Cuadrilla has announced that it intends to apply for permission to extend “the currently approved period for the completion of all works” at its Little Plumpton operation.
Although the move would not permit any further drilling or fracking at the site – approval for which has now expired – campaigners and the county councillor for the area have questioned the need for the time extension.
If granted, the application would give the firm until April 2025 to complete the decommissioning process and the restoration of the land, as required under its existing planning permission. A condition attached to that approval means that those works must be finished by 5th April. Cuadrilla was ordered by regulators back in February to plug and abandon its two wells at Preston New Road, but that demand was withdrawn just a month later when the North Sea Transition Authority said that they should instead be plugged temporarily – and until at least the end of June next year.
John Singleton – who represents the Fylde West division on Lancashire County Council – told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) that he was shocked to learn of Cuadrilla’s latest application for more time before vacating the site.
“There is a clear steer from the government [on fracking] – there is a ban. So a two-year extension is totally out of the question and I would be expecting a date of March 2023 for that site to have undergone restoration.
“Why do they want to extend – what’s the reason? I’ll be objecting in the strongest possible terms,” said County Cllr Singleton, who warned that the proposal would cause “upset” amongst residents.
“There is no future for fracking in this country – it’s a distraction from getting on with the real energy security measures that will solve the energy crisis. Investment in both renewables and energy efficiency for our homes are the way forward.
“The fact that [Cuadrilla] are applying for an extension will be deeply disappointing to local communities who just want peace of mind that this fracking experiment is truly over,” County Cllr Dowding said.
Meanwhile, the Preston New Road Action Group (PNRAG) said that while they welcomed the fact that no application was being made for further drilling or fracking, they could not understand the reasoning for Cuadrilla’s request for more time to decommission.
“At the Community Liaison Group meeting of 5th August, 2019, Cuadrilla stated that restoration of the site would take around 12 months and, consistent with this, in March 2022, Cuadrilla stated they were about to plug and cap the wells – the first step in restoring the site. There was no indication then that they needed more time.
“The events in Ukraine led to this work being put on hold, but it is now clear that the government is committed to continuing the moratorium on fracking. Therefore there is no earthly reason why the plugging and capping of the wells and full site restoration cannot begin right now – but so far there has been no activity on the site.
“As Cuadrilla have only been delayed by eight months, any extension of the timeframe beyond December 2023 cannot be justified,” the PNRAG spokesperson said.
The application, once it is formally submitted, will be determined by Lancashire County Council’s cross-party development control committee of councillors. Until 22nd December, members of the public can inspect copies of the application and associated documents at County Hall in Preston, by emailing DevCon@lancashire.gov.uk to book an appointment.
The LDRS approached Cuadrilla for comment about its latest plans. A notice pinned up at the Little Plumpton site stressed: “For the avoidance of doubt, this application does not seek permission for any further drilling or hydraulic fracturing operations as the condition has expired.”
When the moratorium was briefly lifted, Cuadrilla’s chief executive Francis Egan said that a thriving shale gas industry would “drive job creation across the North of England, generate much-needed tax revenues for central and local government and help tackle spiralling gas prices”.
He added that the move would enable the UK “to move towards gas self-sufficiency and not be reliant on the whims of dictators, or the vagaries of international supply lines and prices”.
The Cuadrilla boss said that the same standards should be applied to fracking as those that currently govern quarrying, mining and geothermal processes.
Parent company AJ Lucas Group announced in February, when the capping of the Little Plumpton site was ordered, that it planned to retain its shale exploration licence in Lancashire, where the Fylde plot accounts for just 0.01 square km of the 100 square km area covered by that licence.
The firm said it would “continue to engage with industry peers, the regulator, and the government to find a way of ending the moratorium and safely exploring and, in time, producing UK shale gas”.