Cuadrilla to permanently plug and abandon wells in Lancashire

Barry White

The UK’s only two shale gas wells are to be abandoned after the industry regulator ordered them to be sealed. The Lancashire wells have not been used since 2019 after test drilling was suspended following earth tremors in the autumn and the government halted such extractions in England. It is understood that last summer the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) ordered that they be closed down giving them until June this year to complete the work. They will now be plugged with concrete.

After an earthquake with a magnitude of 2.9 was recorded near to the site in August 2019, the OGA concluded that it was not possible to predict the size of tremors caused by the practice.

The site’s owners, energy firm Cuadrilla, said the decision was “ridiculous” at  a time when the UK is spending billions of pounds annually importing gas from all corners of the globe, and gas prices for hard-pressed UK households are rocketing.

The process has been controversial and test drilling has been hit by many delays and strong well organised local public protests. The decision to close down the wells is a victory for the anti-shale campaigners.

Commenting on the decision Greenpeace UK’s head of climate, Kate Blagojevic said: “Even shale advocates were forced to concede that fracking wasn’t going to lower energy bills, and that remains true for both shale gas and new gas from the North Sea. It will take many years to develop and if it gets produced at all, it will be sold to the highest bidder on the international market, barely making a dent on global gas prices. The solution to the energy crisis isn’t more gas, but better, greener homes,”

Just days after this news broke, the former Brexit minister Lord David Frost joined Conservative MPs in writing an open letter to Prime Minister Johnson calling for fracking to be resumed in the UK, arguing that extracting domestic shale gas would give the UK a “competitive and reliable source of energy”.

The letter, reported in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph was organised by the Conservative Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG) which argues against many green levies and targets, saying the government should prioritise lower energy costs and more secure supplies. The Sunday Telegraph said 29 MPs had signed the letter, but only five were named – Craig Mackinlay, Steve Baker, John Whittingdale, Bob Blackman and Julian Knight. The organisers of the letter declined to reveal any more names.

Their views were not supported by the environmentalist Zac Goldsmith who said that fracking was deeply unpopular with the public, and that since any shale gas extracted would be sold at international market prices it would have no impact on UK bills. Goldsmith, a Foreign Office minister and peer, said that to even replace half the gas the UK imports would require 6,000 fracking wells “with all the associated industrial equipment and endless movements of trucks ferrying toxic chemicals and wastewater to and from sites. It’s hard to imagine communities across the UK being OK with that.”


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