Fracking company Cuadrilla have pulled out of the site they established at Anna's Road in Lytham citing 'overwintering birds' as the reason. They say they will now be working to restore the site to its former condition. (see statement). The company has now suspended all drilling in Lancashire until 2014.
Fylde anti-fracking campaign group Refracktion (http://www.refracktion.com/) have compiled a short video (above) to commemorate Cuadrilla's vist to Annas Road and to thank anti-fracking campaigners for their successful work. (There will be a Global Frackdown 2 Party at Silantro, Lytham St Annes on 19 October).
Environmental campaigns are sceptical about the excuse for departure as there have been pink-footed geese and whooper swans in the Ribble Estuary for as many years as people can remember. This did not originally deter Cuadrilla from initiating development on the site alongside the Ribble Estuary wetlands, as is their site at Banks, neighbouring the Martin Mere bird sanctuary.
Operations had been suspended at the Anna's Road site for several months already due to technical difficulties. It has been suggested that the technical difficulty in question may be one of legal compliance.
Cuadrilla had been lobbying intensively to have the EU Mining Waste directive not apply to contaminated fracking fluids that remain underground. Under this Directive shale gas operators have to make absolutely sure that the underground fluid, which contains a powerful mix of very highly toxic chemicals, is under proper control, adequately sealed and monitored.
The rules - which the Environment Agency have maintained in the face of aggressive challenges from Cuadrilla - mean Cuadrilla has to apply for a waste permit before it can carry out drilling activities. The permit could force the company to monitor all drilling wastes - potentially for decades after operations have ended.
However it emerged earlier in the year that radioactive contamination had already occurred at the Cuadrilla site at Preesall, and had gone unreported. MP Eric Ollerenshaw has confirmed to Virtual Lancaster that no compensation has been obtained for this breach.
There is some discussion of 'a framework of community benefit and compensation' in regard to potential drilling rights overall, but there does not appear to be any way to quantify the inevitable levels of contamination, which are built into the process and have the potential to have severe and extensive impacts on the local environment and water table. Further earthquakes this year also suggest a high probability of accidents in containment, as well as general damage, as happened during the earthquakes of 2011.
The negotiations will boil down to four issues. The first is political. The coalition government has no realistic energy strategy. Following Fukushima support has collapsed for the nuclear option, aside from a vociferous but rapidly degrading nuclear lobby.
Stepping into the power vaccum left by nuclear, the shale gas and oil lobby is embedded in the current government. However since the 2011 earthquakes and Balcombe, the fracking industry is increasingly in the spotlight. Opposition has grown and continues to grow across all levels of society and and is well-organised and funded to monitor infractions and regulatory breaches that were previously treated permissively by licensing authorities.
The second is regulation - whether environmental directives and licensing conditions can be adhered to and enforced, and how compliant Cuadrilla are likely to be, given their aggressive anti-regulatory lobbying stance and their track record of accidents and bending licensing conditions.
The third is community benefit and compensation and whether the community can derive any benefit from having its land and living environment permanently degraded and contaminated over an extensive area, or if any 'benefits' would accrue only to key players in the local and national government and enterprise infrastructure.
The fourth issue is profit. Whether profit can even be made from shale gas extraction where a company must actually abide by regulations; taking thorough measures to prevent contamination and cleaning up wherever it happens by accident is something that no fracking company has, as yet, been willing to discover.