The “energy revolution” that has produced no gas

The licensing of thousands of square miles of English countryside for fracking five years ago has resulted in no wells and no oil or gas.

14th round licences offered in central and northern England. Source: Oil & Gas Authority

Areas from the Isle of Wight and Dorset to the North York Moors were allocated to exploration companies in what was described at the time as the “start of a shale gas revolution”.

By today, under the terms of the new licences, the operators should have drilled nearly 100 wells and fracked more than 10% of them.

But analysis by DrillOrDrop shows that in the past five years nearly 20 licences have been abandoned and no shale gas sites have been developed. No wells have been drilled and no fracking has been carried out in these licence areas.

The licences were awarded under the 14th round, a competitive process organised by the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition.

Launching the bidding in 2014, the then energy secretary Matt Hancock said:

“Unlocking shale gas in Britain has the potential to provide us with greater energy security, jobs and growth”.

The 30-year licences started on 21 July 2016 and were due to last until 2046, four years short of the UK target for net zero carbon emissions.

Each licence, know as a PEDL (petroleum exploration and development licence) was divided into three phases:

  • initial term: drilling, testing and fracking
  • second term: appraisal and development
  • third term: production

The initial term of the 14th round licences was due to last five years and end today (20 July 2021).

The successful companies committed during the initial term to carry out 2d and 3d seismic testing, drill a total of 96 wells and frack 12 of them.

But to date only two planning permissions for any type of oil and gas well have been granted in 14th round licence areas.

Both these consents were issued to Ineos Upstream Limited, a subsidiary of Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s giant petrochemical empire. Both applications had been refused by the mineral planning authority and were decided after public inquiries.

One of these consents, at Harthill in south Yorkshire (PEDL304), expired last month with no physical work on the site, apart from the installation of bird scarers and some archaeological excavation.

Another, in PEDL300 at Marsh Lane, in Derbyshire, is expected to expire in mid-August. No work has been carried out on this site either.

Three other planning applications in 14th round licences are waiting for a decision. These are:

  • Woodsetts in south Yorkshire, in PEDL304 – decision awaited by the local government secretary after an appeal by Ineos against refusal for shale gas exploration
  • Arreton on the Isle of Wight, in PEDL331 – decision awaited on an application by UK Oil & Gas plc application for conventional oil exploration
  • Athelhampton Road, Puddletown, Dorset in PEDL327 – extra information requested by Dorset County Council for an application for oil exploration by South Western Energy Limited

One more potential site has been identified for conventional oil at Godshill on the Isle of Wight. But the operator, UK Oil & Gas plc has not submitted any applications.

Seismic testing, which does not need planning permission, has been carried out by Ineos in 14th round areas of Derbyshire, south Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire.

But DrillOrDrop is not aware of seismic testing in 14th round licences held by some of the other operators, which include Cuadrilla, IGas, Aurora Energy Resources Limited and Egdon Resources UK Limited.


A PEDL licence would normally be expected to lapse if the operator did not meet its work commitments.

But DrillOrDrop analysis of data from the regulator, the Oil & Gas Authority (OGA), shows that 60 14th round licences will continue with an extended initial term despite not meeting their original commitments.

For 41 licences, the initial term now ends on 20 July 2024. Another 18 licences will end their initial term a year earlier on 20 July 2023 and one ends on 20 November 2021. (See the end of this post for the specific PEDLs).

Many of these extensions have been made in the past year. A freedom of information request by DrillOrDrop in 2020 revealed that 14 PEDLs had their initial term extended to 2023 and another eight to 2024.

The OGA confirmed that since the start of the pandemic, it had not granted any onshore licence extensions solely on the basis of COVID-19.

The most likely reason is the government moratorium on fracking in England. This was imposed in November 2019 after fracking by Cuadrilla at Preston New Road near Blackpool induced small earthquakes that were felt across the region.

Three quarters of the 14th round PEDLs (46) were described by the OGA as shale gas licences.

They would be at least indirectly affected by the moratorium.

The onshore industry lobbied for the moratorium to be lifted but it remains in force.

Last week the energy minister, Lord Goldsmith, said the government had no plans to review it or support shale gas exploration unless and until science demonstrated categorically that fracking could be done safely for both people and the environment.

There is evidence that operators have sought extensions because of the moratorium.

In December 2019, the FT revealed that Cuadrilla had asked the OGA to extend the terms of its fracking licences in England by “whatever time period the recently announced moratorium lasts”.

This might help to explain why the OGA extended the initial term of some shale gas licences. But only nine existing 14th round PEDLs had a commitment in their work programme to frack a horizontal well. That leaves 37 licences with no initial term requirement to frack.

There are also question marks about why there should be extensions to some other licences.

South Western Energy’s PEDL327 is listed by the OGA as targeting shale gas but the proposed site at Puddletown is for conventional oil. Four PEDLs listed as targeting mine gas have had extensions until 2023 and two to 2024.

Talking about a revolution

Not surprisingly, the onshore oil and gas industry warmly welcomed the award of the 14th round licences in 2015.

At that time, the industry body, UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG) described the award of licences as “a vital day for the future of energy in the UK”. It said there was an opportunity to create “tens of thousands of jobs, reduce imports, generate significant tax revenue and support British manufacturing from an extremely small footprint which will benefit the environment at the same time”.

Ineos, the biggest winner in the 14th round, said:

“This is the start of a Shale gas revolution that will transform manufacturing in the UK. INEOS has the skills to safely extract the gas and we have already committed to both fully consult and to share the rewards with the local communities.

Its commercial director at the time, Patrick Erwin, said:

“If the planning system works as well as we hope, we should have meaningful production of shale gas in the UK by the end of the decade”.

IGas said:

“This is a critical time for the future of Britain’s energy mix as gas, of which 50% of our consumption is currently imported, is central to our energy security as we transition to a lower carbon environment.”

Back in 2015, many environmental organisations feared the 14th round had fired the starting gun for fracking across England.

Greenpeace said:

“This announcement means that vast swathes of British countryside have been opened up to fracking. And now that fracking under National Parks and other protected areas has been pushed through – it seems that nowhere is sacred.”

Frack Free North Yorkshire described the scale of planned operations as “staggering”:

“If these plans are allowed to go ahead, Yorkshire will soon become one huge gas field, with grave consequences for our local industries, environment, wildlife, health and peaceful way of life.”

Frack Free Ryedale said:

“If local people haven’t been worried about fracking up to now because it’s not happening on their doorstep, then it is time for them to wake up and smell the methane. Fracking is now on everyone’s doorstep.”

In 2021, the industry continues to maintain that it will prove that fracking can be done safely and the moratorium will be lifted.

Many opponents argue that the fracking revolution had been killed by earthquakes, public opposition and UK climate change commitments.

DrillOrDrop will continue to follow the fortunes of the 14th round licences in their extended initial terms.

Extension details

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73 replies »

  1. Well, somewhere within that there was a small amount of substance.

    Firstly, I have posted on DoD many times my position regarding climate change, so it should be easy to ascertain and difficult to misrepresent. However, you manage, 1720, by not researching, to produce a fake hook to hang your hat on. Just incorrect, but easier than dealing with the substance.

    In respect of the TGV, the French have been at it for around 50 years, so of course they have built a lot and will slow down. I recall discussing with a very pretty French girl who was a hostess on French railways around 50 years ago, and she was looking forward to working on the TGV then, and may have done so a few years later. I suggest you should try travelling that way and on internal French flights and compare. Both okay but only one which is doing the job to help the environment. There can not be many who would deny that? Oh yes, there is one, but it is not moi!

    There are some things that can be done. some things can be done relatively quickly and simply to get the ball rolling. It is you who denies that should be the case, and then falsely refer to others as deniers, which is why I see you as part of the problem, not part of the solution.

    Meanwhile fracked gas will be produced elsewhere and imported, and courgettes from Spain will continue to arrive, even whilst Starmer is “shedding blood and tears”, whilst testing Blackpool ballroom for a fallback to Strictly, (lol), to get people to buy British. (In between sacking staff as money has run out!) It is a funny old world.

    However, must cook my courgettes now. Have a good weekend.

    • Martin,
      The fossil fuel industry is disproportionately responsible for anthropogenic climate change and has played a major role in funding denial of climate science. The UK and other industrialised nations have benefited most from fossil fuel-driven economic development, at the expense of less-industrialised countries, many of which are most threatened by climate change (eg floods) and are owed a ‘Climate Debt.’
      To keep warming within a 1.5C target and prevent the worst health impacts of the climate crisis, the UK must commit to emissions reductions of 200% by 2030 relative to 1990 emissions. As part of it’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC).The UK must therefore do its fair share by setting an ambitious emissions reductions target. By this example, we must prevail upon the largest emitters China, India, North America etc, to urgently drastically reduce their major contribution to atmospheric carbon.
      So, unless off-set in full by carbon capture and storage, it will now be necessary to cancel all new fossil fuel extractive projects in the UK.

      • A technical question Dr Frank – If I have 100% of something and I reduce it by 100% I have zero? How can I reduce something by 200% ? i.e. if in 1990 emissions were x and I reduce it by x (100%) I have zero? How can I reduce it by 2x?

        • Paul,
          Thank you for your question regarding the anthropogenic climate emergency.
          Many believe that to achieve the ‘fair share’ target, the UK should reduce by1600Mt CO2eq (200%) below 1990 levels by 2030.
          At home requires net emissions to drop 100% (800Mt CO2 eq) to zero, as fast as possible, to achieve net zero by 2025.
          International: delivering UKs ‘fair share’ reductions also means fulfilling our responsibility to support low income counties to reduce their
          emissions by the same amount 800Mt CO2eq.
          This has been indicated by the graph:

          Click to access 20-21_FairShareUK_Infographic_web.pdf

          Now please could you answer my earlier question to you, as you previously stated that you were local to PNR ?
          Where on this map of BGS documented 197 reports of damage to homes do you live ?

          If you are local, you will be well aware that many previously pro-fracking locals (and politicians) changed their opinion when they themselves felt the largest fracking induced earthquake (⁠ML 2.9) which occurred on 26 August 2019, approximately three days after operations at the site had been stopped by the so-called ‘successful traffic light system’

          • Thanks Dr Frank. The names at the bottom of the Graph explain the dodgy maths. Graded F. Fair share? From Fairyland complete with the requisite fairy dust? I put my money on “projections”, “current target” or somewhere in between. As soon as I saw Enemies of Industry (FOE) are a sponsor I knew where the maths problem was.

            Just off the map Dr. Frank, local to the area.

            • Thanks Paul,
              You are off the local map and therefore greater than 12 miles from the Cuadrilla PNR site at Little Plumpton.
              So it is unlikely that you would have felt the the fracking induced earthquake of 2.9 ML on 26 August, 2019 (which was not prevented by the traffic light system).

      • [Edited by moderator]

        If there are concepts of debt, like Climate Debt, then both sides of the balance sheet need considering. Shall “we” start, by plonking the benefits of the Industrial Revolution on the other side of sheet, and expect others to consider the debt they owe the UK? Or, was that just some charitable donation? Once you start down that track, I think you will find there are many debts owed to countries, and the UK has no need to carry any guilt. If you have a sense of guilt then there are ways you can exercise that as an individual.

        Equally, the UK will be importing fossil fuel until 2050 and beyond. So, there is no merit in making sure that what continues to be used has the lowest emissions possible, rather than just off-shoring responsibility, and ending up with greater emissions than could have been? Your last sentence ignores the fact that imports will not be off-set.

        Even Greta has commented adversely about the stance of the UK in that respect and exporting our carbon footprint.

        Doing our fair share is fine. The UK is doing that, and will continue to do that, and will end up with some technology it can export. Prevailing upon the big boys is a different matter altogether, and has been a constant call from some but with very little evidence that it has any significant impact. How is the UK doing prevailing upon China with respect to democracy in Hong Kong?

        So, fairly shortly some costs will be applied for UK. Seems Rishi is already showing concern. Maybe reforming Social Care will be sacrificed to get the balance sheet somewhere near sensible?

        • Martin,

          I fear that you are minimising the contribution of fossil fuel emissions to the anthropogenic climate change emergency.
          Apart from the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme floods, droughts, storms and forest fires, there are also direct and indirect impacts on human health. The world will increasingly experience reduction in the yield and nutritional value of staple crops such as rice and maize. There are changes in the global distribution of zoonotic and waterborne diseases which are already exposing populations to Vibrio spp. infections and Dengue fever.

          Watts N et al. Lancet, VOLUME 394, ISSUE 10211, P1836-1878, NOVEMBER 16, 2019
          The 2019 report of The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: ensuring that the health of a child born today is not defined by a changing climate


          These climate stresses will increase the risk of food and water insecurity. antibiotic resistance and conflict. Fossil fuel emissions driving this climate change also generate air pollution (accounting for 6.81 million deaths per year) to water, land and food contamination and biodiversity loss.

          • And, you may be minimizing the impact of removing developing countries from the ability to gain income from their natural resources, Frank, and so fund health care.

            Except, it will not be removed because, as can be seen in Africa, China will hoover up at discounted prices.

            As for the production of food, well, water is certainly an issue, but so is crop yield. So, you also want to remove the ability for developing countries to improve crop yields via the use of fertilizer, produced from fossil fuel? Whilst others protest against GM crops, that could assist developing countries particularly.

            [Edited by moderator] And, have the Chinese not continued to shovel in huge quantities into their meat production routinely, rather than therapeutically? How did the lead of UK work out there? I know that Chinese porcine chondroitin is still being rejected routinely because it is contaminated with antibiotic residues, and some companies refuse to accept it at all.

            Conflict? Yes. China will look to expand borders to gobble up more resources. They seem to be eying up Australia. And, they will be assisted by some countries deciding to reduce defence spending as they concentrate upon other issues.

            Air pollution? Agree completely. So, why campaign to ship fossil fuel half way around the world, if it could be produced locally to better environmental standards, with much lower air pollution?

            No need to answer that one. Just my way of pointing out the obvious-that there are certain things the UK can control and should do so. To focus upon things the UK has no control over is a waste of resource, will not achieve results, will waste a great deal of money and will really turn off those in the UK who find it out-to their cost. The politicians who drive that will be able to then finish that job, and get a job in some organization saying that it was all a case of too little.

            • Martin,

              Where do I begin with your response, which is once again to downplay or minimise the consequences of doing very little.
              Perhaps starting from one of your last points: China looking to ‘expand its borders’ and ‘eying up’ Australia.
              According to Bill McGuire, Professor Emeritus of Geophysical & Climate Hazards at UCL, and a co-director of the New Weather Institute:
              ” Realistically, looking ahead to 2030 and beyond, things can only get worse. The question is, how bad do they have to get before the government begins to take global heating seriously and puts in place the measures that the climate science says is needed? Sydney is at risk of the reservoirs that provide its water running dry by 2022. Maybe that will do it? Or, perhaps the razing to the ground by bushfires of Canberra, the nation’s capital?”

              At this accelerated rate of anthropogenic global warming, within a few years there may not be any inhabitable land in Australia for China to ‘eye-up’:


              I do not believe that you have grasped the severity of the climate emergency ?

              • I do not see that your post has anything to do with the risk of conflict that was included within your own recent link.

                Why then meander off into other aspects when you posted the link? Did you not believe it was a credible point that needed addressing?

                However, very opportune, with regard to Australia. What was it that was credited to lose the election for Labor?? Oh yes, I recall. They assumed that the Australian public would vote in enough numbers to stop certain mining due to the environment and push them into power! Did they? Nope.

                And, no, I have not downplayed the consequence of doing very little.

                “The UK is doing that.(our fair share) And will continue to do that.” Who posted that? Oh, it was me, today.

                [Edited by moderator] I have quite clearly stated UK should concentrate on what it can control, not what it can’t. Labor, in Australia, couldn’t control what voters would do. Do you feel whinging Poms will do better?

  2. “…you were invited to state publicly that you accepted anthropogenic climate change in the sense in which the term is habitually used. …… You have of course chosen to respond, but not to declare your acceptance.”


  3. You have been watching the Spanish Inquisition, again, 1720! Monty Python rather than Monty Don.

    That post of 6.36pm just about sums up your approach. Everyone has to agree and “declare acceptance”, then get the “we” badge.

    [Edited by moderator]

  4. Very simple – you do not accept it, or you do accept it, or you wish to keep me guessing in the hope of annoying me (or manifesting your sovereignty, perhaps), or you have not made up your mind, or, and here’s the rub, you wish others to think that you do accept it in order to persuade them that there is an argument for continued development of fossil fuels despite knowing that the present crisis was consciously and deliberately caused thus. (Your inability to answer a straight question causes me to think you must be a member of Boris’ gifted cabinet.)

    ” Firstly, I have posted on DoD many times my position regarding climate change, …”.Have you now? But I still don’t know what your beliefs are concerning anthropogenic climate change. If you have indeed answered this question, the crucial question, then point me to it or be man enough to repeat it.” I missed it somewhere.

    Simplest possible formulation – it’s obviously necessary – Do you accept anthropogenic climate change in the sense in which the term is habitually used? Try “Yes” or “No”; I’ll even settle for “Yep” or “Nope”. There, one word only required if it matters to you that integrity is in question.

    Otherwise, off to your footy and courgettes, but don’t accuse me of misrepresentation when you can’t even represent coherently your own position, let alone anyone else’s..

  5. As a rider to the above. -I (unusually for me) spent a little more time upon your [Edited by moderator] posting – “Spanish Inquisition”, “ Everyone has to agree and “declare acceptance”, then get the “we” badge.”
    What a silly reaction!

    Not at all, Martin. But if you are having a debate with someone, it simply is not possible unless you know where your interlocutor is coming from, or claims to be coming from. You don’t have to agree at all, and you can still be a “we” on many fronts, such as membership of the human race, but in a discussion on the consequences of anthropogenic climate heating, one has to know if the subject or topic is meaningful, that is, whether one’s opponent accepts it or not. Without such knowledge, one’s words are, in Eliot’s phrase, “merely vans to beat the air” and “no longer wings to fly”. I can’t talk to you about, say, gravity or materialism, without knowing whether you accept their theoretical or actual significance. Have you ever thought about this?

    Please try. You are not being coerced into anything, just enabling a meaningful discussion rather than a vague feeling in your opponent that there is a lack of intellectual honesty about your position.

    • [Edited by moderator]

      I would gently point out it is yourself who has denied that HS2 will assist with respect to climate change, and then using ludicrous references to try and indicate that has not been proven elsewhere, and also that transport emissions can be reduced for some goods but mysteriously the maths. and physics are different for fossil fuel. Are maths. and physics of theoretical or actual significance? Yet, I can debate that with you, and just keep reminding you, and others, that you can deny that, and what transfer means until the cows come home. It is simply fake. (And that will start the Trump screen, whilst schools are still teaching kids about fake news without Trump. And if you want other examples, you can look at the BBC and their attempt to create/join a fake news story regarding Dyson recently and then having to issue an apology.)

      [Edited by moderator]

      In all those respects, including my previous comments regarding climate change, all you need to do is a little more research. Don’t expect knowledge to be handed to you on a plate. You have to do some work, then you would find debate is very easy and no need to label others as “opponents” or “deniers” because they have different views. Very formulaic, but the formula is fake. Especially, when they have different views that actually help with respect to climate change. I still await yours that do not contradict the ruling regarding Wressle that cost similar “thinkers” £400k-except, it didn’t, did it? The buck was passed to the local community.

      Must gather my load for the tip now, as Covid has produced time slots for my local one. Looks as if that may be retained, which is another small step with respect to climate change with no cars queueing with engines running.

      • [Edited by moderator] …to have a sensible discussion on any topic it is useful for both interlocutors to have an awareness of the meaning of the terms under discussion
        Useful also to avoid distraction, misinformation, rant, and at least to aim at integrity.
        If one with the means to air views does not accept that climate change is anthropogenic, or has an interest in obscuring that fact then I’m afraid the future is bleak for us all. There is no point whatsoever in engaging with such an individual, although I reserve the right to intervene when I can no longer bear irrationalism and misinformation contributing to self-destruction.

        • I thought the overall topic was all about means of reducing impacts that contribute to climate change, Paul.

          And, I think I will take the many years of TGV development in France and the subsequent ability to control and eliminate internal flights, all scientifically appraised, rather than the views of the Guardian. Science rather than politics may be the solution.

          The reason HS2, and other items, keep coming up is there seems to be a big black hole in what some would accept as progressive actions with regard to climate change, and my question would be that which I hear from the undecided, “if everything that seems logical to us is disapproved of by the activists, why should we bother with anything?” And, that is an issue being created even before news of the costs are allowed to filter down to them-the payers. And many will have travelled by various means in Europe and know, from experience, what makes common sense.

          Either debating ways to address climate change is the topic, or the debate just becomes about protest.

  6. [Edited by moderator]

    I will still debate with your points, as I am not like the pompous squash player who refused to play with me because he considered my standard was not high enough-even though it was a lunch time knock about to get out of the office. Maybe he was unaware what “transfer” of his skills meant, in respect of squash?

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