Spin-busting: What is actually going on in Lancashire?

January 2013 Round Up

Whichever way you look at it, Cuadrilla Resources have had a pretty ropey couple of years. The squeaky clean, everything by the book shale pioneers induced an earthquake back in April 2011 and have since been central to a very public unfolding of the UK shale story.

The pressure has had a visible effect on the company. Demos, direct action and grass-roots reaction has seen Cuadrilla ditch a CEO and repeatedly change their PR line up – most recently recruiting Bell Potinger ‘creative generalist’(!) Mark Linder. But for all the industry reports and government lip service, what is ACTUALLY happening in Lancashire? Put simply, they are ploughing ahead – albeit massively behind schedule.

Cuadrilla currently has five sites in Lancashire. Here’s a brief rundown of the state of play at each of them (you can find all live UK planning applications here):

Anna’s Road, Westby.

Risk of imminent fracking: Medium

Francis Egan, CEO suggested in a recent interview that the UK’s second ever test-frack may take place here, where the company is also applying for permission to drill the UK’s first horizontal well. Cuadrilla are in the process of drilling a second vertical well at the site after their first attempt ran into trouble at 2000ft. The company are moving extensive seismic monitoring equipment to the area in an effort to avoid future well-damaging earthquakes via an early warning ‘traffic light’ system. There is currently an application for a time extension at the site although Cuadrilla have now said there will be no action here until 2014.

Preese Hall, Weeton.

Risk of imminent fracking: VERY LOW

The site of the notorious earthquake that crushed their well-bore and halted the company’s ambitions to have thirteen wells drilled and fracked by the end of 2012. Having discovered a geological fault-line in the area,  the company have decided to avoid the headache of causing another ‘seismic event’. There is currently an application to ‘plug and abandon’ this well by Dec 2013. 

Grange Road, Singleton.

Risk of imminent fracking: LOW

Being within 3 miles of Preese Hall, it’s unlikely the company will be willing to risk fracking so near to a known fault-line. There is currently an application for a time extension at the site.

Bonnie Barn Lane, Banks.

Risk of imminent fracking: HIGH

The Banks site was subject to exploratory drilling in 2012. If the company’s expired planning permission is extended, it is likely that subsequent work to be undertaken at the site will be involve a test-frack. There is currently an application for a time extension at the site.

Inskip Lane, Wharles.

Risk of imminent fracking: LOW

Cuadrilla have not yet built a drilling pad or undertaken any exploratory drilling at the site. It is unlikely that the company will be ready to test-frack the site in the immediate future.

If we are to win this fight to keep our soils and groundwater useful to life, we need to keep our eyes and minds on the big picture. And that means playing a long-game. Each of these planning applications is a valuable opportunity for intervention.  Not because there is a chance of permanently over-turning any particular decision, but because objections cause delays and delays cost the company money.

Cuadrilla and the myriad of other fracking start-ups that have been granted exploration licenses by DECC have no intention of exploiting and producing anything. They want to prove the existence of a resource then sell-out to BP/Exxon/Shell/Centrica/etc and retire to some palm-lined beach in the Caribbean.

Cuadrilla don’t make any money. They don’t produce anything. They have some city-investment that they’re burning through at the rate of £10m per well. If that money runs out before they’ve enticed a Big Oil buyer they’re history. Similarly, if the resistance is visible enough, investors will be wanting place their dirty bets on a ‘safer’, less-public game.

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