Cuadrilla should be allowed to keep its long-standing Elswick gas production site, Lancashire planners said today, even though there’s been no extraction for more than seven years.
The company is seeking planning permission to continue operations at Elswick for another five years, beyond the expiry date of the current production licence.
A report by planning officers recommended approval of the application, despite objections from local parish councils and residents.
The scheme is due to be decided at a virtual meeting of Lancashire’s development control committee next week.
The planners’ report said the proposal would allow remaining gas reserves to be recovered, adding:
“[This] would not compromise the ability to meet climate change objectives and would align with Government policy for a range of energy generation methods as the UK moves towards a low carbon future.”
The report conceded there would be “some traffic impacts” but most of these would happen during plugging, abandonment and restoration.
It concluded the development would comply with national and local planning policy if it was subject to suitable conditions. The recommended conditions include a ban on stimulation of the well, including the injection of liquids or proppants into the reservoir.
30+ year history
The planning history of the Elswick site dates back more than 30 years to 1989 when permission was first granted for a temporary well site.
The target formation was Collyhurst sandstone, about 1,000m below ground level. This is much shallower than the Bowland shale, which Cuadrilla fracked at Preston New Road.
The gas did not flow at commercial rates and consent for well stimulation and testing was granted in 1992. The then operator carried out a gelled water CO2 stimulation to improve flow rates. This was successful, the planners said, and more permissions followed in 1994, 1998 and 2008.
The current permission allowed gas extraction to continue until 23 February 2019 and required the site to be restored one year after that.
The planners said Cuadrilla believes the reservoir still contained “viable quantities of gas”. If approved, the latest application would take consent for production to 31 July 2025 and restoration by a year later.
The most recent data from the Oil & Gas Authority (OGA) shows that Elswick last produced gas in April 2013.
The OGA production licence for Elswick, EXL269, runs out on 31 December 2023. This is 18 months before the end of the proposed extension of planning permission for production.
According to the report, Cuadrilla is seeking to do maintenance work on the Elswick well and replace an existing unit which generates electricity from gas produced at the site. A portabin and container would be refurbished and retained.
If the application were approved, the company would also carry out the following work:
- Wireline assessment to check the integrity of the well, pressures, fluid gradients and to take samples – 5 months
- Installation and commissioning of new generating set and refurbishment of electricity connection to the local distribution network – 6 months
- Gas production and electricity generation – 3.6 years
- Well decommissioning and site restoration – 3 months
Comments on the application
The planners said there were no objections from Fylde Borough Council or the Environment Agency. No observations were received from the council’s highways department.
But local parish councils did object. The council representing the villages of Treales, Roseacre and Wharles argued that the current application, if approved, would keep the temporary site for 31 years, beyond its current oil and gas licence.
The parish council said Cuadrilla had breached the existing permission because the site had not been restored by the 23 February 2020 deadline. It said the remaining gas reserves were so small and their contribution was outweighed by disbenefits of carbon emissions and local impacts on the environment.
The proposal also breached local planning policy, the parish council said, because there would be unacceptable impacts on highway safety.
Cuadrilla’s application and appeal on fracking at Roseacre Wood nearby were both refused on highway safety grounds. Those decisions ruled that the highway impacts of the proposed lorry route – also to be used by vehicles travelling to Elswick – were unacceptable.
Elswick Parish Council strongly objected because of threats to highway safety. There were several blind corners and two children’s play areas on the lorry route, the council said. Turning off the A585 onto Thistleton Road could not be carried out safely, it said.
A public consultation received 72 objections, mostly from people or groups living in Elswick and on Roseacre Road.
Roseacre Awareness Group, which campaigned against Cuadrilla’s Roseacre fracking proposals, said the proposed work could have been carried out since 2013 when the site was dormant. It is not clear why the extension is needed now, the group said. It also said Cuadrilla had a poor track record of complying with traffic management schemes.
As well as highway safety concerns, people also objected for the following reasons:
- Permitting the development would set a dangerous precedent
- The proposed work could have been carried out previously so there is no need for the time extension
- The site is not connected to the gas grid so makes little or no contribution towards maximising security of gas supply
- Health and safety of people should come before fossil fuel extraction
- Groundwater, air and light pollution and the treat of unvented methane gas emissions
- Gas extraction proposals in the area have devalued property and harmed residents’ health
- Annoyance and disturbance to nearby residents
- Additional lorries would result in further damage to Roseacre Road, already in bad condition, as well as to verges and pavements
Planners’ reasons for recommendation to approve
Highways: The planners said there would no new highways impacts because lorry movements during well abandonment and site restoration would take place even if the application were refused. Cuadrilla did not think mitigation measures were necessary, the planners said. Additional lorry movements during wireline assessment and installation of new equipment would not have unacceptable safety implications because the numbers would be relatively low, they added. The report said any new permission should include a condition requiring a traffic management plan for abandonment and site restoration.
Energy policy and climate change: The planners said:
“The Government is undertaking activities in many areas to enhance energy security whilst at the same time encouraging the decarbonisation of energy production.
“In this context, the proposal is consistent with national energy policy and given the short lifespan of the development, would not compromise the ability to meet the climate change objectives set out in international agreements or UK legislation.”
Licence: The planners said Cuadrilla could ask the OGA for an extension to the production licence beyond December 2023 if the Elswick well was still producing gas.
Local environment: The planners said the Elswick site was well-screened and site infrastructure was not prominent from nearby houses. The visual impacts were acceptable, they said.
Noise: The existing site had been operational for over 20 years and there did not appear to have been any recorded complaints, the planners said. Fylde borough council’s environmental health officer had not objected to the proposed new generator.
Seismicity: The planners said there was no record of gas extraction from the Collyhurst sandstone inducing seismic activity. Cuadrilla did not propose to stimulate the well.
As well as the traffic management plan, the report proposed 11 other conditions, including working hours, noise limits, a ban on well stimulation and agreement of a restoration and after care scheme.
The meeting is on Wednesday 15 July 2020 at 10.30am. It is due to be webcast. DrillOrDrop will report on the meeting. Link to agenda