacts on local business if the green route … were to be used by HGVs visiting the appeal site.”
He also said:
“the green route fails to provide safe and suitable access to the site for all users. The route’s deficiencies combined with the change in the traffic associated with the development would result in real and unacceptable risks to the safety of people using the public highway, including vulnerable road users.”
Consultants for Cuadrilla said:
“Overall, the number of HGV movements over the total five year period, would be negligible when compared to existing vehicle movements using the local road network.
“Even during the peak days of HGV movement, the impact would not be discernible.”
But opponents of the site have pointed to the 40 two-way HGV movements a day that would be generated by plugging and abandonment of the well and restoration of the site.
The consultants said this would happen on only four days. But opponents said the daily number of HGV movements was close to the maximum of 50 proposed at Roseacre Wood and rejected by the secretary of state.
The Roseacre Awareness Group spokesperson said:
“Is this Cuadrilla’s way of trying to circumvent that decision?
“If they get permission to route up to 40 vehicles along our rural lanes, and passing directly through Elswick village centre, could this set a precedent for future planning applications?
“Are we right to be suspicious? Time will tell but we will remain ever vigilant and will not let this industry ride roughshod over our communities for the sake of profit.”
Lancashire County Council is currently inviting comments on the scheme. Roseacre Awareness Group has said it will object. The consultation period runs until 14 February 2020.
Key facts on the Elswick application
These details are from Cuadrilla’s planning and traffic statements. DrillOrDrop will report on responses to the application when they become available.
Application number and link: LCC/2020/0006
Description: Retention and continuation of use of Elswick Generation Station for natural gas extraction and electricity generation for a further five years including installation of a new generation unit.
Address: Off Roseacre Road, Elswick, Lancashire
Applicant: Cuadrilla Elswick Ltd
Agent: Aecom Infrastructure & Environment UK Ltd
Location: 400m off Roseacre Lane between Elswick and Roseacre
Site areas: well with fixed well head and de-watering storage tank; generator area; parking
Nearest home: Saswick House Farm 360m
April-June 1990: Elswick well drilled by Gas Council Exploration Limited, subsidiary of British Gas plc, to a depth 5,300ft (1,615m) into Collyhurst sandstone
June 1993: Stimulation of the well at 3,408-3,504ft using 163m3 of gelled water and CO2.
There’s some confusion on whether the well was fracked. The transport statement said it was not (p19). But the hydraulic fracture plan (p7) for the PNR1z well at Preston New Road gives the volume of hydraulic fracture fluid for Elswick.
May 1994: First planning permission for temporary extraction of gas
October 1995: New permission extending the period of extraction for a further two years
June 1996: Start of gas production
May 1998: Permission extended extraction and electricity generation for 10 years
February 2009: Further extension of permission for 10 years
December 2012: permission for installation of a storage container
April 2013: End of gas production
- Retention of produced water storage tank;
- Refurbishment of existing portacabin and container
- Installation of a new replacement gas engine
- Retention and use of existing site access track
- Retention of existing grassed soil screening mounds
- Install new container-mounted generator to replace broken unit (which will stay in place)
Stages of development
- Stage 1: wireline assessment of condition of well – 5 months
- Stage 2: implementation work, including procurement of contractor, generator, refurbishment of site, installation and work on new generator, testing – -6 months
- Stage 3: production and electricity generation – 3.6 years
- Stage 4: well decommissioning and site restoration – 3 months
“The site has been operating successfully and without demonstrable environmental harm since planning permission was first granted in 1994.
“The continued use of the site for gas extraction is in accordance with government policy of maximising security of gas and oil supply and exploiting indigenous gas and oil reserves where they can be extracted in a safe and sensitive manner without giving rise to a material adverse impact on the environment.”
What Cuadrilla says on key issues?
The company said no new site access was required and the number of vehicle movements associated with operation of the site would not change.
Its consultants said the application would “not be detrimental or have an unacceptable impact on existing users”.
The transport statement accompanying the application said the initial stages would generate up to 10 two-way HGV movements per day, though on most days this would be 0-2. During gas production, there would be negligible traffic.
After operations had ceased, plugging, abandonment and site restoration would generate up to 40 daily HGV movements on four days, the company said.
Consultants for Cuadrilla estimated the proposals would result in an increase of 0.4%-1.9% in total vehicles on the B5269 through Elswick and 1.1%-5.3% on Roseacre Road.
They said the proposed lorry route was already used daily by heavy goods vehicles and the largest HGVs were seen on the narrowest section on Roseacre Road.
Cuadrilla said noise from the site was “very low” and “effectively inaudible” at the nearest home.
The sound of the generator was estimated at up to 40dB La at the nearest home.
The company said night-time noise from the M55 at the nearest home was estimated at 40-45 dBLnight.
It said the proposed development was “unlikely to cause a perceptible increase in night-time noise over the background”.
Cuadrilla said: “The proposed development will not pose any significant additional risk with respect to continued operation of the gas and electricity generation site and the associated network on air quality.”
The company said it was applying for two environmental permits to deal with produced water containing naturally occurring radioactive material and non-extractive waste streams such as lubrication oil and construction waste.
“the development is already well screened within the landscape and landscaped bunds already provide a sound and visual barrier between any sensitive receptors.”
There will be no further changes to the character of the landscape, the company said.
Cuadrilla said its application complies with local and national planning policies, including the National Planning Policy Framework, minerals planning practice guidance, written ministerial statements, the policies in Lancashire’s reviewed minerals plan and climate change strategy, the national policy for energy infrastructure and the 2012 energy security strategy.
The company said:
“If permission was not granted, then this would prevent the full recovery of the gas reserve and benefit arising from electricity generation and connection to the national grid.”