The oil and gas regulator has withdrawn its order requiring Cuadrilla to plug and abandon its two shale gas exploration wells at Preston New Road in Lancashire.
The company now has more than a year to come up with “credible” plans to re-use the wells or the regulator will reimpose the order.
Equipment to plug and abandon the wells will now be moved off the site next week, Cuadrilla said in an emailed letter to local people.
The regulator, now known as the North Sea Transition Authority, had ordered that the wells be plugged and abandoned within three months.
But in today’s letter, Cuadrilla said:
“I am writing to let you know that the oil and gas regulator (North Sea Transition Authority) has withdrawn its notice requiring Cuadrilla to plug and abandon the two PNR shale exploration wells by 30th June 2022. Accordingly, Cuadrilla will demobilise equipment from the PNR site next week commencing Monday 4th April.”
The letter also said:
“Other than the equipment demobilisation no other site operations are planned in the immediate term.”
The NSTA said in a statement this afternoon:
“Cuadrilla applied for consent to keep its two Preston New Road wells and Elswick well on 28 March 2022.
“The North Sea Transition Authority has looked carefully at this application, alongside recent developments, and agreed to withdraw the requirement to decommission the wells by the end of June.
“Cuadrilla now have until the end of June next year to evaluate options for the Preston New Road and Elswick sites. If no credible re-use plans are in place by then, the North Sea Transition Authority expects to reimpose decommissioning requirements. “
Last month’s news that the wells would be sealed imminently was welcomed by local and national shale gas opponents.
But Cuadrilla and supporters of fracking for shale gas criticised the order.
Last month, 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”
The Preston New Road wells were the UK’s first horizontal wells to be fracked.
Both fracking operations led to earthquakes. The largest earthquake, on August bank holiday 2019, led to the suspension of fracking at Preston New Road. A moratorium on fracking in England followed in November 2019 and remains in force.
Planning permission for the Preston New Road site expires in April 2023.