Fracking firm will stay on site

Anti-fracking protesters outside County Hall
Anti-fracking protesters outside County Hall
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Shale gas firm Cuadrilla has been granted an extension to remain on a Fylde coast site until next year.

County Hall planners gave the green light to the fracking firm to stay on land at Preese Hall, Weeton – as well as carry out pressure testing at Banks, West Lancashire – until April 2015.

The firm applied for the 
extra time to allow it to restore land at the Weeton site, where it announced there would be no further exploration last year.

It is the third time such an extension has been granted.

And anti-fracking protestors today told of their “disappointment” at the decision, claiming they have not had 
assurances that the test well drilled on the site is secure.

A report to councillors said: “Since planning permission was granted, the well has been plugged and abandoned.

“However, the applicant ran out of time to complete the restoration of the site and has now requested a further extension of time to complete such.

“The restoration works involve the removal of the borehole cellar, site operational surface and replacement of the soils to return the land back to its original agricultural use.

“Since the expiry of the previous planning permission further restoration works on the site have been suspended pending the outcome of this application.”

The report adds: “The proposed time extension would mean that the visual impacts of the site would exist for longer than was previously considered acceptable.

“However, the proposal to extend the time limits for site restoration until the end of April 2015 is considered to be acceptable.”

But representatives of Ribble Estuary Against Fracking and Friends of the Earth spoke at the planning committee meeting on Tuesday to express concerns including that it is “not clear that well integrity issues encountered at the site have been addressed.”

The campiagners said Cuadrilla had failed to meet previous time conditions by which it should have restored the site back to agricultural use, and the council should therefore take enforcement action.

Bob Dennett, of Residents Action on Fylde Fracking, said: “Our concern is that it is unclear whether the Health and Safety Executive have visited the Preese Hall site to verify that well integrity problems have been resolved, and they are relying on self-regulation by the operator.”

But a Cuadrilla spokesman said: “Cuadrilla is pleased that Lancashire County Council has approved the application for a time extension to complete the final stages of plugging the Preese Hall well and after that restoring the exploration well site, near Weeton to its former greenfield status.

“The well integrity at Preese Hall is secure and always has been since the well was drilled and hydraulically fractured in 2011. The Health & Safety executive is fully appraised of all the operations at Preese Hall and has inspected the site. Cuadrilla is also pleased that the Council has approved the proposed testing work programme at Becconsall which will be followed by plugging the well and restoring the site. We made clear earlier this year that we had no plans to carry out fracturing activities at Becconsall.”

Cuadrilla is bidding to carry out exploratory drilling at two Fylde coast sites – at Little Plumpton and Roseacre.

Planning applications for those proposals will be considered by Lancashire County Council in November. Work at the Preese Hall site first started in November 2009. A borehole was drilled between August and December 2010.

Testing involvingfracking then started on March 26, 2011 but was suspended following two earth tremors in April and May 2011.

In December 2012, the Government announced exploratory fracking could resume, but Cuadrilla decided instead to restore the Preese Hall site.

The timeline for restoration was extended to the end of December 2013 but the works were not completed and a further application was granted in February 2014 to allow the site to be restored by the end of July 2014.

This latest application is a further extension.