The oil and gas industry regulator has said it would consider postponing the abandonment of Cuadrilla’s fracked wells in Lancashire by up to a year.
The deadline for work on the Preston New Road wells near Blackpool had been 30 June 2022. But the Oil & Gas Authority said in a statement:
“The OGA has informed Cuadrilla that it would consider a request to extend the Plug and Abandon notice on the Preston New Road wells, and the parties are now considering the objectives of a one year extension and the arrangements for eventual abandonment.”
The OGA met senior ministers from the business department yesterday.
The energy minister, Greg Hands, told parliament the OGA had:
“proactively approached Cuadrilla as recently as this week to ask whether it will apply for an extension”.
But he added:
“Cuadrilla has not made a straightforward application to do so. As with any licensee, Cuadrilla can apply for a straightforward extension from the Oil and Gas Authority if it wants to extend the deadline.”
A moratorium on fracking in England, imposed in November 2019, remains in force. The Preston New Road site has been largely mothballed since fracking caused a 2.9ML earthquake in August 2019.
John Hobson, a spokesperson for the campaign group Frack Free Lancashire, said this morning:
“The government is clearly mindful of its legal obligations and exposure relating to licences paid for by Cuadrilla. They may see it as more prudent for them to kick this can further down the road than to risk litigation from a company that would have little left to lose.”
“The question arises as to what Cuadrilla intend to do with a site that they would have to maintain but not use, and how they would fund the costs without any income.
“It is imperative that they be asked to demonstrate that they would remain financially solvent to ensure that any future decommissioning costs are still met in full.”
Any delay to abandonment would have implications for the ticking clock on Cuadrilla’s planning permission at Preston New Road.
Under the terms of the consent, the site must be restored by April 2023 and that work is expected to take a year.
The company has already submitted plans to Lancashire County Council for the restoration phase and more detailed proposals had been expected.
A spokesperson for the Preston New Road Action Group, which opposed Cuadrilla’s operations, said:
“Cuadrilla have had nearly 4 years since commence of fracking to prove the process at Preston New Road and have failed.
“They caused earthquakes from both wells and have not been able to come up with mitigating measures since they stopped.
“It is hard to imagine that an extra year is going to do anything other than extend the stress of the local community.
“They should just admit defeat and restore the site by April 2023 as per the original planning condition. Any requests to extend their permissions will be met with vigorous opposition from the local community.”
DrillOrDrop asked Cuadrilla whether it has requested an extension.
Equipment was delivered to Preston New Road last week and the company told residents the work would take about five weeks.
Earlier this week, Cuadrilla said abandonment of the wells must start imminently to meet the 30 June 2022 deadline. The company’s chief executive, Francis Egan, said in a statement:
“I urgently request the Business Department and the OGA to formally withdraw their instruction to plug the wells. They should also put sensible protections in place to ensure that companies like Cuadrilla and others aren’t forced to suffer the risk and financial cost of operating in a position where a Government can keep changing its mind and require wells to be cemented whilst they are eminently useful.”
The confusion appeared to have arisen from comments by the business secretary in parliament. Kwasi Kwarteng told MPs it did “not necessarily make any sense to concrete over the wells”.