British company Cuadrilla announced on Monday that it has launched an hydraulic fracturing operation on a site in North West England to produce shale gas, a first in the UK since 2011. Two hundred demonstrators gathered near the site to express their concern about the project, which they fear they will open the way for more so called ‘fracking’ operations.
These operations were originally scheduled to begin on Saturday, but it had to be postponed for 48 hours because of strong winds that blew over the region during the weekend. “We started hydraulic fracturing operations at Preston New Road,” the prospecting company said on its Twitter account. The project was launched after the green light was given on Friday by the High Court in London, which rejected an appeal in summary of an environmental activist asking him to suspend the authorisation granted to Cuadrilla.
The process of hydraulic fracturing consists of creating underground cracks and pumping in a mixture of water, sand and chemicals to allow the extraction of gas captured in the rock. The company claims that the chemical used will not damage the groundwater. Hydraulic fracturing has been unpopular in the United Kingdom since previous Cuadrilla-type operations at another site in the region were said to have contributed to two small earthquakes in 2011.
The horizontal hydraulic fracturing operations started that on Monday, however, are only tests to specify the amount of gas available below 2,000 meters. Their results, expected early in 2019, should make it possible to estimate the interest of a commercial exploitation. Other shale gas projects are under study in the UK but none have started to produce due to the complexity of licensing procedures because of the hostility some of the residents.