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Cuadrilla has suffered a further setback to its plans to become the first company in Britain to start fracking commercially, after the UK government rejected its application to explore for shale gas at a second site in Lancashire.
The latest blow comes less than a week after the company admitted it was unable to complete tests of a shale gas exploration well at a nearby site, Preston New Road, under current rules that stipulate work must be stopped if it triggers an earthquake measuring 0.5 or above on the Richter scale.
Cuadrilla had appealed to the government to overturn Lancashire county council’s 2015 decision to reject its application to drill and frack up to four wells at Roseacre Wood, near Preston in north-west England.
The application was originally dismissed over concerns over the impact the operation would have on local traffic and road safety.
On Tuesday, the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government agreed there would be an “unacceptable impact” on road safety in the area if work at Roseacre Wood were to go ahead.
The decision comes after a long battle by Cuadrilla to secure permission for the project, which included two inquiries, in 2016 and 2018.
Cuadrilla said it was “disappointed” with the government’s decision and would “examine the details in full before reaching a position”.
“However, we continue to be focused on the shale gas exploration site in Preston New Road, where we have recently released very encouraging flow test results from the UK’s first horizontal shale gas well,” the company added.
Environmental campaigners welcomed the government’s decision. “Today’s news has been incredibly well received by Roseacre residents who have campaigned tirelessly,” said Jamie Peters, a campaigner for Friends of the Earth. “But many other communities across England are still faced with the threat of fracking so the government must also listen to them and accept that this industry is completely unviable.”
He added: “With scientists warning that there is so little time to get on top of climate change, it’s clearer than ever that the smart money lies in clean, renewable energy.”
Cuadrilla was forced to stop work on several occasions last year at Preston New Road after triggering earth tremors exceeding 0.5 on the Richter scale. It said last week that despite only being able to fracture two out of 41 sections of the well, gas that had flowed to the surface had a very high methane content and could be delivered to the local gas network with “minimal processing required”.
The company’s chief executive, Francis Egan, has applied to the UK’s oil and gas regulator to carry out an expert review of fracking rules amid claims the current regulations around seismicity levels are unworkable and are strangling the shale gas industry before it has got off the ground.
Ineos, the energy and chemicals group founded by Britain’s richest man, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, has also protested against the current limits.
However, both the UK Oil and Gas Authority and the government said last week that they had no plans to review the rules.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves pumping water, sand and chemicals under the ground at high pressure to release gas from rock formations.