LONDON (Reuters) - Energy exploration group Cuadrilla expects to start “fracking” Britain’s first horizontal shale well shortly following years of protests and government reviews into this unconventional way of extracting oil and gas.
The unlisted company said on Tuesday it was awaiting government approval to frack the first well at its Lancashire site in northern England before starting work around September. The company has finished drilling a second well at the site.
Fracking to extract gas from shale rock is contentious in Britain because of concerns it could contaminate underground water reservoirs and harm the environment above ground.
The process involves perforating wells and fracturing rocks by injecting liquids, sands and chemicals to suck in oil and gas. It has transformed the U.S. energy industry but has not taken off across Europe, where some countries have banned it.
Cuadrilla said it would run flow tests along the two wells, once fracked, for about six months and the wells would be connected to the local gas grid.
“Our objective is to demonstrate that natural gas will flow from the shale in commercially viable quantities,” CEO Francis Egan said in a statement. “We look forward to demonstrating that the UK’s huge shale gas resources can be safely.”
The fracking will also help Cuadrilla to assess gas reserves in the Lancashire licence.
The British Geological Survey estimates the much broader Bowland Shale region across northern England to hold some 1,329 trillion cubic feet of gas. But estimates get much smaller after companies drill and appraise the rocks and apply commercial considerations such as the cost of extraction.
Other companies are vying to start fracking onshore in Britain. Third Energy, 95-percent-owned by Barclays (BARC.L), is waiting for approval from the government to begin test fracking at its Kirby Misperton site in Yorkshire, northern England.
And UKOG (UKOGa.L), through Horse Hills Development Ltd, is getting ready to appraise wells at its Horse Hill site, near London’s Gatwick Airport.
For Cuadrilla, fracking the first horizontal shale well would mark a significant turnaround. After Cuadrilla’s first attempt at fracking in 2011 in Blackpool in north-west England there were earth tremors which led to extensive reviews, protests and regulatory change. Cuadrilla said at the time the tremors were caused by an unusual combination of geological features at the site.
The debate over fracking is very much alive. Protestors have tried to block Cuadrilla’s drilling as recently as last month despite a court injunction preventing trespass on the site area.
Proponents of fracking say Britain could bolster its energy security by developing the shale industry just as oil and gas reserves in the North Sea dwindle.
In Scotland, there has been an effective moratorium on shale drilling although a Scottish court recently ruled the devolved government’s policies did not amount to an outright ban
Reporting by Sabina Zawadzki; Editing by Adrian Croft and Jane Merriman