Cuadrilla to revive UK fracking drive within days at Lancashire well

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The UK shale industry’s long-delayed fracking drive will begin again next week, after the leading company Cuadrilla confirmed it will start working on a well in Lancashire within days.

The well at Preston New Road, between Blackpool and Preston, will be the first to be fracked in the UK since 2011, after years of hold-ups due to a moratorium, regulatory changes and planning battles.


What is fracking?

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a way of extracting natural gas from shale rock formations that are often deep underground. It involves pumping water, chemicals and usually sand underground at high pressure to fracture shale – hence the name – and release the gas trapped within to be collected back at the surface.

The technology has transformed the US energy landscape in the last decade, owing to the combination of high-volume fracking – 1.5m gallons of water per well, on average – and the relatively modern ability to drill horizontally into shale after a vertical well has been drilled.

But Cuadrilla will not be able to frack before next Wednesday, as the high court has granted an interim injunction after Lancashire campaigner Robert Bennett filed an 11th hour legal challenge.

The high court will hear the case on Wednesday, which hinges on emergency planning by Lancashire County Council for the Preston New Road site. Cuadrilla called the grounds for the case “hopelessly weak”.

Francis Egan, the chief executive of Cuadrilla, said: “The start of hydraulic fracturing is the final milestone in the journey to assessing the flow rates of natural gas from our Lancashire shale exploration wells.”

He said Cuadrilla should have an estimate by early next year of how much gas could be recovered.

Separately, the government said that it had appointed Natascha Engel, a former Labour MP who has undertaken work for shale company Ineos, as the UK’s shale gas commissioner. The role is designed to be: “a contact point for residents, to listen to their concerns, refer them to relevant and factual research.”

Next week’s fracking, which will be the first such work on a horizontal shale well in the UK, looks set to go ahead despite strong protests by campaigners and residents.

Katrina Laurie, 40, an activist protesting outside the Preston New Road site on Thursday with around 20 other people, said the opposition would go on.

“We are staying here and will keep on fighting. The fight for Preston New Road hasn’t just been about this site – it’s about every other proposed [fracking] site.”

Laurie said she expected the start of fracking would bring more protesters to the site, and said even if the work was done without incident, she would not change her mind on the practice.

Liz Hutchins, Friends of the Earth director of campaigns, said: “It is desperately disappointing for the community at Preston New Road, for the UK and for our climate.”

The operation, which involves pumping water, sand and chemicals underground at high pressure to fracture shale and release gas, is expected to take around three months.

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Observers will watch for any sign of seismic activity, water and air pollution, or breaches of regulation, which the government and industry have argued is robust and ensures fracking can be conducted safely. Cuadrilla has already been censured by the Environment Agency for minor infractions.

The return of fracking in the UK will, coincidentally, come on the same week as the world’s top climate scientists issue a major new report on whether the world can hit a tougher global warming target, to limit temperature rises to 1.5C.


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