THIS could be the biggest jobs boost Lancashire has ever seen – that is the message from a controversial company planning to bring hundreds of jobs and millions of pounds to the local economy.
Shale gas drilling company Cuadrilla Resources has revealed it wants to expand its operations across the Fylde coast, in a move that could bring 1,700 jobs to the area.
And CEO Mark Miller told The Gazette he believes shale gas could have the same impact on the area as North Sea oil had on Aberdeen in the 1970s. Local councils should benefit too, Cuadrilla claims, with £120m forecast to be paid to them over 30 years as part of a £6bn boost to the UK economy.
It is the first time Cuadrilla – which set up the UK’s first shale gas drilling rigs in Weeton and Singleton – has revealed its exploratory drilling has reaped rewards, with the company announcing there is 200 trillion cubic feet of gas in their area, which stretches from Blackpool to Southport.
Cuadrilla do not yet know how much of that they can access, but the discovery has given the company confidence to reveal a masterplan.
Mr Miller said: “The most positive thing is this is a new industry from the private sector. This is going to create highly skilled jobs – that’s the biggest news and what it really brings to the community.
“This is not short-term, it is long-term and will build a real talent base of people.
“And we’re encouraging the people who work for us to start looking here (for bases), so rather than have these people coming from Germany or Aberdeen we want to see them coming from here.”
The news came despite fracking – the drilling process – remaining suspended while earthquakes earlier this year are investigated.
Cuadrilla will confirm next summer whether it does want to drill commercially in Lancashire and, subject to securing Department of Energy and Climate Change approval and planning permission, hopes to start work in 2013.
The company anticipates it will have 10 drill rigs with 40 “pads” – sites which will each have 10 wells on them – which will be developed over nine years before producing gas for between 30 and 50 years.
Across the UK 5,600 jobs will be created.
Currently Cuadrilla has sites in Singleton and Weeton, has a licence to begin drilling in Westby and is also responsible for an existing gas site in Elswick, though it has not confirmed which areas could be home to more permanent commercial sites.
Mr Miller added: “(The amount of gas) is a large number and it has our interest to the point where we can start to think about what it will look like going forward and developing.
“It’s possible we may use some of the sites already in place for development pads and if not those it will be ones like those.”
Mr Miller re-iterated fracking was safe – and the sites will be barely noticeable.
He added: “What we really want to get across is they will be really hard to see from the air and will blend well into the countryside – when you’re walking your dog or driving past you won’t see them.
“It’s safe, the way we do things is fundamentally different to the way things are done in America. When people go on the internet and see alarming pictures that doesn’t apply here – we do things differently and the regulatory process is different.”
But not everyone is happy about Cuadrilla’s announcement.
Several protesters heading down to yesterday’s meeting, at the Imperial Hotel, in Blackpool, to campaign against fracking.
Phil Thornhill, from the Campaign Against Climate Change, said: “We want to stop this before it expands.
“We think it’s taking a wrong turn, any jobs should be in renewable energy.”
Meanwhile, Fylde MP Mark Menzies said: “If the projections are realised there could be a significant contribution to economic growth across Lancashire.
“I know there are, however, people who remain concerned both about the safety of extraction as well as the environmental impact and there are a number of issues still to be overcome.
“I want all Fylde residents to be reassured I will remain focused on working with the authorities to ensure the sites and process are subject to the most rigorous scrutiny.”