Cuadrilla withdraws planning applications

Oil and gas exploration company Cuadrilla, has withdrawn two planning applications for its oil drilling site in Balcombe, West Sussex, which has been the centre of much protest over hydraulic fracturing.

The controversial process, in which water and chemicals are used to blast open rocks and release natural shale gas – commonly known as ‘fracking’ – has not yet being undertaken by Cuadrilla at the Balcombe site, however there have been concerns that its current oil drilling operations could turn to shale gas exploration, which some fear can contaminate drinking supplies with methane and toxic chemicals, and trigger earthquakes.

The two applications that have been withdrawn concern extending the ‘drilling and testing' programme, which is currently obligated to end by 28 September, and modifying the flare used to increase in size. According to the Daily Telegraph, these applications have been withdrawn to allow the company to address a ‘legal ambiguity’, relating to whether the 2,500-foot underground horizontal well and 3,000 foot vertical well used for oil exploration are covered by the planning permission for the 1.36 above-ground site, or require their own permission.

In light of the withdrawal of its planning applications, the company has announced it is to ‘reassess [its] programme and, in turn, the terms of [its] current planning application’. According to West Sussex County Council, the company is expected to lodge a new planning application ‘in the near future’. However, this will not be assessed until 2014, delaying operations at the site.

In a statement, the energy firm said: "As this is a new planning application, the county council will consult with interested third parties and we will have the opportunity for further engagement with Balcombe residents about our well testing plans.

"We will continue doing all we can to conclude our exploration work in a safe, responsible and timely manner."

Application won't cover shale gas exploration

Cuadrilla has added that the new planning permission will not cover potential shale gas exploration, in a move it hopes will calm fears over any potential extraction.

Environmental campaigning group Greenpeace, which has long opposed Cuadrilla’s drilling in Balcombe, reacted to the news, with energy campaigner Leila Deen saying: “Cuadrilla’s plans for Balcombe are a dog’s dinner. They only recently submitted an application to extend the drilling window, now they’ve already withdrawn it and admitted they’re reassessing the programme.

“It’s not yet clear if this is a shift of direction or if the company merely got its sums wrong. Either way, the local council has the opportunity to revisit its previous highly controversial decision to give Cuadrilla the green light in Balcombe. The poster boy for fracking looks like it’s in trouble again.”

Arrest of Green MP Caroline Lucas

The withdrawal of the planning permissions follows a challenging month for Cuadrilla’s Balcombe site, after former Green Party leader Caroline Lucas MP, was arrested at the site during a fracking protest. The Brighton Pavilion MP and her son were arrested in August along with around 30 other protestors for breaching the Public Order Act. Sussex Police added that they believed those arrested could potentially cause public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community.

Lucas was arrested at around 3.30pm but was later released on bail.

Commenting on her arrest, she said: “Along with everyone else who took action today, I’m trying to stop a process which could cause enormous damage for decades to come. 

“The evidence is clear that fracking undermines efforts to tackle the climate crisis and poses potential risks to the local environment. 

“People today, myself included, took peaceful non-violent direct action only after exhausting every other means of protest available to us. I’m in the privileged position of being able to put questions to the government directly and arrange debates in Parliament, but still ministers have refused to listen.” (Chancellor George Osborne has previously stated his desire to “put Britain at the forefront of exploiting shale gas").

Cuadrilla has maintained that ‘what [it is] doing is legal, approved, and safe’.

Greenpeace ‘fracks’ Lancashire County Council

The mock drill site at Lancashire County Council. Credit Steve Morgan/Greenpeace

In the latest anti-fracking development aimed at Cuadrilla, members of Greenpeace have today (4 September) set up a mock fracking rig and eight-foot fence outside Lancashire County Council’s chambers. The activists, dressed as workers from fictional drilling company Frack & Go, played a ‘soundtrack of drills, trucks and industrial plant’ as councillors entered the building.

It follows a similar protest by the group in Tatton, George Osborne’s constituency, where protestors set up a mock fracking rig on the village green.

The stunt was co-ordinated ahead of the Development Control Committee’s meeting, which is thought will see the council extend Cuadrilla’s planning permission to drill for shale gas in the area. According to the energy company, there could be some 200 trillion cubic feet of shale gas within its licence area.

Speaking of the Lancashire protest, Greenpeace spokesperson Liz Stanton said: “Cuadrilla is proposing to invade precious parts of Lancashire with trucks, drills, flares and chemicals. They’re even planning on drilling under people’s homes without permission.

“This is a case of big, rich companies exploiting the county for their own gain and leaving locals with very little. County councillors must say no.

“But this isn’t just an issue for Lancashire – fracking is a huge concern nationally and Lancashire councillors should understand that their decision has national significance. If they give Cuadrilla the green light that will be seen as paving the way for fracking across the UK.

Lawrence Carter, Greenpeace Energy Campaigner added that instead of focusing of ‘digging up and burning more fossil fuels’, the North West should be looking to become a ‘leader in green energy’.

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