Public Enquiry into Cuadrilla's UK Fracking Licences Begins
A public hearing into Cuadrilla Resource's fracking licences in the UK has begun in a legal action that may decide the future of fracking in the country.
The hearing, which began on February 9, is expected to take five weeks to conclude and takes place in Blackpool. The hearing will decide whether Cuadrilla Resources can begin exploratory drilling of eight wells in Lancashire County. The hearing comes on the back of an appeal by Cuadrilla Resources after it was denied permission to frack and test for gas in June 2015 by Lancashire County Council, despite holding two licences for the areas of Roseacre and Little Plumpton.
About 40 witnesses will speak during the course of the hearing.
In most cases of an appeal against a county council decision, an inspector would decide on the appeal. However, in an unusual move in November 2015, UK Secretary of State Greg Clark said that he would now be stepping in to decide, taking the ultimate decision from the hands of the inspector. While an inspector will still advise Clark of the inspector's recommendation, Clark will make the final decision on whether to allow Cuadrilla to proceed or not following the hearing.
The future of shale gas in the UK remains a contentious and important one for parties on both sides of the debate. Perhaps with the struggles of the North Sea oil and gas industry in mind, the government in December 2015 announced that it was offering a substantial number of shale oil and gas blocks in its 14th Onshore Oil and Gas Licensing Round. Though it stressed that the licences did not immediately imply operations and that "additional regulatory requirements apply to this kind of activity," around 75% of the 159 onshore blocks it offered were related to unconventional hydrocarbons.
On the other hand, public opposition to fracking has been vocal and well organised in the UK. To coincide with the public hearing, Greenpeace organised a protest outside the the House of Commons in Westminster, London. As part of the protest, a 10-metre high drilling rig model was erected with a flame that fired once an hour. Flood lights and drilling and lorry sound effects were also used to mimic fracking operations at a field.
A second protest also took place outside the public hearing in Blackpool.