Hydraulic fracturing in the UK has come to a halt as shale gas explorer Cuadrilla Resources has started to demobilise equipment at its flagship Preston New Road site in northern England.
Fracking plans are being suspended until the results of an ongoing investigation into induced seismic activity at the site conclude, though flow testing of Cuadrilla’s second well is due to start in the next few weeks and is still planned to go ahead.
The investigation follows last month’s tremor which, at a magnitude of 2.9 on the Richter scale, significantly exceeded the 0.5 magnitude threshold permitted for induced seismic activity under UK regulations.
“Since the induced seismic event, we have been working hard with our regulator, the Oil & Gas Authority (OGA), on a number of detailed technical studies,” chief executive Francis Egan said in a video posted on social media.
“Those studies will take time to conclude, and because of this we have decided that we will not be re-entering the Preston New Road 2 well to conduct any further fracturing operations before our planning consent expires at the end of November,” he said.
“Following seismic events at the Preston New Road site, the OGA suspended operations and requested additional data and analysis from Cuadrilla before hydraulic fracturing operations could resume,” the OGA said.
“The OGA has received initial data from Cuadrilla that still requires further consideration,” it said.
However, Cuadrilla will continue with other work, including the test programme on its second horizontal shale gas well, which was partially fractured in August.
Egan said: “The planning consent for the site itself extends to April 2023, so there is a lot of time left and work to do on the site.
“In the immediate term we will be moving forward with testing the flow of gas at the PNR2 well. We completed very similar tests on the PNR1 well with excellent results, high-quality natural gas flowing to surface, and we are hoping for similar if not better results from the current well,” he said.
A timeframe has not been agreed with the OGA for the technical work to be completed, essentially suspending fracking indefinitely.
In February, Cuadrilla announced results from flow-testing of the UK’s first ever horizontal shale gas exploration well. It said they confirmed a high-quality natural gas resource in the Lower Bowland shale, capable of flowing to surface.
The British Geological Survey has previously estimated natural gas resource potential in the Bowland shale at around 1300 trillion cubic feet.
No other fracking permits have been issued in the UK. Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have moratoriums in place for a technique considered by many to be controversial, although licences in England are held by companies such as chemicals giant Ineos and UK junior IGas.
No fracking activity has taken place at any of their sites, amid increased protestor activity and a refusal by local authorities to issue hydraulic fracturing permits.
Cuadrilla and Ineos have also urged regulators to increase the seismic limits to allow the industry to develop. However, no changes have been made.