Probe into ‘crazy’ shale gas loophole

The drilling rig when it was in place at Singleton - one of three sites Cuadrilla has on the Fylde

The drilling rig when it was in place at Singleton - one of three sites Cuadrilla has on the Fylde

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A LOOPHOLE which allowed a shale gas company to drill without a full environmental report is to be reviewed after it was claimed water contamination was a possibility.

Cuadrilla Resources did not need to carry out a full environmental impact assessment before it began fracking in Weeton because its drilling area is smaller than one hectare – something local campaigners have blasted as “crazy”.

And now Tony Grayling, head of climate change and communications at the Environment Agency, said the policy will be reviewed after he believes a series of earthquakes have heightened the risk of water contamination.

He said: “Cuadrilla did not have to carry out a proper environmental impact assessment because the area covered was lower than the threshold.

“But has the threshold been set at the right level? That could be an area of Government policy to look at.”

Fracking is currently suspended on the Fylde coast following the earthquakes – two of which were felt by residents in Poulton – while a Government review is undertaken.

And Mr Grayling said the earthquakes heightened the risk of water contamination because they could damage the casing on the pipes underground, and more work needed to be carried out to establish whether that increased the risk of a leak.

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The review has been welcomed by local campaigners.

Poulton resident John Bailie said: “It’s the whole legislative and planning procedure that is fundamentally at fault. The drill pads cover a big area and when you consider they are potentially causing some sort of water contamination, it’s crazy.”

Cuadrilla, which also has sites in Singleton and Westby, says it has always met the necessary rules and regulations.

A spokesman said: “As part of the existing planning application process, our environmental submissions are already extensive and go a long way to meeting the specification of an Environmental Impact Assessment – so the issue here is one of degree.

“The seismic- activity related to our operations at Preese Hall was categorised by the British Geological Survey as being very small and the casing we use for our wells is designed to cope with events many thousands of times larger than those experienced in Lancashire.”

The British Geological Survery has previously said it will assess possible contamination, but believes it is “highly unlikely”.