Fracking breakthrough as order to plug Lancashire wells lifted by UK regulators

Cuadrilla now has until June 2023 to evaluate options for the Preston New Road and Elswick fracking sites

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The UK’s only shale gas wells will not be sealed up at the end of June as regulators decide to lift an order for them to be capped.

Fracking firm Cuadrilla had been under instruction to plug its wells in Lancashire by the end of June 2022.

But the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) said the firm now had until the end of June 2023 to evaluate options for the Preston New Road and Elswick sites.

The move comes ahead of the publication of the Government’s delayed energy strategy, with Boris Johnson under pressure from Tory MPs to end a moratorium on fracking.

Cuadrilla hydraulic fracturing site at Preston New Road shale gas exploration site in Lancashire
Cuadrilla hydraulic fracturing site at Preston New Road shale gas exploration site in Lancashire

Cuadrilla chief executive Francis Egan said: “I would like to thank the Prime Minister and the Business Secretary for seeing the light and realising – just in time – how absurd it would have been to force us to pour concrete down Britain’s only two viable shale gas wells in the middle of an energy crisis.

“But this suspension will have a cul-de-sac ending unless we now reverse the moratorium preventing us from using the wells (and others like them) to get shale gas out of the ground and flowing into British households.”

The NSTA said Cuadrilla applied for consent to keep its wells on 28 March.

Map shows the Preston New Road shale gas wells in the UK
Map shows the Preston New Road shale gas wells in the UK

The regulator said: “The North Sea Transition Authority has looked carefully at this application, alongside recent developments, and agreed to withdraw the requirement to decommission the wells by the end of June.”

“Cuadrilla now have until the end of June next year to evaluate options for the Preston New Road and Elswick sites.

“If no credible re-use plans are in place by then, the North Sea Transition Authority expects to reimpose decommissioning requirements."

Steve Baker Conservative MP for Wycombe reacted to the news on Twitter.

He said: "I welcome today’s decision to suspend the concreting of Britain’s only two shale gas wells.

"I'm pleased the Prime Minister & Business Secretary have acted on this issue. The Climate Change Committee has made clear that Britain will need to use natural gas until at least 2050."

Mr Baker added: "Continuing to import our gas from the volatile and Russian-dominated European market clearly makes no sense in today’s world.

"The greenest, cheapest, and most secure way to meet our needs is to ensure that we have a thriving shale gas industry here in the UK."

In the second week of March, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told MPs the Government's position on fracking remained unchanged in the face of the energy crisis.

He added that exploration would only be carried out if it were "safe and sustainable".