Gas company pulls out of tremor site

The drill at Preese Hall Farm, Weeton
The drill at Preese Hall Farm, Weeton

Gas firm Cuadrilla today said it would continue to probe the potential for fracking across Lancashire – after it was revealed a second drilling site on the Fylde is to close.

As Energy Minister Michael Fallon hailed an independent report into the benefits of shale gas drilling as an “exciting prospect,” it was revealed Cuadrilla plans to close its Preese Hall site in Weeton – the site linked to two earth tremors in Blackpool in 2011.

The firm, which blamed wintering birds and restrictions on fracking for closing its Anna’s Road site in Westby in October, said studies had shown other areas in the county were more suitable for gas extraction.

The company said: “As part of its ongoing evaluation of its exploration sites in Lancashire, Cuadrilla has today announced that no further work will take place at its Preese Hall site, near Weeton.

“The company will apply for an extension to the current planning permission, in order to allow time to seal the well and return the site to its former condition.”

The company, with one remaining site at Singleton, added it would continue to evaluate each site “on its merits” and was “evaluating potential new exploration sites”.

Preese Hall was test-fracked in 2011, causing two earth tremors measuring 2.3 and 1.5 in magnitude which lead to fracking – the process of firing a mixture of water and chemicals underground at high speed to release shale gas – being temporarily banned in the UK.

Campaigners said the closure of the site was positive news but raised concerns about the condition of the well at Weeton.

Tina Rothery, of Residents Action on Fylde Fracking, said: “Although we are delighted to hear of Cuadrilla pulling out of any site we have a series of questions we would love answers to.

“They say they will put the site back to how it was. This is impossible. It will look the way it did but who will monitor the underground area damaged by the earthquake? Are there issues with contaminated water?

“Will there be ongoing monitoring and who will be responsible for that?

Gazyer Frackman, of Frack Free Fylde, said the site should remain open for proper testing to take place. He added: “A report into Preese Hall after the earth tremors showed Cuadrilla did not know what had happened to well integrity.”

But a Cuadrilla spokesman said: “The well’s integrity was not compromised, and this has been confirmed to the Health and Safety Executive.

“The tremors caused a slight deformity of a small section of the well-casing at a depth of approximately 8,500 feet underground.

“The casing at this level was not breached, and there was no damage to either well casing or cement in the upper 8,000 feet above this section back to surface.”

The news comes as an independent report revealed a thriving shale gas industry could see local economies benefit by more than £1bn.

Energy minister Michael Fallon said the Strategic Environmental Assessment, produced by engineering consultancy group AMEC, showed “robust regulation” needed to be in place.

He added: “There could be large amounts of shale gas available in the UK, but we won’t know for sure the scale of this prize until further exploration takes place. Today marks the next step in unlocking the potential of shale gas in our energy mix.

“It is an exciting prospect, which could bring growth, jobs and energy security.

“But we must develop shale responsibly, both for local communities and for the environment, with robust regulation in place.”