Cuadrilla Resources, the fracking company which counts the former BP chief executive Lord Browne as a director, has been granted a licence to drill for shale gas on a new site in West Sussex.
In a press release slipped out quietly last week, Cuadrilla revealed it had received planning permission and regulatory approval to drill for hydrocarbons in Balcombe, near Haywards Heath.
Cuadrilla stressed that "there are no plans, or regulatory approval, for hydraulic fracturing to take place at this stage", adding that "exploratory drilling activity may take place at a future date, consistent with the terms of the licence".
Although Cuadrilla said it had no plans to use hydraulic fracturing on the site, it is understood that no other technique could be used to remove the hydrocarbons from the shale rocks if the company did decide to extract its reserves.
Furthermore, it did not rule out using the technique in future.
Locals were concerned to hear about Cuadrilla's licence after watching the US documentary, Gaslands, which purported to show residents close to fracking locations across the US lighting methane-heavy tap water.
Brian Hall, an independent councillor on West Sussex county and Haywards Heath town councils, said: "My biggest concern is about water contamination. I am especially concerned because I understand that the shale in this area is much shallower than in many other areas, meaning it is closer to water aquifers than it might otherwise be."
"The area is also densely populated, so hundreds of thousands of people could potentially be affected," Mr Hall added.
If Cuadrilla does take up its option to conduct initial drilling this would be done using traditional methods, rather than with the controversial hydraulic fracturing technique. The company would need government approval to frack on the site.
"In line with Cuadrilla's record of openness and transparency, any activity would be preceded by local engagement, briefing and explanation," the company said.
A spokesman for Cuadrilla said yesterday that the group would "never allow a situation that comprised health and safety to occur in the UK".
Cuadrilla resources: A Pioneer in the UK
Cuadrilla Resources, the fracking company that was linked to 50 earthquakes in the Blackpool area last month, is run by Mark Miller, its American chief executive, who is a veteran of the so-called unconventional gas industry.
Before joining Cuadrilla, he was president of Eastern Reservoir Service, a well-testing company based in the US. Cuadrilla, which was set up in 2007, specialises in fracking and is the first and so far only company to employ the technique in the UK. In addition to sites near Blackpool and in West Sussex, it has licences at Grange Hill, also near Blackpool, and at Hesketh Bank, near Preston. It has completed exploratory drilling at these latter two sites, but has not yet done any fracking there.
The privately run company is backed by Riverstone investment firm, where Lord Browne is a partner, and by AJ Lucas, an Australian engineering firm.
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