Fracking returns despite fears

Photo Neil Cross'Land off Grange Road, Singleton where fracking work is due to start

Photo Neil Cross'Land off Grange Road, Singleton where fracking work is due to start

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CONTROVERSIAL gas drilling is set to start up again – despite being responsible for dozens of earthquakes which rocked the Fylde coast last year.

A key Government report released today says Cuadrilla Resources can “mitigate the risk” of tremors related to the process – and there is no reason for it not to go ahead with its work.

The firm – the first company in the UK to try to extract shale gas via fracking – voluntarily halted drilling at its Weeton site after the area was hit by two earth tremors.

Fracking involves shooting a mix of sand, water and chemicals deep underground to cause the rock to split, releasing the gas into the well so that it can be brought up to the surface.

It was revealed by Cuadrilla as many as 50 minor earthquakes were believed to have been caused by the process.

The long awaited report by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) suggests ways in which Cuadrilla can alter its practices and make it safer to continue.

It confirms fracking did cause the quakes but states: “Providing precautions are effectively implemented, we see no reason why the risk of induced seismicity should prevent further hydraulic fracture operations in this area.”

There will now be a six-week public consultation around the report before Cuadrilla get the formal go-ahead to resume fracking but the firm’s chief executive Mark Miller said he was “pleased” the DECC has come to a “clear conclusion” its operations were safe. Fracking could now begin at the firm’s Grange Hall site in Singleton this summer.

Mr Miller told The Gazette: “We hope to start by mid-summer – DECC have to go through a six-week period of comment and process that, then when they officially confirm we can go forward we will start within 30 to 60 days. We will go to Becconsall (near Southport) and then to Grange Hall. We’re in the process of exploration and will be on the well site for 60 to 90 days. We want to finish our exploration programme but we’re very optimistic with the resource estimate we’ve made and I would expect we would go forward with the commercial programme, but we still have to finish up this last round of exploration testing.”

A formal decision on the future programme is expected to be made within months, and bosses say it could bring up to 1,700 jobs to Fylde.

DECC’s chief scientific advisor David MacKay added: “If shale gas is to be part of the UK’s energy mix we need to have a good understanding of its potential environmental impacts and what can be done to mitigate those impacts.

“This comprehensive independent expert review of Cuadrilla’s evidence suggests a set of robust measures to make sure future seismic risks are minimised – not just at this location but at any other potential sites across the UK.”

The report recommends Cuadrilla alters its practices to mitigate the risk of further quakes by - at least initially – reducing the volume of fluid it injects underground and monitoring the impact that process has.

The DECC also want to see monitors put in place to record locations and levels of seismic activity, and the implementation of a traffic light system which will flash red and call for all fracking to be halted and investigated if a tremor above magnitude 0.5 is recorded.

Cuadrilla’s own experts had recommended a traffic light system but suggested it would only activate at tremors above magnitude 1.7 – a figure DECC believe is too high.

Mr Miller added: “Many of today’s recommendations were contained in the original expert studies we published in November last year, and in the supplementary information we sent to DECC in January

“We have already started to implement a number of them.”

Cuadrilla has also explored for gas at a site in Westby.