Between Tues 23rd and Fri 26th June Lancashire County Council is scheduled to be considering applications for 2 new fracking test sites on the Fylde Peninsular near Blackpool. We have been here before with the last attempt in January ending in farce, after the company requested a deferral at the last minute. This time though it seems likely that a decision will be made and communities across Lancashire and the rest of Britain have been mobilising to oppose these plans. The stakes are high with Lancashire currently the area where fracking is being pushed forward most aggressively. Whatever decision the council makes it is likely to be the beginning of a long battle which has implications for the whole country.
In Lanacshire the main fracking threat, at present, comes from Cuadrilla Resources which has a licence (PEDL 165) covering a large fraction of the county. Following several years ofunsuccessful exploration, ranging from triggering earthquakes to leaking wells, Cuadrilla is getting desperate and is betting a large fraction of its cash on 2 hugely expensive multi-well test sites (United Utilities have already started work at one of the sites). These plans are still just for exploration, since full scale production would require the involvement of a much larger company with the money to drill hundreds or thousands of wells. However, if allowed to go ahead, Cuadrilla would be one step closer to that goal.
The applications for 2 fracking test sites were originally submitted over a year ago and Cuadrilla has had a fight even to get to this point, with an unprecedented number of objections (over 30,000) to the applications. Initially Lancashire County Council intended to make a decision on the applications at the end of January 2015, but after planning officers recommended refusal of both of the applications, Cuadrilla gained a last minute deferral so that it could amend the applications. After these new submissions from Cuadrilla in April, a new decision date was set for this week. Planning officers have now recommended that the Roseacre Wood application be refused but the Preston New Road one be accepted. This is a huge contradiction in itself since at a production stage hundreds of much larger sites would need to be constructed at regular intervals across a large portion of Lancashire (including in many locations similar to Roseacre).
These proposed tests sites are a massive spin operation in a number of ways. While they are just large enough for Cuadrilla to do the testing they need, with 4 horizontal wells per site, they are nowhere near as large as production sites would be (10-16 wells based on what is happening in the US). Cuadrilla has also done everything it can to hide the true impacts of fracking at this stage. It is planning to carry out the drilling and hydraulic fracturing of the wells at an incredibly slow pace (spread over 2 years) and has scaled back the number of frac stages per well from 60 to 30-45. Even so they would use 5.9-8.9 million gallons of water per well and just one site would use 65% of fracking waste capacity which Cuadrilla has identified. At the rate fracking is carried out in production one site would use 7 percent of United Utilities spare water capacity and thefracking waste produced would completely dwarf all existing capacity to handle it.
While each of these 2 sites with 4 horizontal wells, producing tens of millions of gallons of radioactive and toxic waste, and requiring 20,000 vehicle movements, is a significant threat to the people living near them the even larger threat is the the door it could open to thousands more wells being drilled across Lancashire, and the rest of Britain. Just the gas which Cuadrilla claims is within it Lancashire licence could require in excess of 7,000 wells to extract, with tens of thousands more threatened across the country, and a large fraction of the rest of Britain about to be sold off. These new applications constitute one of the most significant front-lines in the fight against fracking in Britain, along side the fight to stop Dart Energy’s plans for what would be Britain’s first cluster of Coalbed Methane (CBM) production wells at Airth in Scotland, which after being sold to IGas Energy is now in the hands of INEOS.
Even if the council turns down these applications, that would be appealed to central government which would certainly approve them. This would just be the start of Cuadrilla’s problems, as they will have to spent 2 years trying to force these developments on the people of Lancashire. As we have seen with other high profile fracking sites, such as Balcombe, Barton Moss and Belcoo, when communities get organised they can make it very difficult for fracking companies. When other communities from across the county rally round and support those being threatened then the company’s costs soon start escalating. All the time investors (and potential investors) will be watching developments in Lancashire and the geological data which Cuadrilla is trying gather is only part of what they will be considering. As we have seen from places like the Northern Rivers in Australia, the social data on how organised and effective the local community opposition is has as big an effect as what is under the ground. It’s time to get organised…