The government has given the green light for plans to drill, hydraulically fracture and test the flow of gas at up to four exploration wells in Lancashire.
Energy developer Cuadrilla made the application for the Preston New Road site at Little Plumpton. Plans for a second site at Roseacre Wood were not approved amid concerns over road access.
The controversial decision from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) secretary Sajid Javid to grant planning consent was given on Thursday (6 September). Cuadrilla Resources believes that there could be more than 5.66 trillion cubic metres of natural gas trapped in the shale rock in the areas where it is licenced to operate.
A bid by Cuadrilla Resources for the Preston New Road site was refused by the local council in June 2015. Members of Lancashire County Council’s Development Control Committee voted to refuse the application on the grounds of noise and visual impact, despite officers at the council recommending the plans get the go-ahead. Cuadrilla subsequently appealed.
“The Communities secretary has today allowed three planning appeals related to two proposed shale gas exploration and monitoring sites in Lancashire,” said a DCLG spokesman.
“The decisions follow extensive consideration of all the evidence, including an independent planning inspector’s report and evidence submitted during a two-week public inquiry.”
Cuadrilla chief executive Francis Egan 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.”
The planning inquiry for the appeals was held for six weeks starting in February 2016 in front of planning inspector Wendy McKay. She submitted her resulting report and recommendation to the Secretary of State on 4 July 2016.
“The UK needs to plan for a future that will see output of oil and gas from the North Sea fall. This will mean looking at new nuclear and renewables for generation. But we anticipate a continuing demand for oil and gas, both to generate electricity and to support demand from UK industry,” said Civil Engineering Contractors Association (Ceca) head of external affairs Marie-Claude Hemming.
“While we can import from overseas to meet this demand, this means that security of supply could be jeopardised by changing global politics. Given the apparent evidence that the UK could be extracting its own hydrocarbons rather than importing them, the case for shale gas seems strong.
“But people have justified concerns about the impact on the environment. It is vital that we now work to show that shale gas can become a clean and safe part of the UK energy mix.”
However, the director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) said that the economic viability of a domestic UK shale gas industry is unproven.
“Leaving aside local environmental concerns, the jury’s still out on whether the economics of developing a UK shale industry really stack up. This is particularly true now, when the world is awash with cheap liquefied natural gas (LNG),” said Richard Black.
“Cuadrilla’s boss said today that importing shale gas is crazy and that we’re running out of gas, but it really isn’t clear that that’s the case. Having invested in UK facilities to take advantage of cheap imported gas, is it really wise to be investing in shale gas which is unlikely to bring bills down – particularly when in post-Brexit Britain we’re supposed to be chasing free trade like never before?
“It’s worth noting too that fugitive emissions of methane from shale gas extraction will count against our domestic climate change targets, whereas for imported gas they don’t. That’s why the Committee on Climate Change recommends that the government needs to regulate these emissions very tightly – and we’re waiting for the government’s response on that.”