- Video report by ITV News Science Editor Tom Clarke
Fracking at the UK’s first horizontal shale gas well is expected to start next week - despite a judge granting an interim order to stop the work.
Francis Egan, chief executive of energy firm Cuadrilla, said he was confident the controversial hydraulic fracturing process would begin at the site in Lancashire within a week, despite continued protests.
A High Court hearing will be held on Wednesday after Lancashire campaigner Bob Dennett applied for an injunction to stop the work going ahead pending the determination of a judicial review case against Lancashire County Council. The judicial review claims the authority’s emergency response planning and procedures were inadequate.
A court order issued by Mrs Justice Farbey requires Cuadrilla to stop any fracking pending the outcome of the hearing.
Speaking at a media day on the Preston New Road site in Little Plumpton, near Blackpool, Mr Egan said: “We have everything on site, everything has been set up, everything has been tested and we should be ready to start fracturing next week.”
Cuadrilla said work had not been scheduled to start before the hearing on Wednesday.
Speaking after the request for the injunction was made, Mr Egan said: “I think it’s probably a last gasp attempt at trying to frustrate the process, trying to slow down the process, but no, this is going to go ahead. I’m confident about that.”
On Friday, a small group of protesters with placards remained outside the site, which has two of the horizontal shale gas exploration wells.
The firm will initially test gas to see whether it is viable, but if the operation is a success up to 20 wells could be built and the site could provide gas to homes across Lancashire.
Laura Hughes, commercial and projects director for Cuadrilla, said: “The fracturing process allows very, very small fractures, cracks, in the rock to grow, to allow the gas molecules then, when we are ready, to flow out to the surface.
“That is going to enable us to harness this gas resource that we have got underground for domestic gas production.”
She said gas production on the land would be expected to last for 20 to 30 years and the site would then return to farmland.
Mr Egan claimed the plant was the most environmentally monitored of any oil and gas site in the world.
He said as well as monitoring air quality, water quality, noise and traffic movement, seismic activity would also be monitored and work would be suspended if it reached a certain level.
He said: “I think people can and should be reassured that there is a huge degree of scrutiny and technical sophistication on this site.”
But campaigners continue to oppose the work.
Last week, three protesters were jailed for causing “significant” disruption when they clambered on to lorries during a four-day protest outside the site.
Laurie Underwood, from campaign group Reclaim the Power, said: "We remain undeterred by attempts to silence dissent.
“The Government have underestimated the breadth and depth of public opposition to fracking.”
Director of campaigns for Friends of the Earth Liz Hutchins said: “Fracking has already been stopped in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland because of the risks and England is looking increasingly isolated in pursuing this failing and unpopular industry.
“We will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with local residents until it is stopped here too.”
Mr Egan said the work would provide investment and jobs for the area.
He said: "There are people who still need to be reassured, we don’t take that lightly, and we will continue to try and make sure that they are reassured and that they have access to all the data and that they know what’s being done here is being done safely and in a sensible way.”