Exactly one year ago, a small earthquake brought Cuadrilla operations to yet another temporary halt in the UK, in compliance with then-enacted protocols that had just permitted the company’s Preston New Road fracking site to reopen. It was the latest quake following another round of political and legal battles over the facility.
The shaking continued, and by August the operations were stopped again. On Saturday, the company – by all appearances – lost that fracking battle as the British government announced it would not permit the controversial practice for extracting shale gas and oil to continue and issued a moratorium.
The decision comes with the release of a report from the UK’s Oil and Gas Authority (OGA), which was tasked with research into hydraulic fracking and the linkage to local seismic activity. Neighbors and community activists in the affected Lancashire region have opposed that quaking, or the potential for it, in some cases since 2011.
The new report results, the UK government said, meant it would “not be able to say with confidence that further hydraulic fracturing would meet the government’s policy aims of ensuring it is safe, sustainable and of minimal disturbance to those living and working nearby.”
Cuadrilla, however, said as recently as Wednesday that the flow tests from a new well drilled deep through shale beneath “its flagship” Preston Road site – tests that just restarted last month – were “very encouraging” and showed quality methane-rich gas.
“Further testing and analysis will be required to validate sustained gas flow rates and this work is ongoing,” said Cuadrilla CEO Francis Egan. “There can be no doubt, however, that the UK is sitting on a huge natural gas resource of the highest quality.”
UK Business and Energy Secretary Andrea Leadsom appeared to agree in part, and along with other UK officials reaffirmed that the nation still recognizes the potential for shale gas as a bridge fuel, itself a controversial strategy for achieving a clean-energy future when renewable and nuclear options are available.
“In the UK, we have been led by the best available scientific evidence, and closely regulated by the Oil and Gas Authority, one of the best regulators in the world,” she added. “After reviewing the OGA’s report into recent seismic activity at Preston New Road, it is clear that we cannot rule out future unacceptable impacts on the local community.
“For this reason, I have concluded that we should put a moratorium on fracking in England with immediate effect,” Leadsom announced.
While that’s a step in the right direction, local activists say they’re convinced it is not enough.
“We cautiously welcome this news of a moratorium, but a total ban would have been even more welcome,” said the Preston New Road Action Group, which has fought the fracking for years. “We will only feel able to celebrate once Cuadrilla starts work on decommissioning and the site is restored.
“We have said all along that we have been Guinea Pigs for this process, and the experiment has failed just as it did in 2011 when the last moratorium was put in place, hopefully this time it will not be lifted.”