In February 2014 Cuadrilla Resources (aka Cuadrilla Bowland Limited), a UK energy comapny, announced plans to apply for planning permission to carry out horizontal high pressure hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of four wells at each of two sites in Lancashire. One site is at Little Plumptons, also referred to as the Preston New Road Site. The site is situated a few miles from Blackpool. These applications are part of a larger plan to drill up to 100 wellpads in the licence area (PEDL 165) covering 1180sq km, with up to forty horizontal wells per pad. Each horizontal well could travel over two kilometres underground. This means practically every square metre of the rural Fylde would be fracked under. Drilling companies believe trillions of cubic feet of shale gas may be recoverable from beneath parts of the UK and more than 200 onshore exploration licences have been awarded to energy companies. In 2011, all fracking was suspended in the UK after it caused earthquakes near Blackpool. The ban was lifted in 2012. In August 2014 a group calling themselves the Nanas staged a three-week anti-fracking occupation on one of the fields in the planning area, with the support of a group called Reclaim the Power. Cuadrilla, which had rented the field from a farmer, argued that the occupation caused disruption and distress to the farmer’s family and his business, and applied for an injunction to prevent further protests in the area. The company was granted the injunction to prevent activists from entering land throughout the Fylde peninsula in Lancashire in October 2014. A member of the Nanas, Tina Louise Rothery, was the only named defendant in the case and Cuadrilla’s legal costs were awarded against her. She refused to pay the £55,000 legal fees to the oil and gas company and in December 2016 a judge discharged the order against her and she was spared jail. Preston New Road Action Group (PNRAG) obtained a reversal of Lancashire County Council’s recommendation to grant Cuadrilla’s applications on 29 June 2015. Cuadrilla’s fracking application and second application to create 90 seismic activity monitoring stations were refused by the Development Control Committee. More than 50,000 people signed a petition calling for a rejection of the fracking applications. The share price of iGas, the UK’s biggest shale company, dropped sharply after the council’s announcement.
The council’s refusal of the licences came after PNRAG employed experts to give evidence at the hearings to explain technical aspects of fracking, and instructed a barrister to advise the Committee members of his assessment of their legal position, which contradicted the Council’s own legal advice. Friends of the Earth provided their own QC’s similar assessment of the legal position. The Committee refused the applications on noise, traffic and landscape grounds.
Cuadrilla appealed the council’s decision. A public inquiry ensued and the appeal was upheld by the Government on 6 October 2016. The Government’s decision to allow fracking in Lancashire is only the second licence to permit fracking (as opposed to purely exploratory work) in the UK, and the first to involve horizontal drilling. The first was in relation to a site in Ryedale, North Yorkshire in May 2016. PNRAG’s lawyers Leigh Day claim the Government’s decision to allow fracking in Lancashire appears to be in breach of Lancashire County Council’s development plan, which restricts developments like the one proposed, as well as in breach of the correct planning law tests. The BBC has stated that ‘the government wants a shale gas industry and on a big scale’. PNRAG submitted legal proceedings at the High Court against the Government’s decision. No date for any hearings had been confirmed as of February 2017.
Cuadrilla began surface construction work at the site in January 2017 . A company spokesperson said drilling was due to start in quarter two of the year 2017 (April-June) and, depending on how long that took, fracking could begin in quarter three (July-September).
UPDATE. By 2019 it was reported (James Cartwright, The Observer, 13 October 2019) that the “Nanas”, though not all are grandmas, had in 2014 captured a field under planning application by Cuadrilla, a UK fossil fuels company, hopping over the fence, set up tents and claimed squatters’ rights, staying for three weeks. “By the time they left, the Nanas had earned the support of 14,000 local residents and appointments at Manchester’s High Court, and their action, along with that of other campaigners, led to Lancashire County Council rejecting Cuadrilla’s fracking application, a decision later overturned by the then secretary of state, Sajid Javid. In the years since, the Nanas mounted an often good-humoured war of attrition against Cuadrilla, whose drilling has caused tremors in the area. At the Bell Mouth, the entrance to the Preston New Road site, they sang, danced, knit, pray, read poems and monologues, and obstruct fracking activity wherever possible. They had their own stage show and samba band. And every Wednesday, dressed in white, they staged a call for calm at a site where tensions between protesters and police often erupted into violence. In November 2018, Cuadrilla stopped drilling after multiple earth tremors, two of which breached the government’s traffic light system that requires fracking to be paused in the event of seismic activity that exceeds a magnitude of 0.5. Fracking resumed on 15 August 2019, but activity was suspended 11 days later, after the UK’s largest fracking-induced seismic event. (In September 2019) just a couple of days before the Nanas celebrated 1,000 days of activism at Preston New Road, Cuadrilla announced that it would engage in no further fracking activity on the site before its licence expires at the end of November.”
On 2nd November 2019, the UK government imposed a moratorium on fracking across England. This remains in place today (09/12/2021) and ministers have said it would not be lifted unless “compelling new scientific evidence is provided which address the concerns about the prediction and management of induced seismicity". The moratorium has halted Cuadrilla and several other companies' plans to frack for shale gas in the UK. However, critical observers have argued that the government's narrow definition of fracking, which is based on the volume of fluid injected down oil and gas wells and into underground rock formations (“more than 1,000 cubic metres of fluid at each stage or expected stage”, or “more than 10,000 cubic metres of fluid in total”) creates opportunities for companies to bypass the moratorium. As one anti-fracking campaigner put it: “This definition of ‘fracking’ potentially allows ‘flouting of the rules’ by operators simply by reducing the amount of fluid they are to use or resorting to using strong acid to free up locked in gas...The moratorium should be extended to include all extreme extraction techniques and seek to prevent evidence gathering to break the moratorium under the guise of exploration” (Source: Ruth Hayhurst, Drill or Drop, 29th January 2020)."
It is moving to read in 2021 that the “Anti-Fracking Lancashire Nanas will appear at Cop26 rally alongside Greta Thunberg. Anti-frackers who protested against Cuadrilla’s operations on the outskirts of Blackpool will speak at a climate campaign rally in Glasgow as the city hosts Cop26” (Michael Holmes, Lancashire Post, 28 Oct. 2021).