Fracking in Lancashire – the facts so far

Fracking in Lancashire is set to take place next year after the government approved a planning application to extract shale gas and overturned an earlier decision that rejected the activity. Opposition groups immediately said they would challenge the decision.

BLACKPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 14:  Security cameras and guards protect a proposed drilling rig site at Westby near Blackpool as activists arrive at an anti-fracking camp at Preston New Road Site near Westby on August 14, 2014 in Blackpool, England. Up to 1000 activists are expected at the camp over the weekend to attend workshops, discussions, and to protest on farmland. The camp has been established adjacent to the site where fracturing company Quadrilla propose to explore for shale gas.  (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The Communities Secretary Sajid Javid upheld an appeal by the shale company Caudrilla for it to be allowed to frack at Preston New Road, Little Plumpton in Fylde West. Giving fracking at Fylde the go-ahead, Javid said that: ‘Shale gas has the potential to power economic growth, support 64,000 jobs, and provide a new domestic energy source, making us less reliant on imports.’ He added that local communities would benefit.

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With several other fracking applications under consideration across the UK, the decision is seen as a landmark ruling. Last year the government said it would intervene if it judged that local councils were not considering fracking applications swiftly enough.

Anna Baum, a spokeswoman for Friends of the Earth, said: ‘Not only is this decision undemocratic, it could open the floodgates for more fracking across the country if the government is willing to overturn decisions made by local councils.’

A spokesperson for Residents Action on Fylde Fracking said the green field site was ‘highly unsuitable’ for fracking. ‘This decision will give the green light for the shale gas industry to take off. For fracking to be economically viable, hundreds of pads and thousands of wells will need to be established.’

Supporters say fracking offers the UK a chance for greater energy security and that burning methane is less polluting than coal. The campaign group Frack Off says that the impacts of fracking on the UK countryside and people living there include risks from air and water pollution, millions of gallons of toxic waste and the thousands of vehicle movements required to transport machinery and materials.

The Fylde ruling follows a decision in May to allow fracking on the edge of the North York Moors national park. Planners at North Yorkshire County Council had recommended the application by Third Energy to extract shale gas at a site near Kirby Misperton in Ryedale, although just 36 of the 4,420 representations made to the council supported the move. Opponents had cited concerns over safety, the impact on tourism and the industrialisation of the countryside. In 2011, all fracking was suspended in the UK after it caused earthquakes near Blackpool. The ban was lifted in 2012.

Other areas identified with potential for fracking in the UK include the Jurassic rocks of the Weald Basin, which covers the North and South Downs; sites in Dumfries and Galloway and North Lanarkshire in Scotland; in County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland; and in south Wales.

Fracking – a short guide

  • Fracking is a method of extracting methane from shale deposits that are usually two to three kilometres underground. Shale gas reservoirs are wider than they are tall, so a well is first drilled vertically then the drill is steered until it is horizontal. To allow the gas to flow, fractures are created in the rock by detonating explosive charges. A combination of water, sand and chemical additives is then injected into the shale gas rocks at high pressure, forcing open the new fractures and allowing the gas to flow into the well and be collected at the surface.
  • The British Geological Survey (BGS) has put UK resources at 150 billion cubic metres (bcm) – about 1½ years of UK gas consumption or 10 years of current liquid natural gas imports. The BGS believes that much less is likely to be recoverable, though it is reviewing its estimates. According to the BGS: ‘It is possible that the shale gas resources in UK are very large. However, despite the size of the resource, the proportion that can be recovered is the critical factor.’
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Image: Getty