Fracking on hold as new sites planned

THE head of one of Lancashire’s biggest business bodies has warned red tape is threatening to drive the fracking industry away from the county.

John Kersey, chairman of the Institute of Directors in Lancashire, has accused the county’s councils of allowing regulation to hold up work on wells. He said it could cost 1,300 jobs per year, which it’s claimed could be created over the next decade.

The warning follows the decision of Cuadrilla Resources, the company bidding to tap into gas locked under the Lancashire countryside, to halt work at its site at Anna’s Road, near Lytham, while more work continues on a wide-ranging environmental impact assessment of fracking.

But the company has announced it will be drilling new temporary exploration sites in the county.

Cuadrilla says it is looking to create “a handful” of new sites where it will drill horizontal wells deep under the countryside which it will then frack.

Mr Kersey said the delays are an example of regulation working to “frustrate rather than facilitate” the industry.

He said: “Although the Energy Secretary has given the go-ahead at the national level, there are overlapping requirements for planning consent, environmental risk assessment, environmental impact assessment, and environmental permits, all of which must be undertaken before operations can proceed.

“Each process has its own requirements of consultation, often with the same consultees, and is open to contest and seemingly indefinite delays.

“It is quite clear that some opponents of the nascent onshore natural gas industry in the UK would be delighted to see prevarication and delay continue – there seems to be a targeted effort to stall the early exploration of Lancashire’s gas resources and deny the county and the country the opportunity to evaluate this resource. We need to see a much more streamlined system, particularly for the exploration phase, and the regulators need to work together more effectively.”

He said the new Office for Unconventional Gas and Oil needed to draw up guidance for local councils and agreements to offer “clear deliverables and timescales.”

Cuadrilla chief executive Francis Egan admitted the delays announced last week had hampered its ambitions but insisted the company would do “whatever it takes” to get approval to extract 200 trillion cubic feet of gas.

Campaigners opposed to the controversial process, which involves gallons of water and a chemical being blasted into shale rock to unlock gas pockets, have pressed for tighter regulation of the burgeoning industry, which was blamed for a pair of small earthquakes in Lancashire in 2011.

Mr Egan said: “We will do whatever it takes to meet our targets in an environmentally and socially sustainable manner... we are setting the standard for the industry.”

Cuadrilla has approval to drill at 10 sites in the UK, including at Kirkham, Wharles, and Elswick on the Fylde Coast, but Mr Egan said the new work would “not necessarily” happen on any of these site.

Work will continue at the company’s exploration site at Banks where it has already drilled a horizontal well but the work on creating the new sites will be fast-tracked ahead of this work.

Graham Bentley, of anti-fracking group, Ribble Estuary Against Fracking, said he believed even with the tightest regulation there was still “a not insignificant risk”.

He said: “If you were talking about a single well, the risk of a leaking well or a problem involved with the traffic attached to the site may be minimal.”