Council clears way for new application at Cuadrilla’s fracking site – but Horse Hill faces environmental hurdle

Cuadrilla will not need to submit a detailed environmental statement when it applies to extend the life of its mothballed fracking site at Preston New Road, near Blackpool.

But council planners in Surrey have ruled that proposals at the Horse Hill oil site near Horley should include an updated assessment of environmental impacts.

Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road shale gas site, February 2022. Photo: Maxine Gill

Lancashire County Council ruled this week that proposals to extend planning permission at Preston New Road for two years to April 2025 would not need an environmental impact assessment (EIA).

The council’s head of planning and environment, Andrew Mullaney, told Cuadrilla:

“The main environmental impact arising from the proposal would be the landscape / visual impacts due to the exploration site being retained over a longer period.

“However, the period of additional retention would be relatively short and the site is not located in an area of designated landscape sensitivity.

“The proposal would not affect the ability to restore the site once the exploration boreholes have been plugged.

“The other potential impacts in terms of ecology, pollution and nuisance and traffic would be minor and not of a significance to require a need for EIA.”

DrillOrDrop reported nine days ago on Cuadrilla’s request for a council ruling on an EIA. The current planning permission is due to expire in April 2023.

In its request, the company accepted that the site met the planning criteria for an EIA. But it argued that the assessment was not necessary.

The county council has now concluded:

“That the proposed development is not EIA Development for the purposes of the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017.”

This ruling clears the way for Cuadrilla to submit its planning application. A requirement for an EIA could have delayed the process.

Local people opposed to Cuadrilla’s operations at Preston New Road have criticised the company’s bid for more time at the site and the council’s ruling.

A spokesperson for Frack Free Lancashire said:

“We have just learned that Cuadrilla have not yet formally applied to Lancashire County Council for an extension of their planning permissions for the Preston New Road site. However, we have also learned that Lancashire County Council has advised that no Environmental Impact Assessment will be required from Cuadrilla.

“Frankly, we are amazed that, given the seismic events caused by Cuadrilla’s fracking activities last time, there is no requirement for an EIA. How can we have any confidence at all in our regulators if they refuse to acknowledge the clear and present dangers of fracking and, indeed, the very reason why the moratorium was brought in by the Government?

“We expect much better than this rather casual approach to regulation and our communities deserve better – much better.”

Earlier this year, it looked as if the two horizontal shale gas wells at Preston New Road would be plugged and abandoned by the end of June 2022. But the regulator, the North Sea Transition Authority (NTSA), gave Cuadrilla until June 2023 to carry out research on the wells and develop plans for their future.

A spokesperson for Preston New Road Action Group, which campaigned again Cuadrilla’s operations, said:

“Despite the NTSA extending the timescales for plugging and abandoning the wells by 15 months, Cuadrilla are requesting their planning permission to be extended by 24 months. Why do they suddenly need this extra time?

“Clearly their original plans were not up to scratch. Local residents just want this eyesore removed from our landscape, ensuring that the damage done to our environment is made safe, as soon as possible.

“We shall be keeping a watch out for the forthcoming planning request with interest.”

The government is currently considering a review of scientific developments on shale gas extraction. This may lead to lifting the moratorium on fracking in England that has been in place since November 2019. It was imposed following a series of small earthquakes caused by fracking at Preston New Road.

The two contenders for Conservative Party leadership and prime minister both said this week they were in favour of fracking if it has local support.

Link to Lancashire County Council webpage on EIA decision on Preston New Road

Horse Hill changes needs environmental update

Horse Hill oil site, October 2021. Photo: Weald Action Group

The Horse Hill operator is seeking permission, part of it retrospective, for changes to the site’s operation and layout.

It argued that the changes did not need an EIA:

“the proposed amendments are not likely to generate significant impacts or effects on the environment by virtue of their nature, size or location. Taking account of the above, this Request finds the proposed amendments are not EIA development.”

But in a document published online , Surrey County Council disagreed.

The council said proposals by Horse Hill Developments Limited (HHDL) met the criteria for an EIA, required for oil schemes that extract more than 500 tonnes per day.

The council said an EIA was mandatory for these schemes and the proposed changes at Horse Hill did not indicate that hydrocarbon production would be at a level of less than 500 tonnes of oil per day.

An update to the original environmental statement would be expected with the planning application, the council said.

Horse Hill was granted planning permission in September 2019 for 20 years of oil production and drilling four more wells.

The original plans included consent for a single flare to burn gas, extracted with the oil, during maintenance and emergencies only. During oil production, HHDL had said any gas would be used to generate electricity.

Since then, the company has said there wasn’t enough gas to justify gas-to-power generators. It now plans two flares to dispose of the gas. It told the council only one flare would operate at a time.

The new plans also include changes to the work programme and site layout.

The original permission included 20 months for well site changes, construction, well management and drilling, all to be implemented over a period of two years. Under the changes, these phases would extend to 30 months of work, implemented over a period of four years.

HHDL also proposes what are described as “scaled-down” storage and processing facilities on the northern half of the existing well pad.

The 2019 permission is the subject of a long-running legal challenge by campaigner, Sarah Finch. She argued that Surrey County Council should have taken into account the greenhouse gas emissions from burning oil produced at Horse Hill.

Ms Finch is seeking to take her case to the Supreme Court, following hearings at the High Court and Court of Appeal.

Link to Surrey County Council webpage on EIA decision for Horse Hill

4 replies »

  1. ‘The proposed planning application will be made on the basis that option c) will take place and that in June 2023, NTSA will issue a plug and abandonment notice for the site’

    Development Control Committee members who will be making the decision will be advised to refuse the application as allowing options ‘a’ and ‘b’ in the same proposals as ‘c’ would be asking them to decide on completely different developments. I am surprised that hasn’t already been made clear to Cuadrilla by LCC planning department.

  2. But according to HM Govt, the moratorium was to remain in place, until it was proved that the science could safely prevent significant fracking induced earthquakes, particularly in the faulted geology and relatively densely populated area of the Fylde, Lancashire.
    As yet there is no published peer-reviewed evidence that this science has changed.
    Moreover, the number of fracking wells required to make any significant contribution to gas supply in the UK would be thousands, all over the country, including the South East of England.
    Finally, according to the Conservative Environment Network: ”Communities do not support fracking near them.”

  3. So, you have nothing to worry about then Frank, except that was a different Government to the one about to replace it.

    Meanwhile, the report commissioned has been received and is being considered. I suspect, not very actively as those considering it may not be the people to action it, or not, come September.

    The old wind turbine argument is a bit lame! So, what did the Government do to get them “supported”? Oh yes, I remember, they allowed huge financial inducements so that land owners who had been stating no way on my land, suddenly said okay, where do I sign up for my guarantee of over £100k net profit per turbine per year, and how many can I squeeze on?! Industrialize the countryside? Who cares? Perhaps this time huge financial inducements could be offered to more than a selected few.

    Looks as if another moratorium may be introduced though-upon green levies on energy bills! Yet to see how the subsidies will be maintained. Presumably via “general taxation”, where there are few Generals so they are pretty general also.

  4. Andrew Mullaney’s report says ‘ All of the above ground equipment associated with the drilling of the wells and subsequent fracking operations have now been removed from site,. The only equipment remaining and which would be retained over the extended period is a flare stack and associated gas control equipment.’
    If Cuadrilla do not intend to frack, will they be removing the huge amount of silica sand, a hazardous substance, which is stored in builders’ bags which have stood in the open, on site for the past three years?

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