Cuadrilla’s bid to delay restoration of Lancashire fracking site – details published

Plans by Cuadrilla for a two-year delay in restoring its controversial fracking site near Blackpool were published today.

Cuadrilla’s mothballed Preston New Road fracking site, 26 February 2022.
Photo: Maxine Gill

Before Christmas, Cuadrilla announced it would seek to postpone the return of the Preston New Road site to farmland until 1 April 2025.

The current planning permission required the UK’s only fracked horizontal wells to be plugged and abandoned and the site restored within the next 54 days.

But Cuadrilla has said it needed more time. The extension would allow technical studies on the two wells to be completed, the company said, and keep open the option to access the gas reservoir for research or production.

People can comment on the plans until Wednesday 1 March 2023. One local parish council has already voted unanimously against them. Local groups that campaigned against Cuadrilla have said they will oppose the application.

Earthquakes suspended operations

Preston New Road has been largely mothballed since August 2019, when operations at the site caused the UK’s strongest fracking-induced earthquake.

Just over two months later, the UK government introduced a moratorium on fracking operations across England, which remains in force.

In 2022, the industry regulator, the North Sea Transition Authority, ordered Cuadrilla to plug and abandon Preston New Road’s two wells, known as PNR1z and PNR2.

But weeks later, the order was lifted and the wells were allowed to remain suspended until the end of June 2023.

Cuadrilla was required to research controls on fracking-induced earthquakes and improve its seismic images of faults and fractures.

Depending on results of this work, the regulator will decide whether to:

  • Re-use one or both wells
  • Agree to a plan to bring one or both wells into gas production
  • Require one or both wells to be plugged and abandoned

Details of planning application

The new application (LCC/2023/0002) will be decided by Lancashire County Council’s planning committee.

In 2015, this committee refused the original application for drilling, fracking and testing four shale gas wells at Preston New Road. After a public inquiry, the then business secretary, Sajid Javid granted permission.

The new application does not include any further drilling, fracking or testing.

It proposes three phases of work:

  1. Continued well suspension, wellhead maintenance and data collection
    Expected to continue for three months, until June 2023. Working hours: 7am-6pm Monday to Friday and 7am-1pm on Saturday. Lorry movements predicted to be 1-2 a month.
  2. Decommissioning of the wells
    Work is predicted to begin in September 2023 and continue until early 2025. Wellheads would be removed and casing cut to 2m below ground level. Cuadrilla estimated it would need 4-6 months to procure equipment and get consent for the decommissioning programme. Decommissioning itself would take about 8-12 weeks. After decommissioning, 12 months of environmental monitoring would be required. Cuadrilla said whole process could take 12-18 months. Lorry movements in this phase are estimated a 10 per day, falling to 3 during plugging and decommissioning.
  3. Site restoration
    Estimated to take about 4 months and begin early in 2025. Work would include deconstruction and removal of the concrete well pad and cellar. Surface aggregate, drainage pipework, other infrastructure, potentially contaminated equipment and the site liner would be removed. Soil storage bunds would be levelled and field drainage reinstalled. The site would be reseeded. An aftercare plan would return the site back to farmland. The access road could be retained.

What Cuadrilla said about the extension

Cuadrilla said the proposal represented “sustainable use of an existing site”. It would allow a “reasonable timeframe” for site infrastructure to be removed, the company said.

Opponents have already argued that Cuadrilla should have met the April 2023 deadline in the original planning permission.

Benefits: Cuadrilla said the benefits of maintaining the wells outweighed “the temporary and short-term” nature of phase 1.

Air quality: Cuadrilla said emissions from the rig used in phase 2 would be reduced “through choice of an efficient rig”. Generators would be used for less than eight months in total, the company said.

Road traffic: Lorries visiting Preston New Road during phases 2 and 3 would be similar to a small construction site, Cuadrilla said.

Noise and light: The effects of noise and light generated by phases 2 and 3 not be “significant”, it said:

“The existing site does not give rise to environmental impacts beyond those that have been previously assessed and conditioned by the extant planning permission.”

Policy: The proposal was in line with local and national planning policy, the company said.

If the extension were refused, it would be inconsistent with the North Sea Transition Authority’s decision to allow the wells to remain suspended, Cuadrilla said. It would also be “impracticable to deliver a planned plugging, decommissioning and site restoration by April 2023”.

Environmental permit:: In a document submitted with the application, Cuadrilla blamed the site’s environmental permit for what it called a “lengthy time constraint”.

The company said it had to demonstrate to the Environment Agency that it had taken necessary measures to avoid a pollution risk and that the site had been returned to a satisfactory state.

The company said:

“Before Cuadrilla can restore the surface site, post wellbore decommissioning must be undertaken for an anticipated period of 12 months. Once data has validated successful decommissioning of the wellbores the surface site can be restored.”


Westby Parish Council voted unanimously to object to the proposal.

It said:

“There is no rationale proposed to retain the open wells and this seems to merely be a delaying tactic in the hope that legislation may alter.”

Frack Free Lancashire previously told DrillOrDrop there was no justification for an extension. It said:

“The Preston New Road site should be finished and abandoned by April 2023. With the moratorium in place, as per the 2019 manifesto, and with Labour promising to ban fracking if they are elected, then the site has no future and it is time to end the stress and uncertainty that the its continued existence causes the local community.”

Before publication of the application, Preston New Road Action Group said it was “perplexed” that Cuadrilla was asking for a further 24 months to restore the site. There was no indication that the company needed more time when it prepared to plug and abandon the wells in March 2022, the group said.

“As Cuadrilla have only been delayed by 8 months, any extension of the time-frame beyond December 2023 cannot be justified. Cuadrilla have an appalling record for restoring their sites in a timely manner. They need to evidence that restoration work has started before they are granted any extension to ensure that no further delays occur.”

DrillOrDrop will follow the application through the planning system and report more reactions to it.

Comments can be made:

  • By post to Lancashire County Council, Development Management Group, County Hall, PO Box 100, Preston PR1 0L
  • Email to or
  • Via the Have your Say section of the County Council’s website

1 reply »

  1. Fylde MP Mark Menzies has called on fracking firm Cuadrilla to pack up and leave following a bid by the firm to extend it’s planning permission for wells at Preston New Road.
    Cuadrilla’s planning permission was due to expire in April 2023. The company is set to ask Lancashire County Council for an extra two years to complete its work. The company is not asking to carry out any more drilling, currently suspended under a national moratorium, but will take longer to vacate the well site.
    Mr Menzies said:
    “Enough is enough, it is time for Cuadrilla to pack up and go.
    “It is complete nonsense for this pretence to continue any longer.
    “It is abundantly clear that fracking in Fylde is never going to happen.
    “What I want now is for that site to be cleared, for the wells to be capped and for it to be returned to countryside.
    “That needs to happen as soon as possible.

    “Cuadrilla’s time is up, that is the message I am sending and one which Lancashire County Council needs to send too.”

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