D-DAY FOR GAS FRACKING

Cuadrilla site on Anna's Road , Westby.

Cuadrilla site on Anna's Road , Westby.

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CAMPAIGNERS have urged caution as speculation mounts that fracking on the Fylde coast will be given the green light to continue.

Wednesday could be D-Day for the future of shale gas drilling with unconfirmed reports circulating in Whitehall that drilling will be given the go-ahead to resume as part of the Government’s new gas strategy – more than 18 months after it was suspended.

The announcement – which would give Cuadrilla Resources the nod to continue fracking at sites on the Fylde coast – is hotly tipped to be part of the Autumn Statement from Chancellor George Osborne.

It is rumoured shale gas drilling will be high on the agenda, with Mr Osborne expected to propose tax breaks for firms involved in the sector and announce the creation of a new Office for Shale Gas to assist the sector.

But Fylde coast campaigners have demanded safety comes before profit when any decision is made on drilling.

Tina Rothery, from Residents Action on Fylde Fracking (RAFF), told The Gazette: “We have done our best to inform people but only 15 per cent of the local community know about shale gas fracking.

“It’s taking advantage of an uninformed community.

“If fracking gets the go-ahead I will not stay locally and a lot of people feel the same.”

And Poulton-based campaigner John Bailie added: “I would be very surprised if they didn’t give it the go-ahead, but I am disappointed.

“We all want energy and we all want jobs but we don’t want energy at this cost and it will be a cost. If a decision is made tomorrow (Wednesday)the Government will be acting irresponsibly.”

Cuadrilla has been waiting for a decision over its future since April last year, when it suspended fracking – which involves pumping water underground at high pressure to fracture rock and release gas – after two earthquakes caused by drilling at its Weeton site.

This week the company’s chief executive Francis Egan said the firm would have no choice but to “walk away” from Lancashire if a decision on the future of fracking did not go in its favour.

But any announcement looks set to be positive, and Mr Osborne is expected to say giving the go-ahead for shale will cause gas prices to fall, reduce household bills and create jobs.

Cuadrilla currently has exploratory sites in Singleton, Weeton and Westby, as well as a licence for a site near Kirkham, which all fall in the constituency of Fylde MP Mark Menzies.

The Conservative member – a former Parliamentary Private Secretary for Energy Minister Charles Hendry – held a debate in Parliament where he called for tough regulation over the sector should it be given the go ahead.

He said: “I am aware of speculation the Government is likely to give the go-ahead for a resumption in fracking on Wednesday.

“As I said in the adjournment debate I held on this issue in the House of Commons and in a question to the Prime Minister, I want to see an independent body formed to oversee the regulation of this potential industry.

“I am therefore extremely interested to hear what is said on Wednesday and will consider my response if and when an announcement is made.”

In Singleton, local councillor Maxine Chew echoed the MP’s views and said there should be no green light on drilling until a monitoring agency had been set up. She added: “It’s not unexpected.

“I fully expected the Government would give this the go-ahead because the financial gains and the energy security gains are so large.

“What I would be extremely concerned about and would be against would be commercial extraction of the gas until there is some form of monitoring or governmental control over it.

“I think, at the moment, commercial production would be premature.”

If Cuadrilla is given the green-light it expects to resume fracking within months, and during that time the firm will put the necessary permits in place and public consultations will be held with local residents.

The company has previously said it hopes to create around 1,700 jobs over nine years.

But campaigners who are concerned about the impact on the environment, house prices and safety, believe it is too soon for the government to make a call on whether the moratorium on fracking should be lifted.

Cuadrilla declined to make a formal statement ahead of any announcement.

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