(updates throughout, adds reaction)
LONDON (ICIS)--Cuadrilla has received permission to hydraulically fracture for gas in England after the UK government on Thursday overturned a decision by a local council to reject the oil and gas exploration firm’s application to explore for shale gas in the area over two years ago.
The company has received permission to develop up to four exploratory wells and pursue hydraulic fracturing at a site in Preston New Road, northwest England, and develop a seismic monitoring site nearby the proposed exploration works.
An application to explore for gas at a second site – Roseacre Wood, also in the county of Lancashire – was deferred by UK Secretary of State for Communities Sajid Javid, after the UK government took control of the process following Lancashire County Council’s decision to reject Cuadrilla’s applications.
The news leaves Cuadrilla almost guaranteed to be able to commence shale gas exploration, the first hydraulic fracturing to take place in the country since the practice was suspended in 2011 following earth tremors.
In a statement, Cuadrilla welcomed the decision and added that, regarding the application for a proposed site at Roseacre Wood, the company looks forward to demonstrating that it will meet the requirements.
Francis Egan, CEO of Cuadrilla said: “We are very pleased that we can now move ahead with our shale gas exploration plans which will start to create new economic growth opportunities and jobs for people in Lancashire and the UK. As a Lancashire business we are proud that the County will play such a vital role in securing vitally needed home sourced energy.
“We are confident that our operations will be safe and responsible and the comprehensive site monitoring programme planned by regulators and independent academics will in due course conclusively demonstrate this. We hope this will reassure the minority of people whom remain sceptical about shale gas exploration. This news has given Lancashire a big vote of confidence in its economic and energy future.”
INEOS, which is expecting this year to conduct seismic work on its large gas exploration licensed acreage in England before applying for permission to conduct core sample drilling of potentially attractive shale gas sites, also welcomed today's decision.
“We believe that this ruling can be one of the first steps towards the regeneration of UK manufacturing,” the company said in a short statement.
“Shale gas extraction can provide a secure supply of domestic energy for British homes and raw materials for British industry with a minimal of local disruption and we look forward to delivering those benefits in the future.”
The move to overrule Lancashire County Council’s decision has already prompted some opposition. Cuadrilla’s initial application was rejected in June of last year on the grounds of “noise and visual impact”, a decision that Marcus Johnstone, cabinet member for the council's environment, planning and cultural services, says was not taken lightly.
"This was one of the biggest planning applications ever put before any council – literally tens of thousands of people responded to the consultation processes, and the applications involved substantial levels of technical detail,” Johnstone said in a statement.
"Our development control committee carefully considered many hours of evidence both for and against the proposal, and the committee members ultimately cast their vote based on the evidence they heard and whether they thought the proposal was acceptable in planning terms,” he continued.
"A local council, made up of councillors democratically elected by local people, and charged with serving their interests, is exactly the right body to make decisions on local matters. It is clear that the government supports the development of a shale gas industry, but I would ask them to do more to address the concerns of local communities and the councillors who represent them by supporting the best environmental controls,” Johnstone concluded.
Elsewhere, Greenpeace campaigner Hannah Martin slammed the government’s decision, saying: “This fudged decision shows the government is struggling to force fracking on a reluctant nation. Fracking will put our countryside and air quality at risk. Digging up more fossil fuels that we can’t burn if we are to honour the international agreement we signed in Paris and is coming into force next month makes little economic or environmental sense.”
Having earlier this week stated that it would issue a blanket ban on fracking in the UK were it to come to power in the next election, the Labour Party reaffirmed its position on the matter in the aftermath of today’s decision.
Barry Gardiner MP, Labour’s Shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary said: “The Government’s decision bulldozes local democracy and risks locking Britain into an old-fashioned dirty energy infrastructure when we should be seizing the opportunities for new long-term jobs and investment in a clean energy future.”
Lynne Featherstone, Liberal Democrat Climate and Energy Spokesperson, also criticised the ruling, saying: “This decision sets a very dangerous precedent, with the government riding roughshod over the will of the local people.
“Fracking poses a huge risk to our countryside, environment and efforts to tackle climate change, we must continue to fight it at every turn.”
Despite having several allies in eastern Europe, the UK is the only supporter of shale gas in western Europe and it remains to be seen whether this latest development will have any effect on its European counterparts' mindsets.