Lancashire Fracking Wells To Be Plugged, But Cuadrilla Wants 132,000 More
Two exploration wells operated by fracking company Cuadrilla Resources, on the its Preston New Road site, are to be plugged and abandoned three years after hydraulic fracturing tests were stopped due to new series of earthquakes they caused.
The Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) has ordered Cuadrilla to plug and abandon the two test wells on the PNR site, and has given them until June to complete the work. Cuadrilla expects to mobilise a rig soon to start the process of plugging the wells and removing the associated surface pipework and valves from the site.
Despite this setback Cuadrilla has come out swinging, with press releases from both Cuadrilla and part owner AJ Lucas decrying the “mistake” of not jumping to exploit the Bowland Shale. This appears to have been coordinated with a slew of articles in certain sections of the press: Bring back fracking, says Jacob Rees-Mogg (The Times), Tory backbenchers form alliance to try to force Boris Johnson to ditch Carrie’s ’elitist and out of touch’ Net Zero green plans – as minister Jacob Rees-Mogg tells PM to bring back fracking (Daily Mail), Britain needs a new dash for gas to save us from the lunacy of net zero (The Telegraph).
Cuadrilla’s press release is also peppered with quotes from the Net Zero Scrutiny Group of tory MPs, which has recently been created to fight for climate chaos. This has been followed by a second wave of articles over the weekend trying to pressure the government Tory grandees urge Boris Johnson to lift ‘unconservative’ ban on fracking (The Telegraph), David Frost joins Tory MPs in calls for return of fracking in UK (The Guardian), How Britain’s fracking industry was regulated into irrelevance (The Spectator), Lord Frost joins 29 Tory MPs in demanding PM ends ban on fracking (Daily Mail). Apparently 30 MPs and peers who have submitted a joint letter to the Prime Minister urging him to ‘reverse this moratorium’ which has impeded fracking for shale gas since 2019.
In the press release Cuadrilla suggests that abandoning these wells in “midst of energy crisis” hasn’t been “been properly thought through”. This not only ignores the fact that even the International Energy Agency (IEA) says that “no new oil and gas fields” are on a pathway to have any chance staying a still dangerous below 1.5 C of global heating, but also the fact that what the UK currently faces is a rise in global gas prices, a situation which would just be made worse by a greater dependence on gas. More specifically in terms of fracking, what Cuarilla also omits is that even if the 10 percent of 37.6 trillion cubic metres it want to extract wasn’t a complete pipe dream, it would require drilling approximately 132,000 fracking wells across the country at densities of 8 wells per square mile or more (see image above for calculation). This insane number is over 10 times the number of wells drilled in the UK North Sea (approximately 10,000) over the last 50 years, and clearly demonstrates a major reason which fracking is so unpopular.
Cuadrilla surrendered the environmental permit for the tests at Preston New Road in December 2020, but continues to covering a large part of Lancashire (PEDL 165), as well as other licenses across the Bowland Shale area in northern England. Despite all the hype in the media, the fracking “pause”, at least for shale gas, that has been in place for the last 2.5 years, is extremely fragile, and the fracking industry will continue to lobby for it to be lifted. Vigilance will be needed in the coming months and years to make sure the fracking industry does not exploit ongoing events to try to revive fracking in the UK.
Despite causing the largest earthquake definitively due to fracking in the UK (a magnitude 2.9 on the 26th Aug 2019), and over 120 smaller ones in the previous month, fracking company Cuadrilla Resources continues to push to frack Lancashire. Cuadrilla was planning to frac the wells at PNR in up to 41 stages along their lengths, starting at the far end and working backwards towards the pad. Each stage uses 200,000 gallons of fracking fluid containing 75 tons of sand, and chemicals. There were 36 earthquakes clustered around PNR 1z the first well, with the furthest less than 250m from the wellbore (and at the same depth 3km). Cuadrilla only pumped a handful frac stages, and had quite a few more to go on this first well (and the the same is true for the second well in 2019). A lot more, and even larger, earthquakes would have been expected if they had been allowed to continue, with the distinct possibility that cumulative build up of pressure might cause a jump to a higher level of earthquake activity.
Previous Fracking Earthquakes
In the US and Canada large numbers of earthquakes have been caused by fracking, both directly and indirectly. In the US most quakes have been caused by re-injection of the vast quantities of fracking waste produced by this toxic process. In the most extreme case Oklamhoma has become the most earthquake prone state in the US due to facking waste injection wells, with significant damage as a result. In Canada however a large number of earthquakes have been caused by the hydraulic fracturing process itself, particularly in the Montney Shale in British Columbia.
In both cases not all the earthquakes have been small. The largest fracking quakes in Oklahoma have been a magnitude 5.6 main near Pawnee in 2016 and a magnitude 5.6 near Prague, Oklahoma in 2011, where two people suffered minor injuries, 14 homes had various levels of damage, and part of a university building collapsed. The largest earthquake ever triggered by hydraulic fracturing in British Columbia occurred during a fracking-triggered swarm of 676 earthquakes between 2014 and 2015, and was triggered by the fracking activities of Progress Energy, registering 4.6 magnitude.
The Preston New Road site is Cuadrilla’s flagship fracking test project, where they have planning permission (from central government) to drill and hydraulically fracture 4 shale gas wells. This would involve more than 20,000 vehicle movements in and out of the PNR site, as fracking trucks bring equipment and materials and dispose of waste, to and from support sites across the country. Take a look at our factsheet and find out what support sites could be near you.
Cuadrilla’s speculative business model means that they need good results from these test to get more investment, but that includes not just what they find under ground but the level of resistance they encounter. That is where communities across the country come in – by making Cuadrilla’s fracking plans as difficult, slow and expensive as possible!
Check out our factsheet about Cuadrilla’s plans, your community may be threatened with impacts (e.g. fracking waste being dumped or transported through your community) even if you live hundreds of miles from Lancashire.