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Cuadrilla appeals Lancashire council decision

The UK explorer is challenging the council's decision to refuse permission to explore gas in two sites in the county

UK explorer Cuadrilla has challenged the controversial decision by Lancashire County Council to refuse it permission to get gas out of the ground from two sites using hydraulic fracturing.

CEO Francis Egan said 23 July that he understood that “some people would prefer that we did not appeal but I am confident that we will demonstrate to Lancashire and the UK that shale gas exploration and fracking is not only safe but represents a very real opportunity to create jobs, fuel businesses, heat UK homes and stimulate significant local economic growth.”

He said the council’s planning officer had been “very clear” that the Preston New Road application was acceptable in relation to noise and visual impacts, which were the reasons the committee gave for refusing the application.

Industry lobby group UK Onshore Oil and Gas said 23 July that it welcomed Cuadrilla's decision to appeal against both rulings, and the appeals were a normal part of the planning process in the UK.

The government has taken up the cause, defending an industry that it is hoping will provide billions of pounds for the economy and create tens of thousands of jobs – many of which will be in the relatively depressed northwest of the country, where Cuadrilla is active.

In an article in the Sunday Times of 9 August, headed ‘Our country needs shale gas, so let’s go get it,’ energy minister Amber Rudd said the UK could not “continue with a system in which applications are dragged out for months or even years on end” and that “the government will be writing to planning authorities this week to make clear that there is a national need to explore shale in a safe, sustainable and timely way.”

The carrot for the councils is that developers will pay £100,000 ($155,000) for each exploration well they drill and a further 1% of production revenue.

The council was advised to refuse permission at only one site, and its decision to refuse both was interpreted as giving in to local opposition so that a higher authority could take the responsibility for giving consent.

14th round

Cuadrilla’s decision came shortly before the UK government was due to announce the winners of the 14th onshore licensing round, which will be announced in two tranches: the first for immediate action is due in August and the second later this year.

Energy minister Andrea Leadsom said in July that the government recognized the importance of the results of the round to the oil and gas industry. “That’s why we’ll be pressing ahead and announcing early the winners of licence blocks that do not need further environmental assessment. We want to get shale moving, and this is a clear example of the government’s progress, while still upholding our strong environmental controls.”

For the remaining blocks, which do require assessment under environmental regulations, the government will be launching a consultation, also in August.

Subject to that consultation, which is expected to take between six and eight weeks, the second tranche of awards will be announced.

Further approvals will be needed before drilling, however, including from local authorities. So the awards will not automatically lead to exploration and production activity.

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