Cuadrilla instructed to stop drilling for UK shale gas

UK Oil & Gas Authority orders Cuadrilla to seal two shale gas wells as company claims it has spent "hundreds of millions" establishing their viability

The Oil & Gas Authority (OGA) has ordered Britain’s only two horizontal shale wells, operated by Cuadrilla, to be plugged and abandoned.

Cuadrilla’s parent company AJ Lucas announced that Cuadrilla will permanently seal the two shale gas wells drilled at the Preston New Road (PNR) Lancashire shale exploration site.

It means the 37.6trn cubic metres located in the northern Bowland Shale gas formation will continue to sit unused – and Cuadrilla claims just 10% of volume could meet UK gas needs for 50 years. 

Cuadrilla CEO Francis Egan said: “At a time when the UK is spending billions of pounds annually importing gas from all corners of the globe, and gas prices for hard-pressed UK households are rocketing, the UK Government has chosen this moment to ask us to plug and abandon the only two viable shale gas wells in Britain.

“Cuadrilla has spent hundreds of millions of pounds establishing the viability of the Bowland Shale as a high-quality gas deposit. Shale gas from the North of England has the potential to meet the UK’s energy needs for decades to come, yet ministers have chosen now, at the height of an energy crisis, to take us to this point. Once these wells are filled with cement and abandoned it will be incredibly costly and difficult to rectify this mistake at the PNR site.

“Safe shale gas offers us a chance to combat the cost-of living crisis, create 75,000 jobs and deliver on the ‘levelling up agenda’ in Red Wall areas, in addition to reducing our reliance on imported gas so that Britain becomes more energy secure.

“What’s more ridiculous is that leaving our own shale gas in the ground will make reducing global emissions even harder. Emissions from importing gas are far higher than those from home-produced shale gas. I don’t think that this has been properly thought through.”

While the project received political support, it attracted fierce opposition from environmental groups and reports of earth tremors in the local community.

BACKGROUND TO UK SHALE GAS FRACKING

 In November 2019, the UK Government announced a moratorium on shale gas extraction with the now Business and Energy Secretary of State, Kwasi Kwarteng saying that the “decision will not in any way impact our energy supply.”

The OGA has issued instructions to Cuadrilla that the wells, which have remained unused since late 2019, now be “plugged and abandoned”, an instruction which is being fulfilled. Spirit Energy, a Joint Venture Partner with Cuadrilla, will provide funding towards the cost of this work.

Cuadrilla expects shortly to mobilise a rig to commence the process of plugging the wells with cement and removing the associated surface pipework and valves from the site.

The two wells are the only horizontal wells drilled and hydraulically fractured into UK shale rock. The wells were drilled into the Bowland Shale to vertical depths of approximately 2.25km and onwards horizontally for a further 0.75km each through the shale.

The site at Preston New Road is just 0.01sqkm in area and at all times has operated within the UK’s regulatory operating limit of halting operations if tremors no greater than 0.5 on the Richter Scale are recorded. This is despite the fact these regulatory limits far exceed limits seen in other countries with major shale gas extraction industries, such as the United States with up to a 4.0 limit. Other industries in the UK which cause tremors, such as geothermal, mining and construction face no such restrictions.

Craig Mackinlay MP, Chair of the Conservative Net Zero Scrutiny Group, said: “Following last week’s hike in gas prices, my constituents are concerned about one thing: the cost-of-living crisis. If this government really wants to deliver on the people’s priorities, help them through the crisis and level up it should not be depriving the country of access to cheap and reliable energy sources.

“Doing this at the height of an energy crisis is utter madness. What’s more, if the Government wants to achieve Net Zero by 2050, this move will make it impossible. It will force us to import more gas instead, when UKOOG and the Climate Change Committee have already told us that the carbon footprint of imported gas is so much higher than homegrown shale gas.

"It will make us less energy secure, energy will become more expensive, Net Zero will be harder to achieve and levelling up will be impossible. It’s time for a re-think and a complete reset in this area.”

Steve Baker MP, Deputy Chair of the Conservative Net Zero Scrutiny Group, hoped the increased energy price cap would act as a wake-up call for ministers. 

"It was a chance for politicians to finally discuss how we can reach Net Zero in an affordable and responsible manner," he said. "Instead, we find out today that we are about to make the situation even worse.

“By abandoning our shale gas industry, we will inflict more costs on our constituents and make Net Zero even more difficult to deliver given that importing gas is more carbon intensive than producing it at home.

“There are around 75,000 jobs out there, waiting to be created in precisely those areas that the Government wants to level up. We’re not just abandoning these wells, we’re abandoning any chance we had of levelling up, solving the cost-of-living crisis and delivering on the Government’s ambitions for Net Zero.”

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