Deadline to abandon fracking wells ‘could be extended by a year’

Regulator has written to UK’s only fracking firm to say it would consider 12-month reprieve

Harry Cockburn
Environment Correspondent
Wednesday 16 March 2022 13:00 GMT
Cuadrilla has been told to seal up its wells by the end of June
Cuadrilla has been told to seal up its wells by the end of June (PA)

Britain’s only fracking company, Cuadrilla, could be given a year-long extension on its current deadline to seal up and abandon its fracking wells.

The regulator, the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) has written to Cuadrilla asking if the firm wants an extension on the existing 30 June deadline to concrete the wells.

The government issued a moratorium on fracking, effectively banning the process in November 2019, amid huge public opposition to the practice and following earthquakes caused by the hydraulic fracturing used to extract the shale gas.

But the OGA wrote to Cuadrilla after meeting with ministers on Tuesday to ask the company to confirm if it wanted an extension.

A spokesperson for the OGA told The Independent: “The OGA has informed Cuadrilla that it would consider a request to extend the Plug and Abandon notice on the Preston New Road wells, and the parties are now considering the objectives of a one year extension and the arrangements for eventual abandonment.”

However, Cuadrilla is reportedly reluctant to go ahead without the moratorium being overturned by the government.

The move comes as the government has expressed increasing desire to exploit the UK’s fossil fuel potential as the war in Ukraine drives European countries away from dependence on Russian oil and gas.

Meanwhile the wholesale price of gas has quadrupled, leading to soaring energy bills and a cost of living crisis.

However, experts have said better insulation and increased roll-out of heatpumps is the fastest way to stop importing Russian gas to Britain, which accounts for up to 4 per cent of all gas usage.

The possible return of fracking in England is an unwelcome prospect to those concerned about the worsening climate crisis, while experts have said the contribution of UK shale gas to the European gas market will be so minimal, it cannot have an impact on the price of gas to customers.

In a statement on Monday, Cuadrilla chief executive Francis Egan called directly on the government’s department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to reverse the moratorium.

He said: ​​“If the words from Downing Street and the House of Commons are to have any practical meaning I urgently request the Business Department and the OGA to formally withdraw their instruction to plug the wells."

A government spokesperson told The Independent: “In light of Russia’s unjustified invasion of Ukraine and rising global gas prices, it’s right we move away from dependence on Russian gas and increase our self-reliance in our energy security.

“We are considering all our options. We will set out an energy supply strategy which will supercharge our renewable energy and nuclear capacity as well as supporting our North Sea oil and gas industry.”

Friends of the Earth campaigner Tony Bosworth told The Independent: “Fracking is deeply unpopular and would do little to nothing for energy prices or energy security. Allowing Cuadrilla to postpone plugging their Lancashire wells won’t change this.

“The best way to boost our energy independence is to develop the UK’s vast renewable resources, and roll-out a comprehensive nationwide home energy efficiency programme to cut people’s fuel bills.”

The Independent has contacted Cuadrilla and the government for comment.

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