Shale gas exploration company Cuadrilla has moved quickly to start ground preparation work on a Fylde site earmarked for fracking.
Temporary traffic lights and a 30mph speed limit are in place as workers create an access road from the A583, Preston New Road to the farmer’s field at Little Plumpton where drilling and test fracking for gas will take place later in the year.
It came the morning after Lancashire County Council agreed planning conditions and management plans for the work on the site and residents who oppose fracking say they were shocked by the speed of the action.
Men wearing high visibility vests and hard hats began to create an opening in the hedgerow along from Plumpton Hall Farm to the start of initial surface construction works of the shale gas drilling pad which will be about the size of a rugby pitch.
The move has been condemned by local campaigners who oppose the fracking because they say it will cause noise, visual impact and traffic problems along with potential environmental damage.
Planning consent was granted in October by the Government following a six week public planning inquiry last spring and there are two legal challenges submitted locally to oppose the decision, however no dates for any hearing have yet been set and the company is entitled to begin work in the meantime.
The original planning application was turned down by Lancashire County Council in June 2014 along with a sister application to drill at Roseacre Wood.
But Cuadrilla appealed, triggering the inquiry, which was then ruled on by Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, who granted permission for the Little Plumpton drilling but not Roseacre Wood unless a suitable traffic management scheme can be agreed.
It said the work will take approximately three months to build and prepare before drilling can commence. These early works will include a new site entrance, access road and well pad.
Francis Egan, CEO of Cuadrilla said: “The start of work on our new shale gas exploration site is an important milestone for Lancashire, bringing new economic growth and jobs for the County.
“The work will be undertaken to the highest safety and environmental standards.
“The operations are also underpinned by comprehensive site monitoring programmes undertaken separately by ourselves, regulators and independent academics. Twelve months from now we hope this work will prove the economic viability of this indigenous shale gas resource in Lancashire which will help improve energy security for the nation.”
But protesters said Cuadrilla had acted in haste.
Claire Stephenson, from the Preston New Road Action Group which opposes the fracking, said: “It is incredibly disappointing to learn via an outside channel, that Cuadrilla intend to begin works at the Preston New Road.
“It’s also quite poor judgement on their behalf, due to there still being an outstanding legal challenge by ourselves on the ‘fundamentally flawed’ planning decision made by the Secretary of State, Sajid Javid.
“If this is Cuadrilla’s delivery of their ‘community engagement’ standards, they have failed in the first instance.
“Local residents were not even informed of their plans. It’s discourteous and reaffirms the continued lack of social license that this company has in Lancashire and beyond.”