Residents fear government fracking U-turn which could mean Preston New Road wells reopen

Lancashire residents say they are living in fear of the government's potential U-turn on fracking meaning two previously closed wells could be opened up once more.

The controversial process of extracting fossil fuel was halted in 2019 after concerns it was causing earthquakes - and according to residents, damaging housing.

But questions have since been raised about whether to reinstate the practice, following the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, and Britain's reliance on Russian oil.

The government has now been accused of sending out mixed messages, apparently refusing to rule out fracking being included in a new energy strategy.

Energy firm Cuadrilla, which owns the two fracking wells at Preston New Road in Lancashire, were ordered by the Oil and Gas Authority to plug the wells by this summer.

It came three years after operations were forced to stop due to earth tremors associated with the site, and frequent protests by local residents.

The company now has until 30 June to carry out the work - but Chief Executive Francis Egan has urged the Government to withdraw the instruction, lift the moratorium on fracking and use the site to produce domestic shale gas.

Ministers have also raised the prospect of rethinking the suspension of fracking amid soaring gas prices and efforts to end reliance on Russia imports.

There were large protests at Preston New Road site before fracking was halted in 2019.

Cuadrilla says work would have to start "imminently" in the absence of other instructions, and has urged the government for clarity.

The Government says it can apply for an extension to the current deadline, which would be a "straightforward application".

Minister Greg Hands told the House of Commons: "The oil and gas independent authority has proactively approached Cuadrilla to ask if they will apply for an extension... they are ready to consider their potential application and the government hopes they would consider it favourably."

His comments came in a response to an urgent question in parliament on the Government's current stance on shale gas production in the UK.

But, the potential U-turn is deeply unpopular with many local residents.

Bob Dennett Co-founder of Frack Free Lancashire, says: "I'm aghast that once again this industry is trying to rear its ugly head and destroy our community, especially when there's no need for it.

"We don't need shale gas, we keep being told there's a gas crisis and that the Russian Ukraine situation has exacerbated that - well it can't possibly have exacerbated the gas situation in the UK because the UK purchases less than 1% of gas from Russia."

  • Those against reinstating fracking on the site at Preston New Road say there are many reasons against it

Caudrilla believe gas deposits in Lancashire could provide the UK's current gas demand for the next 50 years.

They say, so far - the Government has not stopped the winding down order from the Oil and Gas Authority.

Environmentalists say the country should not be falling back onto fossil fuels and its incompatible with the Government's net zero targets.

But there are some, like local resident Simon Hinks, who thinks fracking makes common sense.

"We're going to be needing this gas not only today, but for decades to come," he says.

"Why not source our indigenous supply from directly under our feet rather than importing in from all across the globe at huge environmental and financial expense."

A Government spokesperson said:

“In light of Russia’s unjustified invasion of Ukraine and rising global gas prices, it’s right we move away from Russian gas and increase our energy security.

 “We are considering all our options. We will set out an energy security strategy that will supercharge our renewable energy and nuclear capacity, as well as support our North Sea oil and gas industry.”

 Full details of the Government's energy security strategy were expected to be published in March 2022 but it looks like it may now be delayed.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy told Granada Reports that the Government has "always been clear that the development of shale gas must be safe and cause minimal disruption and damage to those living and working nearby.

"The pause on the development of shale gas, which was implemented on the basis of the difficulty in predicting and managing seismic activity caused by fracking, remains in place.