Shale gas exploration company Cuadrilla has begun drilling at its Preston New Road site in its bid to tap into reserves of natural gas in deep lying rocks known as the Bowland Shale.
And the company has made a donation of £100,000 to an independent Community Benefit Fund, managed by the Community Foundation for Lancashire, to share some of the profits, and benefit the area around the drill site.
Residents are set to receive a survey carried out by Membership Engagement Services, an independent research company.They will be asked their views on which types of local community issues or projects should be aided by grants from the fund.
The residents will also be consulted on whether they wish the funds for the other three wells Cuadrilla has planning consent to drill and hydraulically fracture to be paid into the independent Community Benefit Fund, managed by the Community Foundation for Lancashire, or proportionately directly to individual local households via a separate scheme.
If all three wells are drilled, this would total another £300,000.
Cuadrilla plans to drill four test wells and frack for gas. That means water, chemicals and sands will be injected into the shale under pressure to release the gas. Environmentalists fear potential pollution and harm to the countryside, and protesters have been present near the site since its construction began in January.
Cuadrilla will drill a pilot well around 3,500 metres deep. Samples will be taken at various levels within the shale to decide where best to drill horizontal wells. Then the first two horizontals will be drilled at depths of between 2,000m and 3,500m and should be finished by the end of the year. Test fracking could start early next year.
Francis Egan, CEO of Cuadrilla, said: “Today is an important milestone for the energy industry in the UK as well as the community in Lancashire. In addition to the jobs created, and the nearly £3m of investment that Lancashire has received to date as a result of our shale gas exploration, the local community will now also directly benefit.
Following on from this Community Benefit Fund payment a consultation will now start with the community to decide how best to distribute the payment to good causes in the area. We are very proud to be the first British onshore shale gas operator to make this happen.”