BY RUTH HAYHURST ON DECEMBER 23, 2017
2017 saw drilling get underway at the site of the UK’s first horizontal shale gas wells. But, despite expectations, there was no high volume hydraulic fracturing – at least at the time of writing.
There were 12 months of protests in Lancashire and four months in North Yorkshire. Protests camps were established and in one case evicted.
The country’s biggest shale gas company was granted an injunction on an unprecedented scale against anti-fracking protests. It also began legal proceedings against the National Trust over land access, launched appeals on two planning applications and carried out seismic surveys across large areas of countryside.
Two wells were drilled in the Weald basin. One ran into technical trouble. The other led to a long-running planning dispute with the local council.
Cuadrilla began site construction work at its Preston New Road site on 5 January. Daily protests continued from that date onward at the site and at Cuadrilla’s contractors and suppliers. On the latest figures, there have been 331 arrests at Preston new Road. Policing costs have totalled £2,946,407.
In July, the national group, Reclaim the Power, worked with local protesters to obstruct deliveries to the site and from local suppliers. The protests, mainly lock-ons and lorry surfing, included three Lancashire councillors on one occasion. Cuadrilla criticised the road closures. Protesters said the road often did not need to be closed and blamed the police.
Officers from other forces were brought in to help Lancashire police. After a week, North Wales withdrew its officers. The Police and Crime Commissioner tweeted:
“No more @NWPolice officers will be going to facilitate Cuadrilla’s business in Lancs. Let them pay for their own security.”
Cuadrilla said many fracking protests were not peaceful, lawful or local. Lancashire campaigners said this statement was untrue.
Protesters filmed the wheelchair of a disabled protester was overturned by police. An 85-year-old woman was dragged across the road. Another woman reported she was knocked unconscious and needed hospital treatment.
Police sent a file to prosecutors on an alleged assault of a protester by a security guard. Politicians from Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens visited protesters at the site to show their support.
Local councillors have pointed to a deterioration in relations between protesters and the police. A report by the monitoring group, Netpol, published in November, concluded that large numbers of police were using aggressive tactics to make it hard for people to protest against fracking. A freedom of information request revealed that in July police used force 165 times in 19 days.
Opponents of Cuadrilla’s operation have also accused the county council and Environment Agency of failing to enforce conditions at the site.
The traffic management plan is now in its 11th version and restrictions on the designated route for heavy vehicles have been relaxed. Cuadrilla admitted bringing its rig on to the site outside permitted working hours. More than 4,000 people signed a petition in four days calling for the rig to be removed. Cuadrilla later sought, and was granted, a change to the rule that had prevented overnight deliveries. It presented evidence about protesters causing delays to 999 calls. This evidence was later revealed to be not approved by the ambulance service.
On several occasions, drone photos revealed rainwater flooding the surface of the site. This led to breaches of environmental permit conditions. Cuadrilla is now seeking to treat surface water on site and dispose of it in a local brook. The company has been allowed to increase the volume of fracturing fluid used per day– leading to concerns about an intensification of fracking.
In April, the government refused funding for policing of the protests at Preston New Road. The Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner applied again later and the decision is still awaited from the Home Office.
Drilling of the first two boreholes began in August. Cuadrilla hosted three online tours of the site. Fracking is expected during the first half of 2018.
Cuadrilla’s other Lancashire sites : Roseacre Wood
A date was announced (10 April 2018) for the reopening of the public inquiry into Cuadrilla’s Roseacre Wood site. Cuadrilla announced two new routes for heavy goods vehicles to the site, in the addition to the one rejected by a planning inspector. Opponents of the scheme said more lives would be at risk.
Drilling in Cheshire
In July, IGas announced plans to test its well at Ellesmere Port. Hundreds of people objected to the scheme. It emerged when the application was submitted that IGas drilled the Ellesmere Port well 1,000m deeper than the original documents had suggested. IGas critics had long suspected that the well had been drilled into shale, rather than coal measures. The planning decision is expected on 25 January 2018.
In October, the company also announced it wanted to drill and frack a new well on the edge of the Ince Marshes. It has submitted a scoping request to Cheshire West and Chester Council. If approved, this would be IGas’s first fracked well.
The British Geological Survey confirmed in September that its underground research centre, to be called UKGEOS, would drill 80 observation boreholes across the Ince Marshes.
The Scottish Government carried out a public consultation on fracking. 99% of the participants said they opposed the process. The energy minister, Paul Wheelhouse (left) announced a ban on fracking in October, backed three weeks later by a vote in parliament. INEOS, which has shale gas licences in the central belt of Scotland, said the decision “beggars belief”.
In November, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, told the boroughs to block plans for fracking in the city.
Public opinion and the media
The government’s quarterly survey of attitudes to fracking saw support fall to record lows of 16% in September and 13% in November. Opposition reached record highs of 30% in May, 33% in September and 36% in November.
The advertising watchdog warned Friends of the Earth against repeating claims about the effects of fracking on health and property prices without adequate evidence.
In a formal ruling on a newspaper supplement by INEOS, the Advertising Standards Authority, upheld one complaint and dismissed two others. One of the complainants has appealed to the ASA’s independent adjudicator. The outcome is still awaited.
Research by Edinburgh University attracted national headlines when it concluded that a shortage of waste treatment facilities – and the cost of treatment at £1m per well – could limit development of fracking in the UK.
The head of oil and gas at the Enviornment Agency, urged drilling companies to obey the rules to win back public trust.
Mark Ellis Jones, the EA’s onshore oil and gas programme executive, told a meeting in London in July:
“For the industry, compliance with our environmental permits is probably the most important single thing they need to do.
“To demonstrate to the local community and to us as the regulator that the operations they are proposing are safe for people and the environment.
“This is going to be key to regaining the trust and their social licence in the communities in which they operate.”