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Cuadrilla to restart UK hydraulic fracturing

Shale gas explorer aims to demonstrate commercial opportunity of gas in the region

UK shale gas explorer Cuadrilla Resources is planning to return to hydraulic fracturing and flow testing of natural gas at its flagship Lancashire site in Preston New Road, in northern England.

The company said it will remobilise hydraulic fracturing and testing equipment in the third quarter of 2019 and, subject to all required regulatory approvals, complete the work programme by the end of November this year.

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In February, Cuadrilla announced results from flow-testing its first horizontal shale gas exploration well, which confirmed the presence of Bowland Shale.

According to the company, the upcoming work programme at Preston New Road is “the latest step in demonstrating the huge commercial opportunity of natural gas from UK shale”.

“It will also ensure that more data is provided to government and regulators to justify an expert technical review of the current exceedingly low limit on induced seismicity, allowing for this to be brought into line with other UK industries such as quarrying, construction and geothermal,” the company added in a statement.

“Work to date on what is probably the most highly monitored onshore oil and gas site in the world has proved that this is an entirely safe, well run and well-regulated operation – and there is no doubt that the opportunity for the UK is huge,” chief executive Francis Egan said.

“We have learnt a lot during the hydraulic fracture programme for the PNR-1z horizontal in 2018 and this expertise forms the basis for the new hydraulic fracture plan for our second horizontal well, PNR2.

“The new hydraulic fracture plan will operate in line with the existing traffic light system for induced seismicity. However one of the key differences will be a more viscous fracturing fluid which has been reviewed and approved by the Environment Agency as non-hazardous to ground water and which we expect will improve operational performance under the uniquely challenging micro-seismic regulations,” Egan said.

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The company, and fellow UK shale gas explorer Ineos, have been calling on authorities to review fracking seismic regulations, claiming current limits have “severely constrained” work.

The current micro-seismic operating limit during hydraulic fracturing is set at 0.5 magnitude.

Cuadrilla’s plea came after it had to repeatedly pause operations amid multiple tremors registered around its site. Most were under the 0.5 magnitude limit, with a micro-seismic event of 1.5 local magnitude being the highest registered so far.

Egan said: “It is no secret that we have asked for an expert technical review of the uniquely low micro-seismic operating limit of just 0.5 magnitude on the Richter scale. It remains the case that we are the only UK operator currently able to move forward and provide more data to support an expert review of this threshold – and we intend to do so.”

Cuadrilla, and other onshore oil and gas players, are hopeful a shale gas industry in the UK will also support the nation’s ambitious commitment to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

“We are also working to demonstrate that natural gas produced from UK shale is likely to be the most environmentally sensible and economically beneficial long term feedstock for hydrogen generation, essential if the UK is to hit net zero CO2 emissions by 2050,” Egan said.

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“Natural gas converted to hydrogen is the key ingredient for decarbonising UK domestic and commercial heat,” he said.

Meanwhile, Cuadrilla is being investigated by the EA after failing to report earlier this year results for key chemicals at its site in Lancashire.

Under its environmental permit, the company has to monitor substances in groundwater and send the results quarterly to the EA.

However, the agency said in a report this week that the results for January and February 2019 did not have data for the first months following fracking at the site, which took place from mid-October to Mid-December 2018.

Cuadrilla is currently undergoing a review before reporting back to the EA.

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