Fracking to begin in Lancashire

After years of direct action and challenges in court, anti-fracking activists in Lancashire will continue to protest at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site after an injunction request was rejected, meaning there is now no legal obstacle against fracking in the region.

Well head on a UK fracking site
Well head on a UK fracking site

Joshua Doubek / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Kate Dickinson

Fracking is to begin today (15 October) in Lancashire after a legal bid to stop the process failed last week.

Local resident Bob Dennett applied for an interim injunction against Lancashire County Council on the grounds that its emergency planning for an incident at the fracking site was inadequate. The injunction would have prohibited Cuadrilla, the gas company behind the site at Preston New Road, from beginning fracking until further court action had taken place, but on 12 October Dennett’s request was denied by a High Court judge.

Cuadrilla intended to start fracking (the process of injecting water at high pressure into subterranean shale rock to force open oil and gas reserves) at the site on Saturday but this was postponed to Monday due to adverse weather conditions.

Lancashire has been at the frontline of the battle between fracking developers and anti-fracking activism in the UK. In 2015, local councillors voted to oppose fracking in the county, a decision that was controversially overruled by the UK government in the following year. Since then, protesters have maintained a presence at Preston New Road, Cuadrilla’s main site in Lancashire, for which the company was granted a permit to begin fracking in July this year.

Activists have taken various approaches to stop fracking in Lancashire since it was linked to earth tremors in 2011, taking non-violent direct action as well as going through the courts. With the injunction rejected, protesters from campaign group Reclaim the Power have blocked entry to the site to try to prevent work from going ahead, leading police to close the road.

Recently, three anti-fracking protesters received prison sentences of between 15 and 16 months for climbing on top of trucks attempting to enter the Preston New Road site, a judgement that has been decried as unnecessarily harsh.

Speaking on the Today Programme on BBC Radio Four this morning, Green MP Caroline Lucas insisted that protest would continue in Lancashire and across the UK, despite court rulings.

“It’s really interesting how the government’s obsession ‘will of the people’ soon evaporates when it comes into contact with fracking,” she said. “We know that the vast majority of people in this country don’t want fracking, we know that the government is trampling over local democracy; Lancashire County Council turned the application down, local people don’t want it...

“This is a whole new fossil fuel industry at exactly a time when scientists are telling us that we need to leave around 80 per cent of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground if we are to have any chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change.”

Pouring money into new fossil fuel industries, she stated, would “lock in new infrastructure and supply chains and divert investment away from those areas where it is needed.”

Lucas also drew attention to the letter written this week by world-leading climate scientist James Hansen, which warned that allowing fracking in the UK was a serious policy error that ignored science and would contribute to climate breakdown.

Cuadrilla boss responds to anti-fracking protesters

Francis Egan, Cuadrilla’s Chief Executive, who spoke on the Today Programme after Lucas, accused activists of making “the perfect the enemy of the good”. He said: “Of course we want to use less fossil fuels tomorrow, [but] irrespective of how well renewables are doing in the electricity sector, we are going to need natural gas… Natural gas is the lowest CO2 fossil fuel and surely developing it in this country is better than importing it from the Middle East or across the Atlantic.”

This is in contrast to Lucas’ earlier statement that imports are the best short-term option for the UK. She pointed out that “UK gas demand is falling from its 2004 peak” and added: “For the period of time where we still need gas it is much easier to continue those imports and then turn the tap off when our own renewable energy and energy efficiency is up to capacity”.

Egan was keen to stress that Cuadrilla is complying with strict Environment Agency (EA) regulations, saying: “This is the most monitoried piece of earth in an oil and gas site, or frankly any other site… We have had 16 visits from the EA in over 12 months and they have found no major issues with it.”

Regarding the evidence of tremors in Lancashire that have been linked to fracking, Egan stated that Cuadrilla is “required to stop injecting high-pressure water if seismic levels reach 0.5 on the Richter scale”, something he described as “way, way below anything anyone could feel, let alone do damage or harm”, and branded claims that local people feel they are being treated like guinea pigs as “ridiculous”.

However, Energy Minister Claire Perry has recently hinted that these regulations could be relaxed in the future, something Egan indicated he would be in favour of, saying: “We would like it [the Richter scale limit] to be at a level that demonstrates safety, that may well be higher.”

Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green Party, joined campaigners in Lancashire on Friday and described the court’s ruling as “bitterly disappointing”.

He said: “A new fossil fuel frontier has been opened in Britain. In the same week the UN warned we have little more than a decade to tackle climate change, this ruling has paved the way for the first fracking in seven years.

“We are deeply disappointed by this ruling, but the anti-fracking movement is stronger than ever and we will not give up this fight until Britain is frack free. It’s time the government ditched its reckless dash for gas and invested instead in a renewable revolution of solar, wind and tidal power.”