Anti-fracking groups in Lancashire are calling on the government and regulators to order the permanent plugging and abandonment of wells at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road shale gas site.

Cuadrilla’s mothballed fracking site at Preston New Road, near Blackpool, February 2022.
Photo: Maxine Gill

The groups also said the site should be restored to farmland following the reinstatement of the moratorium on fracking in England last week.

The moratorium was lifted by the short-lived Liz Truss government in September 2022. But that decision was overturned last week by the new prime minister, Rishi Sunak, on his second day in office.

The moratorium was introduced in November 2019 after Cuadrilla’s fracks at Preston New Road caused a series of earthquakes. Work at the site was suspended following the largest earthquake, in August 2019, which measured 2.9ML and was felt across the region.

Claire Stephenson, of Frack Free Lancashire, said:

“We welcome the government’s U-turn decision to retain the fracking moratorium put in place following the 2019 earthquakes caused by Cuadrilla’s fracking activities on the Fylde Coast.

“There is zero new evidence that fracking can be done safely, and plenty of evidence to the contrary.

“We now call for the government to instruct Cuadrilla to plug and cap the wells at Preston New Road and restore the site to green fields.

“It is heart-breaking that our community has suffered with this industry hanging over us for so long. It’s clear that dirty energy fracking has no place in any community, nor towards any meaningful energy contributions in the UK. We will continue to pursue a full ban on fracking.

“It’s time for Cuadrilla to end their unwelcome imposition in Lancashire, in line with their planning permission which ends in April 2023, and finally leave our community for good.”

A written ministerial statement last week said the government would maintain the moratorium until “compelling new evidence is provided which addresses the concerns around the prediction and management of induced seismicity”.

A scientific review by the British Geological Survey, commissioned by the Boris Johnson government, concluded that forecasting large fracking-induced earthquakes was a “scientific challenge”.

Susan Holliday, of Preston New Road Action Group, said today:

“Now that the moratorium has been reinstated, Cuadrilla should commence their decommissioning of the site at Preston New Year Road.

“In 2019, the then Oil and Gas Authority said that they would not approve any new fracking plans unless there was new evidence to show fracking could be done safely. The British Geological Survey report has shown that there is no new evidence.

“The logical conclusion is that Cuadrilla has reached the end of the road with the site at Preston New Road, so they should now plug and cap the wells as they should have done earlier this year.

“According to their current planning permission, the site is to be restored by April 2023, so they need to be getting on with it. Over six years of disruption is more than enough for our community.”

Tina Rothery, of the Lancashire Nanas, said:

“The disruption and anxiety that this company has brought to our community, must come to a full and final end.

“Cuadrilla has caused enough harm already and we need to be certain they will thoroughly clean up their mess and get the hell out of Dodge…once and for all.”

In February 2022, the industry regulator, the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA), ordered Cuadrilla to permanently seal and abandon the two shale gas wells at Preston New Road.

Equipment was moved onto the site in early March 2022. The deadline to finish the work was 30 June 2022.

But following industry lobbying, the NSTA withdrew the order at the end of March 2022. It gave Cuadrilla until the end of June 2023 to come up with “credible” plans to reuse the wells.