Abandonment order issued for Preston New Road fracking site, as campaigners declare: 'Good riddance'

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The company behind the controversial Preston New Road fracking site in Fylde has been told that it must plug its two wells there by the end of next year.

The North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) has issued the order to energy firm Cuadrilla, more than a year after it suspended a previous instruction to abandon the location, in the wake of uncertainty over energy supplies following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Separately, the company was last month granted an extension to the deadline by which it has to restore the site to its original state, after Lancashire County Council's development control committee agreed to a request to push that cut-off point back from this summer until March 2025.

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Although no fracking had taken place at the site since a nationwide moratorium was introduced in 2019 - as result of tremors in the vicinity of the Fylde plot, at Little Plumpton - anti-fracking campaigners accused Cuadrilla of attempting to string out the life of the development in the the hope that there would be a change in government policy before its boreholes had to be filled.

Protestors hope that the fracking experiment at Preston New Road is finally overProtestors hope that the fracking experiment at Preston New Road is finally over
Protestors hope that the fracking experiment at Preston New Road is finally over

However, those who have long tried to drive the industry out of Lancashire, say they hope the plugging order is the final nail in fracking’s coffin in the county.

Miranda Cox, from Frack Free Lancashire, described the news as “long overdue”.

“Obviously, we will fully believe it when the last piece of equipment and every last grain of silica sand has been removed - but we think this really means there are no more excuses.

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“Cuadrilla has been the bane of our lives for over a decade. The stress and ramifications of their failed fracking attempts will never be forgotten nor forgiven.”

The company had carried out drilling operations at Preese Hall in Fylde, which were linked to two minor tremors near Blackpool back in 2011.

Six years later, the arrival of Cuadrilla’s drills at Little Plumpton - after the government overturned the county council’s refusal of permission for hydraulic fracturing, as it is officially known, to be carried out on the site - sparked a semi-permanent roadside resistance movement.

Amongst the regular roster of kerbside campaigners was Lancashire County Council’s Green Party group leader Gina Dowding, who was one of a dozen people convicted of obstruction for her part in a protest in 2017.

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Responding to the abandonment notice handed to the firm this week, she told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): "Finally, the fantasy and tragedy of the pursuit of fracking in Lancashire is in its last stages.

“This is good news - but we must now ensure that it is the industry itself and Cuadrilla in particular that pays for the decommissioning and the clear-up of the mess it created. The long term clear-up costs must not be transferred to the taxpayer,” County Cllr Dowding warned.

The company does not have permission to carry out any further drilling at the site before plugging the wells and restoring the land.

A spokesperson for NSTA said that it had served “a Plug and Abandonment notice on the two Preston New Road wells operated by Cuadrilla” on 9th August.

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“The company now has until 30th December, 2024 to complete the work,” the regulator added.

Under the original planning approval, Cuadrilla was required to complete decommissioning and restoration activity within a period of 75 months of the start of its test drilling operations. That should have seen all evidence of the area’s flirtation with fracking removed – and the site returned to its former use as an agricultural field – by last month.

However, Lancashire County Council granted a 20-month extension back in June after hearing that the decommissioning process was lengthy - not least because of the eight months it is expected to take for the necessary safety checks to be carried out in order for the firm to be able to surrender its permit to the Environment Agency.

The suspension of the previous plugging order for the Fylde fracking site - followed by short-lived Prime Minister Liz Truss’ dalliance with new drilling permissions during her brief tenure in Downing Street last year - appeared to open the door to the slim possibility of further activity beneath the Preston New Road field.

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However, when Rishi Sunak became PM in October 2022, he reimposed the moratorium that had been placed on fracking as result of a quake in Fylde, measuring 2.9 on the Richter scale, in 2019.

Frack Free Lancashire’ s Claire Stephenson described Cuadrilla’s operations as “an abject failure, from start to finish,” and one which had cast “a shadow over our community and lives”.

She added: “From the bluster around gas estimations, earthquakes that caused structural property damage - which Cuadrilla had to pay compensation [over] - all the way to the ‘gold-standard’ fallacy on the toothless regulators’ inability to monitor a catalogue of failures, we have remained outraged at the travesty that has been forced upon us.

“From Lancashire to Cuadrilla - goodbye and good riddance.”

Cuadrilla did not respond to a request from the LDRS for comment.