Opponents of fracking in Lancashire have welcomed Cuadrilla’s announcement that it is to plug and abandon shale gas wells near Blackpool.
In a statement last night, the company’s owner, A J Lucas, said a rig would soon be moved on to the site at Preston New Road to start the operation. Surface pipework and valves would also be removed.
The two wells at Preston New Road were the first onshore horizontal fracked wells in the UK.
The site came to represent the country’s onshore shale gas industry, with operational delays, regular protests and, at times, a heavy police presence.
Preston New Road has been mothballed since August 2019, when regulators stopped fracking by Cuadrilla . This followed the UK’s largest fracking-induced earthquake, measuring 2.9 on the local magnitude scale. An England-wide moratorium on fracking was imposed in November 2019 and is still in force.
A spokesperson for Frack Free Lancashire said this morning:
“We welcome the news that Cuadrilla have now accepted the inevitable and decided to abandon their failed site at Preston New Road.
“The combination of their inability to frack without provoking earthquakes, and the fact that we need to be reducing, not increasing, our dependence on new sources of methane always meant that this project was doomed.
“It is sad that our community had to put up with this attempted invasion for so long, but it should now be obvious to everybody that fracking has no place in the Fylde or in the UK as a whole.
“We look forward to the site being fully restored in the very near future.”
Susan Holliday, of Preston New Road Action Group, which also opposed the site, said:
“The recent statement from AJ Lucas is a welcome step towards a return to normality for the local community.
“Although it talks about plugging and abandonment of the wells, it also mentions looking for alternative possible re-use of the site, which is a cause for concern.
“Under the agreed planning permission, the site is due to be restored by April 2023. They have previously stated that restoration will take about 12 months, so time is fast running out with much of the site including the flare stacks still in place.
“Cuadrilla have a poor track record of timely site restoration so we will be looking to Lancashire County Council to ensure Cuadrilla meets its obligations at PNR.”
Friends of the Earth campaigner, Tony Bosworth, said:
“It’s great news that the UK’s most notorious would-be frackers are plugging and abandoning these wells, and a clear sign that fracking is dead.
“Above all, it’s a tribute to the work and resilience of the local communities in Lancashire.
“It is clearer than ever that the UK must get off expensive and polluting gas once and for all with a massive programme of renewable energy and insulation.”
The AJ Lucas statement said plugging and abandonment complied with Oil & Gas Authority (OGA) regulations.
The OGA declined to respond to this comment.
The regulations, the Onshore Decision Making Framework, state that the OGA seeks to “ensure that licensees manage their redundant well stock efficiently, including planning for the plugging and abandonment of a well at the end of its useful life”.
The document adds:
“the OGA will … normally set clear expectations that only wells which have real value are left suspended rather than immediately decommissioned, and work with licensees to review their existing well stock to secure a low-cost progressive plan for the decommissioning of redundant suspended wells so that only wells with real value are given consent to suspend or continue suspension.”
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said in a statement:
“We’ve always been clear that the development of domestic energy sources, including fracking, must be safe and cause minimal disruption and damage to those living and working nearby sites.
“We ended support for fracking on the basis of scientific evidence, showing that it is not currently possible to accurately predict the probability and size of tremors associated with fracking. Shale gas remains unproven as a resource in the UK.”
Conservative MP Steve Baker, deputy chairman of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, tweeted:
“You couldn’t make it up. The fracking regulator has order two of England’s only viable shale gas wells to be sealed up despite the energy crisis. It’s time to get a grip. I’ve applied for an urgent question to @Kwasi Kwarteng and @beisgovuk”
Sam Hall, director of the Conservative Environment Network group of 123 MPs, said fracked gas had “limited potential to reduce energy bills, because of our population density and pipelines to the European gas market”. Writing for Conservative Home, he said
“Despite the Government removing multiple regulatory barriers to fracking in the 2010s and expending huge political capital in the process, shale gas companies were unable to frack without exceeding legal limits on earthquakes and alienating local communities.