Hostile landowners could derail Cuadrilla’s fracking plans

Shale gas explorer offers community benefits of up to £6,000 per household for those nearest the drilling sites, but admits it is yet to secure the right to frack beneath dozens of homes up to 5,000ft away

Francis Egan, chief executive of Cuadrilla

Francis Egan, chief executive of Cuadrilla Photo: WARREN SMITH

Cuadrilla’s plans to frack in Lancashire could be blocked by hostile landowners – despite the offer of benefits that could exceed £6,000 a household for communities living near two proposed drilling sites.

The shale gas explorer on Tuesday unveiled plans to frack at two sites near the villages of Roseacre and Little Plumpton, both between Blackpool and Preston, scaling back previous plans to do so at up to seven sites in the region.

Francis Egan, Cuadrilla chief executive, told the Telegraph it hopes to commence drilling towards the end of this year and frack as soon as the first quarter of 2015, if it gets planning permission.

The two sites could be the first to be fracked since the lifting in December 2012 of an 18-month ban on the practice, imposed after Cuadrilla caused earth tremors by drilling at Preese Hall, just a few miles from Little Plumpton.

But Cuadrilla faced immediate threats from campaigners Greenpeace that its plans could be blocked by hostile landowners using trespass laws to deny permission for fracking under their land.

Mr Egan said wells for fracking could extend up to 5,000ft horizontally from the proposed drilling sites and admitted that it was yet to secure access agreement from potentially dozens of homeowners under whose land fracking could take place.

Under current trespass law, if Cuadrilla were unable to negotiate access with any landowners in its drilling path, it would need to take them to court to overrule them. However, ministers are considering changing the law.

“Clearly its an issue,” Mr Egan said. “We will have to cross that bridge when we come to it.”

Greenpeace said that more than 100 homes in the area had signed up to its “legal block” to deny permission.

Shale gas companies have pledged a series of community benefits, including £100,000 for every exploratory well that is fracked, in an attempt to win support.

Cuadrilla said that as few as 130 households could receive the “lion’s share” of £800,000 in benefitsthat would be paid if it fracks four wells per site as planned.

The Community Foundation for Lancashire has been tasked with distributing the benefits in consultation with local communities. Payments to individual households have not been ruled out, although the cash may be spent on wider community projects. “It’s up to communities to decide that,” Mr Egan said.

Cuadrilla began consultation with residents on Tuesday and hopes to submit its planning applications in May.

An artist’s impression of the fracking site at Preston New Road

Villagers in Roseacre appeared divided over the plans. Heather Speak, 53, spoke of her “shock” at the plans and said people were “frightened”.

Rowland and Marie Taylor, both 70, said they feared they would not be able to sell their bungalow in the village as a result of the plans. Mr Taylor dismissed the benefits, saying: “I don’t want it and I don’t want fracking.”

But Chris Noad, 73, said: “I am in favour. It’s an energy resource and the country needs it.”

Cuadrilla said in July it would seek to frack at up to seven sites across Lancashire, though had not begun the planning process at any of them.

Mr Egan said it had instead opted to frack multiple wells at the two sites to “reduce the potential impact on the local area”. It could drill wells at different depths “because the shale is so thick”.

Cuadrilla encountered fierce protests while attempting to drill for oil in Balcombe in the summer, leading to suggestions from a Tory peer that fracking should take place in the “desolate” north.

Mr Egan said the company had “learned from the experience of Balcombe” but denied it had sought more desolate locations.

“We looked at a range of issues: closeness to infrastructure, transport, ecology. We assessed a number of possible sites across a whole range of criteria,” he said. “I don’t think ‘desolation’ was one that we included – or the lack thereof.”