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).