07Oct / 2016
Nearly 18 months have passed since the initial applications were submitted, but the government has now given the go ahead to exploring the potential of the UK shale gas industry.
After months of deliberation, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, has allowed hydraulic fracturing to take place in Lancashire, signalling the start of UK shale gas exploration. This announcement comes just a week after the first shipment of US shale gas arrived in the UK for use in chemicals manufacturing at Ineos’s Grangemouth refinery.
This milestone decision affects Cuadrilla’s proposed Preston New Road site at Little Plumpton. Granting similar permission to the company’s second site at Rosecare Wood was postponed pending concerns over its impact on local traffic.
Cuadrilla will proceed to test frack the approved site in 2017. Francis Egan, Cuadrilla’s Chief Executive, welcomed the decision that would ‘create new economic growth opportunities and jobs for people in Lancashire and the UK.’
What has led to this decision being made?
In May 2014 Cuadrilla submitted planning applications to Lancashire County Council (LCC) for two proposed petroleum exploration sites at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood. Both applications were accompanied by detailed Environmental Impact Assessments and Environmental Statements demonstrating Cuadrilla’s commitment to safe shale exploration and best practice. With the target formation being Bowland Shale, the proposed work included drilling, hydraulically fracturing and flow testing gas from up to four wells at each site.
In June 2015 LCC’s Minerals Planning Authority refused permission for the applications despite a planning officer’s recommendation to approve the Preston New Road application. Cuadrilla then appealed the decision in July, after which the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government consulted with the Planning Inspector for recommendations in order to make a decision.
What does this decision mean for UK energy?
The importance of these developments needs to be taken in context with the latest energy flow figures.
The UK’s gas consumption is an increasing proportion of the energy we use for industry, domestic heating and cooking and electricity generation. In 2015 the country imported 52% of its natural gas requirement.
In an uncertain world, there is an increasing need for energy security. It would therefore be irresponsible for the UK not to explore the scale of its own natural resources. The potential for natural gas to displace coal from our energy mix is real, as is its potential to provide a bridge to cleaner lower carbon energy and renewable alternatives.
The Bowland shale has been estimated to contain a resource of 1,329 trillion cubic feet(tcf). If the UK were to exploit its own resources then not only would there be environmental benefits from reduced transportation losses, but the British economy would also benefit from the improved Balance of Payments, local employment and better energy security.
GGS were the first company to carry out baseline monitoring on UK Shale Gas sites over five years ago. This experience led us to become the principal author of key industry guidance such as the UKOOG Guidelines for the Establishment of Environmental Baselines for UK Onshore Oil and Gas (January 2015). These standards rely on independent bodies providing effective risk management, which when applied can provide the ideal approach to safe shale exploration.