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.

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73 replies »

  1. Or, the reported 200 people with reported damage to homes.

    The cause of the protest is over. Time to get back to language which is realistic rather than that of protest.

    Me thinks some are trying to justify their actions for delaying something that was going to happen sooner, without their actions, and without all the vitriol directed at landowners and police.

    Meanwhile, history will show that fracking was stopped at PNR as the traffic light system required it to be. The large costs and diversion of policing will be on the record as being unnecessary. Yet, of course, some will want to continue protest and have to declare it was all a tremendous success. That’s life-but, only a part of it is correct, and that is the part that history will recall.

    • “Methinks…”. If you had told protesters authoritatively that there would soon be a moratorium following seismic events, Martin, then indeed fewer of us would have shown up. Sadly, we did not have your foresight. Large numbers of protesters were (over-)policed as a result. Good of you in the meantime to tell us what History will recall. There are however to my knowledge a few theses around which might have persuaded Historians otherwise had you not, thus, prevented them..

      • Ahh, unable to consider and decide?

        Hmm. Well, following your post of 11/3/21 (6.47pm) you obviously like turning up for events that history has already shown were not as you thought-or, if you did, you had to suggest another reason, 1720. So, yes, I agree, no foresight, and that is perfectly within your rights.

        However, PNR will be recorded as causing a moratorium because the traffic light system worked. As with other traffic light systems, if they are allowed to do their job, no need for policing.

        Good of you to speak for what others might or might not have done, but history shows that what others do are controlled by? Others. Good job too.

        Oh, those theses! Like the ones stating it was all the work of extraterrestrials? Consider and decide again, and when you get the decision wrong history will record it.

    • Reported in the Guardian no less – the National Grid predicts that the country faces the greatest risks of blackouts for six years as nuclear supply shuts down and demand increases after Covid-19 restrictions are lifted. Let’s hope for a mild winter.

  2. You say you want a revolution, well you know, we all want to change the world… perhaps there are more bird scarers in the offing.
    Interesting that virtually all PEDLs have been/will be extended, despite operators not meeting their work commitments. More world class, gold standard regulation and their investers must be holding their collective breath. Also interesting to read how the traffic light system killed the industry. Presumably Cuadrillas geological and seismic incompetence had nothing to do with it. And that was just for the first few ‘test sites’ One can but wonder what impacts might have been visited on us all, had the industry rolled out in the way it must have done to be viable, with a whole network of wells.
    Hopefully, we now have a better chance of a revolution using clean, green renewable energy, that will have a significantly lower impact on our climate, ecosystem, biodiversity and air quality.

    • The traffic light system, seemingly a favourite of dodgy governments and industries worldwide, had nothing to do with halting fracking in England Mike.

      The 2.9 Hydrofrac Earthquake on August Bank Holiday Monday achieved that on it’s own!

      The traffic light system simply permitted Cuadrilla to commence fracking when they clearly shouldn’t have!

  3. Paul,
    How local are you ?
    I only ever stated ”reported” not ”verified”.
    The traffic light system was supposed to prevent structural damage from induced seismicity to homes and wellbore etc.
    However, I agree with you on one point: ”the issue is the traffic light system ..was used,” and as you yourself admit ”some houses were damaged.”.
    This is still Not acceptable and hardly the promised ‘gold-standard regulation’ as promised by pro-frackers..
    Regarding the fracking-sand, our parliamentary questions, through my colleague Dr Barbara Kneale, were framed to demonstrate the untruth of the stated ”gold-standard regulations” for fracking in the UK.
    (Those of us who are informed in these matters, suspected there would never be enough agency staff, resources and finances to adequately monitor this toxic industry. Even more so now.)

    Happy retirement.

  4. Martin,
    Do you believe that Cuadrilla would truthfully disclose how many fracking induced earthquake damaged homes for which they have paid out compensation ?

    [Text amended at poster’s request]

  5. Can’t see the point you are trying to make, Frank. If they are not going to disclose, truthfully or untruthfully, then how would you know?? And would they disclose where they paid as a goodwill gesture, and where they thought there was a valid claim? Sorry, on that premise, I would do better finding an old lady reading the tea leaves in Blackpool.

    Speculation, at the very best. Took a lot of time to get to this point, but arrived there eventually. Back to the methodology used before the moratorium. Remember the selenium??

    Of course, there have been plenty of seismic events in the UK of similar intensity, or greater. It should be possible to find how many houses damaged from those records, and calculate an average. Can’t say that I have observed such numbers, previously or since. Forgive me for suggesting, but I suspect that the standard number of houses damaged during similar seismic events in UK somehow get a frack multiple. Back to reported damage and damage again. Sorry to be pedantic, but I used to do a lot of proof reading and such differences do shine like a red traffic light to me, especially when reported damage suddenly morphs to damage.

    • ….or when a reported storm suddenly morphs to a storm, or a reported accident suddenly morphs to an accident, or a reported birth suddenly morphs to a birth. Strange, isn’t it.

  6. ”Remember the selenium??” I can’t see the point you are trying to make, Martin.
    Are you implying that I personally ever had anything to say on the topic of selenium ?
    If you believe this, then please cite my quotes/ references on this topic.
    However, would you not agree that anthropogenic / induced earthquakes are hardly desirable and should be avoided.?
    There is no doubt that there was a fracking induced earthquake (2.9 ML) which caused some damage to an undisclosed number of homes.
    HM Government has determined that the traffic light system did not prevent this damaging earthquake and decided correctly that fracking is over in the UK.
    Sorry to be pedantic, but I used to do a lot of university marking. Your attempts to minimise the human impact shines like a red traffic light to me,
    Better luck with your other causes.

  7. So, now some damage to an undisclosed number of houses. Yes, finally arrived, and it can be checked from where the start point was.

    Reference the selenium, my comment was to give a reference to how speculation has been a general theme of the debate around PNR. You were wise to miss that one, Frank. 1720 would have been interested to see how “science” could be so wrong!

    And, yes, I would agree that earthquakes should be avoided. However, if one decides to live in the UK that is unlikely, and if one decides to move to New Zealand, even more unlikely. Yet there are millions who quite like living in the UK and a number of them who quite like the idea of moving to New Zealand and increasing that risk. Today, I will cross the road, and decide (beforehand!) what the risk of human impact will be. Risk/benefit analyses are a part of everyday life. Covid has made a few more consider that a bit more often.

    The traffic light system operated and HMG has decided upon the moratorium, ie. the risk/benefit analysis is determined by the current HMG as not positive. Currently.

    However, I note no one has risen to the challenge of researching levels of damage that have been recorded in UK for a seismic event of similar magnitude, although I am sure the insurance companies will have done so.

  8. “ 1720 would have been interested to see how “science” could be so wrong!” I have already provided examples of “wrong science”. The existence of same does not prove all science wrong as you are forever proclaiming with your ‘physics’ mantra. No more is it true that the word ‘reported’ carries implied overtones of mendacity. May I appeal for a more adult approach to your argumentation, such as it is. This constant need I feel to rebut misrepresentations and factual inaccuracies is a trifle wearing, as of course the deniers intend it to be. See Mann on this well-established tendency.

  9. It was not myself who tried to trash the previous UK Chief Scientific Advisor, 1720, who declared that attention needs to be given to the laws of arithmetic and physics (his mantra). And for why? Simply because you wished to present a fantasy that broke the laws of arithmetic and physics. Adult approach? Hardly. That’s what very young children do when they can’t get the jigsaw to fit together. Or, as Prof. Sir David McKay stated, “this appalling delusion”, yet I can refrain from labelling you deluded.

    Then, there were the French scientists. But, you want to disagree with HS2, so they have to be trashed.

    So, your science does indeed seem pretty selective, yet it is you who tries to force others to believe the science you believe and call others, who don’t, deniers. Which, in my case, is a factual inaccuracy and a misrepresentation. My science indicates that HS2 will allow for less motorway development, eventually, and the same with internal flights-just as the TGV has done in France, so improving the environment. You have to be a denier of that to justify your position. That is your right to do that, but if you then attempt to believe you can direct what science is appropriate….

    Good luck with that. It has been tried many times before but education means it will fail.

    Must move on to see if my footy club has transferred in any new player. That would mean he would play for my footy club next season and not the one he played for previously. See-even the youngsters who await further education will be working that out constantly, and will learn what “transfer” means, and not have to deny that to their mates. Good education. Helps them as well to identify between speculation and facts. Then, they can try to work out the arithmetic, and realize why it is not Messi, then they can check some physics and realize that there is only one Messi. Home schooling at it’s best.

  10. “So, your science does indeed seem pretty selective, yet it is you who tries to force others to believe the science you believe and call others, who don’t, deniers. Which, in my case, is a factual inaccuracy and a misrepresentation.”
    Referring to your last sentence here, and as a result of your own statements, Martin, which refuse to accept the recent warnings of internationally acclaimed authoritative climate change bodies about the need to abandon new fossil fuel development immediately, preferring those who adhere to the maths and physics (was how I think you put it), and as a result of other doubts you have cast on the relevant science, you were invited to state publicly that you accepted anthropogenic climate change in the sense in which the term is habitually used. Although of course there is no reason why you should respond to this challenge, and you have every right not to, it might have helped me at least to know the standpoint of the person whose thoughts were being cast like confetti to the four winds and with whom I had entered into dialogue as I disagreed with the positions taken . You have of course chosen to respond, but not to declare your acceptance. Hence my suspicion that you find yourself a denier of the same. If you accept anthropogenic climate change then of course you are not a denier, ipso facto, and your education as to what can be done to address it needs to start afresh. My accusation might be inaccurate, but there is no reason so far to consider it a misrepresentation. If you don’t accept anthropogenic climate change, then it’s probably time I stopped bothering with your posts, save perhaps to protect others who might be swayed by them as your point de départ remains unclear.
    Suffice it to say concerning your French scientists that on no occasion have they been “trashed” by me. You were simply informed repeatedly that there was apparently more than one informed opinion concerning the LGV network which you adduced as definitive proof that I was wrong about HS2, (!), and that even the French government had paused the development of new routes for three years or so.
    Nor did I “trash” McKay by reminding, or was it informing you that the findings of McKay and Stone, used to justify fracking in the UK, had been questioned by other respected scientists. Your response to this was something like, that’s what scientists do. Of course they do, I conceded, it’s part of the scientific method, and so on….round and round in circles confirming me in my belief, still held, that your sole interest is in muddying the waters concerning new fossil fuel development, tying your interlocutor in knots, in order to ensure its continuation.
    If you are not willing to enter into rational dialogue then it might be expedient to concentrate on the “footy” and the courgettes. I applaud your home-growing by the way: would that I had the green fingers.

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