Fracking on hold as pressure grows for permanent halt following tremors

Labour's Rebecca Long-Bailey at Preston New Road earlier this year
Labour's Rebecca Long-Bailey at Preston New Road earlier this year

Operations at Cuadrilla's flagship fracking site are on hold as pressure mounts to call a halt to fracking following a series of earth tremors.

A group of campaigners from across the county gathered outside Cuadrilla’s Bamber Bridge headquarters on Tuesday, where they handed in a letter asking for hydraulic fracturing to permanently end at Preston New Road.

The Preston New Road fracking site

The Preston New Road fracking site

The site has been at the centre of more than 100 tremors, many small, but two over the bank holiday weekend of 2.9 and 2.1 ML which were widely felt across the area.

The latest was at 9.18pm on Monday with a strength of 1ML.

People living near the drill site and as far away as Bispham in Blackpool complained of tremors affecting their homes.

Ian Cooper of Laurel Avenue Marton said: “I have lived for 40 years in Blackpool and the only time we have had earthquakes is from fracking in 201 and now this weekend.

Protesters at Cuadrilla's HQ in Bamber Bridge, to deliver a letter calling for an end to fracking

Protesters at Cuadrilla's HQ in Bamber Bridge, to deliver a letter calling for an end to fracking

“I was in bed at the time of the big one on Monday morning.

“My whole bed shook and it is quite a heavy bed. At the time I did not know what it was and it was only when I read the reports afterwards that I knew.

“I think it is disgusting and fracking should be stopped.

“The councils said no to fracking and the people in Lancashire said no, but the Government pushed it through. They should stop it now.”

Now senior Labour Party MPs have written to Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom, calling on the government to “immediately ban fracking”

The letter, signed by Labour’s Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long Bailey MP and Shadow Minister for Climate Justice and Green Jobs Danielle Rowley MP, notes that fracking is inconsistent with achieving net zero emissions, increases air pollution, and presents contamination risks from spills and mismanagement of wastewater.

It highlights the “fear, disruption and potential damage to property caused by fracking” and points out that “fracking is not needed for energy security”.

Blackpool South Labour MP Gordon Marsden said he had been flooded with complaints and was also writing to the Environment minister and the Oil and Gas Authority which regulates the sector.

In his letter he says: “We must not just have a temporary pause but a permanent one as well as a proper investigation into the details of the tremors that have occurred this weekend.”

And the constituency Labour Parties for both Blackpool South and Blackpool North and Cleveleys has issued a joint statement to call for an end to fracking.

It said: “Due to the severity and level of concern amongst local residents we are taking the rare step of issuing this joint statement across Fylde, Blackpool South and Blackpool North & Cleveleys Constituency Labour Parties.

“The seismic events were felt as far apart as Bispham and Freckleton, and follow on from tremors felt over the past few days not only around the PNR site itself but throughout our community on the Fylde Coast.

“That these tremors are happening at all is concerning in itself, but the steady rise in number and strength should alarm everyone.

“These events are not unprecedented, but instead are felt around the world where ever fracking takes place, and were predicted to happen here.

“What we have felt over the last few days has also come from Cuadrilla putting one well into operation.

“We can only imagine the damage and distress that we will feel across the Fylde should fracking operations be expanded to fields of wells throughout our countryside.

“As local CLPs we condemn fracking taking place in our community, for our children’s sake and for the sake of our environment, our tourist trade and the negative effect it will have on our daily lives.

“This is also now above and beyond party politics, it’s about local people’s health and safety.”

Anti-fracking campaigners said that the current temporary halt was not enough and hydraulic fracturing should be banned.

A spokesman from the protesters at Bamber Bridge said: “Public confidence in fracking is at an all-time low. Residents have absolutely had enough of the spin, lies and ridiculous comparisons of earthquakes to fruit and household items.

“The Oil and Gas Authority have suspended operations at Preston New Road and now we are demanding that a permanent ban be implemented against fracking with immediate effect.

“Our lives and well-being should be prioritised over a private company’s financial gain.”

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy would not say if it was considering any moratorium on fracking as there had been after the 2011 tremors of 2.3 and 1.4, but said the OGA was investigating.

A spokesman from the OGA confirmed there was a temporary pause on fracking at the Preston New Road site.

He said: “Operations at the site will remain suspended for as long as it takes for our scientists to examine the data from what happened over the weekend – there’s no fixed timeframe.”

A spokesperson for the Environment Agency said: “The Environment Agency is committed to ensuring that shale gas operations meet the highest environmental standards.

“As part of these requirements Cuadrilla notified us immediately of a number of seismic events over the weekend.

“Our officers are monitoring the situation and we are satisfied that Cuadrilla is following the procedures set out in the agreed hydraulic fracture plan.

“There is no evidence at present to suggest that these seismic events have resulted in any environmental harm.”

Cuadrilla admitted that the latest tremor, measuring 1ML occurred from its drill site.

A spokesman for Cuadrilla confirmed a micro-seismic event was detected at the shale exploration site in Preston New Road, near Blackpool, just before 10.20pm.

The event measured 1.0ML on the Richter scale and had very limited ground motion associated with it.

She said: “Cuadrilla was not hydraulically fracturing at the time and hydraulic fracturing has not been carried out over the weekend.

“This event lasted for a couple of seconds and the average ground motion was 0.1mm per second.

“Being of a low magnitude and with very low ground motion it is unlikely to have been widely felt. Operations at Preston New Road remain suspended.

“The well integrity has been verified and remains unaffected.”

A Health and Safety Executive spokesman said today: “We have reviewed the latest data in light of recent seismic events and are satisfied that there are currently no well integrity issues at either PNR-1z or PNR-2.

“We continue to monitor alongside the Environment Agency and the Oil & Gas Authority.”