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PNR: What's Going On?

PNR: What's going onWe have a brace of articles bringing recent news about fracking.

The first tries to work out what's actually behind Cuadrilla's demobilisation and removal of a lot of equipment from their Preston New Road site

The second looks at a spat that took place at County Hall recently when County Councillors Ed Nash and Tim Ashton were thought by some to have used inappropriate language to describe people opposing Cuadrilla's work.

SYNOPSIS
We begin with a look at What's going on as equipment at the Preston New Road site is demobilised and some is taken away.

Next we publish the comments we sought from those close to the centre of things as to what they think is happening, grouped under the headings of 1. Analysis of Results So Far, and  2. To Save Money and 3. To Pressurise Government and 4. To Avoid Publishing Poor Results and 5. To Separate Frackings and 6. Whether Ownership Might Change and 7. Cuadrilla's Programme, and finally 8. Miscellaneous matters.

Next, we give our Own Conclusions, noting there has probably been a Very Cautious Start made and we ask Has Caution Worked? before asking Where that Leaves us now.

We have a quick look at the matter of Investor Confidence, before trying to Pull all of this together, before considering why Fracking Well No.2 Might be Delayed before asking So where does all this gets us?

For our Second Article (County Hall Spat), we first look at the Notice of Motion Process, and at the influence of Party Politics, and a quick Digression, before looking at what might or might not have been Party Politics at County Hall, and some Comments on the County Council meeting from one of our readers, followed by reaction to what was said at the meeting from Barbara Richardson who chairs the Roseacre Awareness Group.

 PNR: WHAT'S GOING ON?

At present, there's something of a mystery encircling Cuadrilla's Preston New Road Site.

The fracking  rig itself, and the pumps, and the silos full of expensive fracking sand, and the control cabin, together with other fracking infrastructure have all been either disassembled and/or removed from the site.

No-one knows why.

Without this equipment, no fracking can take place.

Unusually, Cuadrilla are being tight lipped about what's going on, so we set about trying to work out what's really happening

Cuadrilla's last official comment was a press release statement on 18 December (which readers can see in full by following this link) and which we've summarised below.

A lot of this statement was in the 'Motherhood and Apple Pie' style so beloved of PR Spin Doctors, such as

"We believe that we are beginning 2019 in a place where our local community, our Regulators and national and local government can be assured by the evident professionalism and highly skilled approach of Cuadrilla."

and

"We’d like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a happy Christmas and New Year. Thank you for all your support and with your help we will continue to build a thriving Lancashire business in 2019."

and

"In recent weeks we have repeatedly seen natural gas flowing back to surface along with the water injected during the fracturing process and this flow of gas is in fact earlier than expected."

But

Their statement did also say they were demobilising some equipment from the Preston New Road exploration site, and were already looking forward to welcoming it back in 2019.

Huh?

How does that work?

They said they expected to continue operations within their current planning permission (which includes the hydraulic fracture of the two existing wells at Preston New Road and completion of up to four wells in total for exploration purposes).

Chief Executive Officer Francis Egan was quoted as saying:

“In 2019 we look forward to completing the next phase of hydraulic fracturing and continue to flow test the gas recovered."

HOWEVER

We already know the picture might not be so rosy.

As we reported in 'The Nitty Gritty' - at the end of October - and in early November - Mr Egan had told 'The Times' newspaper:

“We are not getting effective fractures. We are not getting enough sand into the grounds to get a good test.

We may not want to flow test it because it’s not a totally indicative representation of what this shale rock could do if tested with sensible [earthquake] limits.”

He said he was concerned that flow testing based on the inadequate fractures to date would generate a false negative which could turn off investors, adding that

"We may decide it’s better to pause and await the outcome of a review of the traffic light system.

"It’s possible if we are constrained to operate in a 0.5 traffic light system it’s not commercially viable."

And he had also told the Financial Times

"It certainly looks like it would be - I can’t say impossible - but I could say very difficult to make this a commercial venture if you had to continue operating within a 0.5 red line,”

So we were left struggling to reconcile the glowing tones of the press release with the concerns Mr Egan had expressed just a few weeks earlier.

We were also struggling to believe there was any operational logic in dismantling the rig and moving other equipment off site: (the silos used to store the very expensive sand (and the sand within them); the control cabin; the blending machine; and yesterday we were told that even the fuel has been moved off site), only to say you will bring them back in 2019.

That's weird.

So we took some soundings to see what others thought.

counterbalance is fortunate to have connections to many folk who are outside of Cuadrilla's organisation, but are close to the heart of what is happening.

Several are regular readers and, indeed, many of them highlight issues that prompt our articles from time to time.

So we recently emailed a dozen or so of those we know who are closest to the action to ask if anyone knew what was really happening.

We put together a list of possible situations / options and asked our well-informed readers to comment on these (1 to 5 below)

We also asked them for any other suggestions they might be willing to share as to what was going on. (6 to 8 below).

The overall answer is that no-one knows for sure.

Whilst some had strong views about what it *might* be, everyone said there was no clear information.

In the absence of something more definitive from Cuadrilla, we thought our readers might like to hear the personal views of people who are close to the situation one way or another.

Some said they didn't mind having comments attributed to them, others preferred not to be identified, so we took the decision not to identify anyone who had commented.

We believe the important aspect is what they think, and we hope readers will trust our judgement regarding the value of their views.

We've used a separate colour for each person who commented, and we have chosen which heading the comments have been listed under.

The headings under which the views have been placed were our own long-list as to why the disassembly and removal from site might have happened.

 1. TO ANALYSE PROGRESS TO DATE

Cuadrilla themselves have suggested this is the reason for the delay, and said they wanted more time to properly analyse the results of the fracking so far.

Comments received included:


"Nonsense. Total complete nonsense."


"Cuadrilla had 4 or 5 weeks off in November - presumably to try to work out how to frack without causing tremors. Started again and did, then apparently fracked a time or two, without any tremors at all before they declared that had finished with Well 1. I'm wondering if they have found a new method - and if so, then Oil and Gas Authority would want them to rewrite the Hydraulic Fracking Plan for Well 2 to do it this way to avoid further tremors."


"If I recall correctly they started off saying they would drill and frack well 1 then drill and frack well 2. Then they changed the order to drill, drill, frack, frack. Now having only fracked 1 well (and that, we believe, using low fluid volumes, being unable to inject the desired volumes of sand and with regular pauses due to seismicity) they seem to be packing up for what must at least be lengthy hiatus.

You don’t move all that kit off to bring it back in the second week of January.

I suppose that they may now be doing a flow test on well 1, but they could presumably still do this whilst fracking well 2, so something is not going anywhere near plan for them. I believe they still don’t have final approval for the Hydraulic Fracturing Plan for Well 2"


"I heard from a reputable source the week before Christmas that Cuadrilla have fracked all they intend to on well 1 and were intending to flowback over the coming weeks. We have not been aware of them flowing back but they could well have been."


"They could just be concentrating on the extended flow testing to try and prove there is shale gas there, at least enough to get more investment."



 2. TO SAVE MONEY ON RENTAL / LEASING COSTS

(Or, perhaps, to be able to hire the kit that's been moved off site to someone else). Cuadrilla have NOT suggested this is the reason, but it could be a possibility if they anticipate a long delay before the next activity taking place.

Comments received included:


"The more expensive items which are expensive to hire appear to have been removed. The rig is down and appears to be being moved to another area on the pad. A large number of water tankers have come off the site this morning. Well 2 has not yet been explored and well 1 has not been fully fracked, not all 41 stages have been completed or fracked at full pressure either."


"The original plan was to frack well 1, frack well 2 and then flowback. The fracture plan for well 2 has not yet been approved by the EA / OGA / HSE which has meant that they cannot frack well 2 until it is. I am guessing but I suspect that they are not expecting to get approval for Well 2 any time soon, hence them removing the equipment from the site. I think that the equipment is leased so it could be a way of reducing costs."


"Yes, this is possible but not to the level that they have done it to, so I think unlikely. Also cost of removal and re-installation is prohibitive unless Cuadrilla do not expect to frack/drill for at least 6-12 months."


"I can imagine that lease costs are very high on all kit. (And maybe clearing the pad stops any vandalism risk)"


 3. TO PRESSURE THE GOVERNMENT

Minister Claire Perry said she would not be willing to weaken the 'red light' 0.5 Richter scale limit that triggers an 18 hour suspension of fracking.

It's clear that Cuadrilla are not happy about this, and it is possible they are using the removals from site to ratchet up the pressure on Government levels that are above Claire Perry's head.

Cuadrilla have made no claim to be doing this, but it remained a possibility in our view.

Comments received included:


"Not so much Claire Perry though as she has declared her position - more Greg Clark and up to Theresa May. It is a form of "persuasion" or one could say blackmail. However, I do not think for one second this was Cuadrilla’s doing or wishes. Not at all. They have had no choice."


"I do not believe they have even fracked all the stages of well 1 and even then no more than one frack a day. Obviously the industry will be lobbying to relax Traffic Light System regulation."


"Ineos has been calling for seismic levels to be raised but so far the government has refused to do so. I believe that shares in A J Lucas, who part fund Cuadrilla, have dropped over Christmas and share holders are becoming impatient.



 4. TO AVOID POOR GAS FLOW RESULTS

Mr Egan himself has said they didn't want to publish a poor gas flow figure that was so low it might put investors off.  Cuadrilla have not said they are doing this, but we could see why they wouldn't want to admit to doing it even if they were.

Comments received included:


"The flow test on PNRz1 is unlikely to demonstrate anything like the flow they must have initially hoped for, but they have to do it as Centrica’s next payment of £46,700,000 is a Contingent Carry payable after the flow testing of gas for six months. (BTW Centrica’s shale interests now go under the name Spirit Energy) No flow test no £46.7 million. Perhaps the current activity is designed to pare back costs to an absolute bare minimum until they can get that extra funding from Spirit? If so I wouldn’t be too pleased to be a Spirit investor


"Absolutely -100% for sure in my opinion. It is not the only reason, but I think it is certainly the case - the recoverability has been staggeringly poor."


"Sure that investors are unhappy, A J Lucas shares down to 19 cents, but assuming that A J Lucas and Centrica don't pull the money plug and they can do something more, my guess is they will be lobbying hard on Claire Perry and Greg Clarke and the Oil and Gas Authority right now to get the go-ahead for well two. Also, the Upper Bowland Shale is more friable so needs less water less pressure and it may behave better i.e. fewer tremors?"


 5. TO PUT CLEAR WATER BETWEEN THIS AND OTHER DRILLING

With such bad seismic results, we could understand it if Cuadrilla wanted to make a clean break with the 'problem' drilling (toward Waterworld) and to wait a while for things to die down a bit before drilling another well bore in a different direction.

Comments received included:


"It is possible but I think unlikely. At least on its own unlikely. I suspect all ways will cause earthquakes in excess of 0.5"


"Then again they could move on to drill wells 3 and 4 in the hope will be more successful"


"They are waiting for permission to frack well 2 (from OGA. as they already have BEIS) and will try that next. It is drilled and ready and waiting to be fracked. and by far the cheapest option even if SoS gives go ahead for Roseacre Wood in next few weeks.

The Upper Bowland Shale behaves differently to the Lower Bowland Shale, it breaks easily, is much less dense, so I think that means less pressure, less volume needed to fracture it, that sand may go in and stay in, and there would be fewer tremors."


"If Cuadrilla thought they would be starting on well two in a week or so, I doubt that they would have removed kit, so they must believe that there is going to be a substantial delay before get permission to go forward on well two, or they have decided to start over on wells 3 and 4 at Preston New Road or go to Roseacre Wood, or they need time to persuade A J Lucas to continue to fund"


"Possible to try drilling in different directions but would have thought that still likely to encounter faults and that they would have chosen the most promising depth and direction to impress at outset?"



 6. CHANGE OF OWNERSHIP OR CESSATION

"I would not rule out them trying to sell it all on to a bigger fish. Could be why they are being tight lipped."


"They have not been able to frack anywhere near properly..... Cuadrilla need to sell to a major. They have needed to for 7 years. A J Lucas will want out. They need a good recovery figure to recover the £250M+ they have put it in.


"They have said they found lots of gas there. Might they sell out to bigger company on basis of this? A company with money to develop a new pad at Roseacre Wood, and time and muscle to twist Government's arms into allowing them to do what they want"


"In my opinion they are doing the equivalent of tip-toeing away. A temporary removal of the infrastructure they struggled to get onto the site does not make any logistical or financial sense. The likelihood is that they have caused damage deep down or the flow is not what they hoped for. Like Anna's Road, Singleton and Preese Hall before it PNR is to be abandoned in my opinion, but that does not mean the battle is over."


"It is possible, if they are not given permission for Roseacre, that their days are numbered"



 7. CUADRILLA'S SILENCE AND ITS PROGRAMME

"Cuadrilla has not issued any press statements since before Christmas which may mean that something is wrong as they are not usually shy in broadcasting."


"They are in trouble. They are way behind schedule (fewer wells, less distance, fewer fracks), had serious issues with earthquakes and that is whilst working cautiously."


"On their original plan the fracking of both wells should have been completed by about now so they are way behind schedule and I am not sure that well 1 has been fracked as much as it was planned to have been.

The top of the coiled tubing rig was removed the weekend before Christmas and then put back on, this weekend the rig seems to have been dismantled altogether."


"Cuadrilla's plan was to have 45 stages fracked and shut in, then frack the other well, then flow all back together right at end. Benefit to Cuadrilla is that it gets out more gas (more money), and also there is less fluid flowing back (expensive to deal with so they save money too), but did not work out that they could do this."


"Given their track record it would not be altogether surprising to see them pack up and leave this site as they have every other site they have drilled and /or fracked."



 8. MISC.

"Roseacre Wood is to be decided and who knows whether Cuadrilla have been given advance notice of the outcome and are proposing to move the kit there?"


"I cannot see them getting the money to develop a pad at Roseacre Wood especially given that geology there is even more complex than at Preston New Road"


"I am sure the leasing costs are very high, and the Schlumberger staff who are advising on fracking and doing monitoring won't come cheap either. I have a friend who wonders if suppliers were taking kit off because Cuadrilla cannot pay for it"



 OUR OWN CONCLUSIONS

We think that because Preston New Road was the first of what they hoped would be many fracking sites they would develop, Cuadrilla would not have gone in 'Gung-Ho' on this site.

 A Cautious Approach

Their modus operandi elsewhere has been to agree to something very cautious in order to gain approval, them to stretch and extend the restrictions that were agreed - to allow them to do what they really wanted.

A simple example is their Traffic Management Plan for the Preston New Road site.

It's no longer the same as the original one that was approved by Lancashire County Council. Cuadrilla have failed to comply with the original traffic management plan on hundreds of occasions and, if that were the determinator, they would have been closed down before now.

But what they did over time was to propose and secure changes to the wording here and there. (Most notably, they can now override much of what they agreed in the original plan if the Police believe it would be better to make the change on specific occasions).

There have been what some would say were overt breaches of the plan, but others would say were justifiable occasions - like bringing in the convoy of fracking equipment under cover of darkness and outside the prescribed route for deliveries - to avoid disruption by protestors.

But the principle that such change created has allowed the original plan to be disregarded in several aspects.

The changes have allowed Cuadrilla to claim they are working within the regulations - as was argued (and contested) at the Roseacre Inquiry where the barrister for LCC claimed there had been over 200 breaches of the original traffic management plan.

There have been other examples of this 'thin end of the wedge' approach to working as well, so we believe it's entirely likely that Cuadrilla would only start the actual fracking at Preston New Road using a very slow and cautious approach.

We have no evidence of the scale of Cuadrilla's fracking activities, (and it is commercially sensitive so is not published), but it has been suggested to us that although Cuadrilla's initial approach envisaged a possible 48 fracking instances, the number of actual instances has been far less than this.

Furthermore, the fracks that have been done used reduced pressure and reduced water compared with what might have been expected, and the fracking periods were of short duration on each occasion.

Given Cuadrilla's history on such matters, we would not be surprised at a what seems to have been a very cautious initial approach.

 Has Caution Worked?

HOWEVER, if it was a very cautious first approach - and even this cautious approach has produced the numbers and frequency of earthquakes that we have seen - then it is probably correct to say - as one of our correspondents has said - 'they are in trouble'

Clearly by all accounts, they are behind schedule, and we don't think Cuadrilla's arguments about wanting more time to properly analyse the results of the fracking that has taken place so far should be accorded much weight as to why they have disassembled and removed equipment the site.

Equally, and although it is possible, we don't put a lot of weight on 'cost saving' being the main reason for effectively emptying the site of fracking capacity.

As one of our correspondents said, the scale and cost of the removal and the subsequent re-installation would be prohibitively expensive unless Cuadrilla did not expect to frack/drill for at least 6 months.

Cost saving might be a collateral benefit (or perhaps even a requirement - which we'll discuss shortly), but on its own, we don't think it is the reason for the site being effectively dismantled.

Equally, whilst pressuring the Government to relax the Traffic Light system is undoubtedly something Cuadrilla and others would welcome, we find it difficult to believe that it could be the sole reason for the disassembly and removal of much of the equipment.

 So where does that leave us?

Well, to our mind, it comes down to the results so far, the prospects for the future, and the willingness of Cuadrilla's financial backers to continue to invest in them.

No matter how much gloss they put on it, the results so far have been poor, if not bad.

It seems to be the case that each time they have fracked, they've had problems with earthquakes.

And if it's correct that there have been significantly less instances of fracking than the 48 that were envisaged, and (according to the British Geological Survey) there have been 57 instances of earthquakes in the Blackpool area between 18 October and 15 December, it is likely that sometimes the earthquakes arose when there was no fracking taking place.

Potentially that's more worrying - because, if the cumulative effect of fracking is causing earthquakes when fracking has not been taking place, then we could be heading toward what happened at Preese Hall where the 50th earthquake arose from an in-combination result of all the earlier ones, and it was much larger. It damaged the well that had been drilled - leading to its abandonment.

So it seems that no matter what they tried on this first well - latterly using liquid nitrogen - the fracking is causing earthquakes.

Not only that, but they can't frack with sufficient force to get enough sand in the fractures to prop them open for a decent flow of gas to come out before causing an earthquake and having to stop.

So although there probably is some gas coming out, we're struggling to believe the volume of gas arising is anything like sufficient to justify commercial viability and significant flow testing.

 Investor Confidence

Given its history, we think that further progress with Well No. 1 at Preston New Road would be counter-productive in terms of demonstrating Cuadrilla's ability to extract commercial flows of gas, and it could actually damage investor confidence in the company.

So we'd put most of our weight behind this as being the main reason for demobilisation and removal of equipment from the site, (and for Cuadrilla's kindly wishing everyone a happy Christmas and New Year), rather than their announcing what we think will turn out to be their effective abandonment of this first well.

But for those same reasons of investor confidence, we could exactly see why Cuadrilla would NOT want to say they can't make this first well work to produce a commercially viable flow of gas.

Their silence speaks volumes, though not, perhaps, volumes of gas.

But it might give them an even bigger problem. If they can't show a decent flow testing of gas for six months, then according to one of our correspondents a further payment (of £46,700,000) may not be forthcoming to Cuadrilla from Centrica.

Cuadrilla is a web of 14 or so subsidiary companies (e.g. Cuadrilla Bowland Limited, Cuadrilla Balcombe Limited, Cuadrilla Well Services Limited, and more), under the 'Cuadrilla Resources Limited' umbrella.

However Cuadrilla itself is owned:

  • 47% by A J Lucas, an Australian mining and infrastructure company
  • 45% by Riverstone Holdings, a private equity investor
  • 8% by Cuadrilla employees and former employees

So the strategic control of what Cuadrilla do will probably come from their main parent A J Lucas - and they've not been having too good a time in recent years.

In the last five years, their share price had dropped from a peak of around $1.06 to less than $0.20 this week

share price over 5 years. please click to enlarge

In the last three months alone, their share price has dropped from a high of just over $0.40 to less than $0.20

share price over 3 months. please click to enlarge

For those with an interest in such matters, we came across a 'Dealing Desk Note' from a company called 'Patersons' (or probably more accurately 'Patersons Securities Limited') which - (in a parody of Donald Rumsfeld's famous quote) - sets out some information on Cuadrilla's 'Known Knowns, Known Unknowns & Unknown Unknowns'

Readers can follow this link to download it, but might like to bear in mind that "PSL [which we take to be Patersons Securities Limited] has acted for A J Lucas (AJL) within the past year and has received a fee for these services."

Whilst no doubt international and other factors will be in play in their share price, but it must be the case that Cuadrilla's poor performance at Preston New Road will have a dragging effect on the parent company's share price which, of course reflects investor confidence in it.

We're unlikely ever to get to know what's actually happening between Cuadrilla and A J Lucas, but we would not be surprised to find that, as a result of the poor performance, big sticks have been in evidence behind the scenes.

The last time a Cuadrilla well was abandoned (Preese Hall) we saw a change of Chief Executive. Mark Miller left for pastures new, and Francis Egan arrived to take control of Cuadrilla.

We can't help wondering how much of what Cuadrilla is doing today is actually what they have been told to do by folk from A J Lucas.

 PULLING IT ALL TOGETHER

So we'll conclude with our own guess - and it's nothing more than a personal belief - based on what we've been told, and on plain common sense.

Of course, it's always possible that something bigger than anyone expects could be the reason.

For example, it's possible that Cuadrilla is in the process of being sold to a new owner - perhaps a much bigger company.

It's equally possible that what's happening is a prelude to Cuadrilla being wound up altogether - the cessation of activity, the lack of information, the removal of expensive equipment from the site, all put us in mind of a situation we were once connected with, when a large builder whose work to build a large new housing estate outside Preston had slowed almost to a standstill, and suddenly had creditors *removing* unfitted window frames and other goods they had previously delivered to the site, and even our own organisation being sent in to recover whatever we could find of value - just a day before the builder declared itself insolvent.

We don't think that will happen to Cuadrilla anytime soon, but a closedown and asset sale could be a prelude to its being sold on or wound up.

But whilst either of those remain a possibility, we don't give a lot of weight to them.

However, we would not be at all surprised to find the main reason for the site being disassembled and much of the equipment being removed, is to reduce spending in the wake of a decision that has already been taken, (but not made public), to practically abandon the first well that Cuadrilla drilled and has - unsuccessfully it appears - tried to frack to full flow-testing stage at the Preston New Road site.

We also think the most likely next step will be along the 'line of least resistance' (no pun intended) - either to frack Well No.2 that is already drilled at Preston New Road and try again, (or maybe to drill a new bore in a different direction from Preston new Road).

Alternatively they could re-focus efforts on what will become the Roseacre Wood site if the Secretary of State once again overrides all the local levels of democracy and allows exploratory drilling and fracking by Cuadrilla early this year (when the decision is expected).

Subject to finance continuing from its parent companies, we think either of these three options is a likely next step, but of the two, we think 'Well No 2' at Preston New Road is the more likely outcome.

As one of our correspondents said - it is drilled and ready and waiting to be fracked, and by far the cheapest option. The only thing holding it up is approval from the UK's Oil and Gas Authority.

If that takes 6 to 12 months to obtain, it will probably have been worthwhile removing the fracking equipment from site.

 FRACKING WELL NO. 2 MIGHT BE DELAYED

Further credibility for this being the most likely primary cause of Cuadrilla's apparent closing down of Well No1 comes from academia.

On 22 October 2018, Emeritus Professor of Geophysics of the University of Glasgow, David Smythe published an article called "There may be trouble ahead" which set out various matters in relation to Cuadrilla's exploration. Readers can follow this link to see the full text of his article, but we've reproduced two quotes that we think are especially relevant to the present situation:

".....However, triggering of earthquakes during fracking is, in my view, a subsidiary issue. My overall concern is that Cuadrilla is failing, even after nine years in the Fylde, to understand the geology. Part of a 2D seismic reflection line is shown below, with my geological interpretation and with the deviated well track superimposed, to illustrate this point....."

"....Furthermore, Cuadrilla appears to be hiding the fact that there are major faults in the near-vicinity of the PNR wells, which extend up to the near-surface, as shown in the seismic example above. These could be future conduits for contamination from fracked shale...."

But, we thought, even more telling was a comment he made on November 18, 2018 (3:53 pm), in response to criticism of him by a contributor on the 'Drill or Drop' website, where he responded:

".....It is quite easy for others such as myself, expert in seismic acquisition, interpretation and in structural geology, to do a "better job" – once they are permitted access to the full data.

I have only had access to the 3D survey for 12 days, and can already explain why the Millstone Grit is absent at PNR but present at PH-1. It confirms my long-held view that Cuadrilla is technically incompetent, both in drilling and in geological understanding.

A detailed report on my preliminary findings is currently with the EA, which has agreed to examine it in detail before making a decision about whether or not to issue approval for the Hydraulic Fracture Plan for PNR-2."

Readers will remember this matter of the 'vanishing' Millstone Grit was something we addressed in The Nitty Gritty, and which a local geologist published in even better detail on the Drill or Drop Website

 SO WHERE DOES ALL OF THIS GET US?

Well, if our own belief is correct, and Cuadrilla has effectively closed down Well No 1 at Preston New Road, and the shortfalls in their geological interpretations are as Professor Smythe believes, and these shortfalls have already been drawn to the attention of the Environment Agency who are currently examining them in detail, then it's very likely it will take some months for the EA's geological experts to see whether what Professor Smythe believes is correct or not.

So we think it will become evident over time that the primary reason for the disassembly of the fracking rig and the removal from site of equipment and supplies that might have been costing Cuadrilla a lot of money to store unused will be:

  • their inability to get a commercially viable flow rate of gas, resulting in the unannounced - but premature - closing down of Well No.1,
  • an unplanned delay in securing permission to frack Well No.2, and,
  •  worries about increasing costs after poor results so far, and the impact this will be having on investor support.

COUNTY HALL SPAT

The last meeting of Lancashire County Council (on 13 December 2018) saw a spat about fracking.

 Notice of Motion

Any County Councillor can submit what's called a Notice of Motion - in effect something they want the County Council to do which has not emanated from officers.

But before doing so, the councillor must give advance notice of their intention, and of the wording of their motion.

 Party Politics

Now, our readers might not realise it, but in terms of local government, the further away you get from parish councils toward central government the more 'party political' it gets.

  • Parish Councils (thankfully) have, for the most part, avoided party politics playing any part in their decisions.
  • It's more evident in Borough Councils like Fylde and (sadly) far more so now than it ever was in the past.
  • It's very prevalent at the County Council.
  • And it's almost the whole of the point for central Government's existence.

Much of this state of affairs is to do with electoral scale.

It is to do with whether you can know the person you vote for.

At parish level (where each councillor will typically represent a few hundred or so electors) councillors will be people who are well known in their ward or area.

At borough level (with closer to a few thousand electors per councillor) less electors will know them as individuals.

At county level it's tens of thousands of people per elector and few will be known individually by their electors.

At Parliamentary level it's up to hundreds-of-thousands of electors per MP so the likelihood of you knowing your MP as an individual is much more remote.

As the scale increases, we can see there is a need for a form of 'shorthand' to give electors a clue about the beliefs and values of the person you might want to vote for - and that's the void that political parties fill.

On lots of issues (except most notably Brexit) political parties and their manifestos and policies become a surrogate for not knowing the person you're voting for as an individual.

 Digression

As a quick aside at this point, this process continues upward. When you vote in the UK version of a European Election, the scale and cost of the process means that hardly any independent candidates can stand for election, so normally you can only vote for a Political Party (not the individual).

In practice you almost always vote for a 'party list'

In England, Scotland and Wales, you have one vote to elect all of the MEPs for your region. Each party puts forward a list of candidates - known as a regional list - and you vote for one of these lists (or, very rarely, for an individual candidate standing as an independent). The successful party can also subsequently change the individual(s) that represents the party on their list.

Awful!

 Party Politics at County Hall?

The point we were leading to here, before we got sidetracked - is that you can expect a lot of 'politicking' at County Council meetings.

Sometimes this leads to the sort of behaviour that turns people off politics and voting. It can seem childish and very 'yah-boo'.

So when (Labour's) County Councillor John Fillis gave advance notice of a motion to 'Suspend Fracking in Lancashire' and said:

"Following the earthquakes being identified around the Fracking site on Preston New Road, we call upon the Chief Executive and Director of Resources to write to the Prime Minister on behalf of Lancashire County Council requesting that:

(i) Fracking on the Preston New Road site is suspended by order of the government.

(ii) An independent inquiry investigates the earthquakes being recorded within the local area.

(iii) Fracking is suspended in Lancashire until the independent inquiry publishes its findings."


And, perhaps, in response to having had advance sight of that motion, (Conservative) County Councillor Ed Nash proposed his own motion that said:

"Lancashire County Council believes in the absolute right of all citizens to peaceful and lawful protest.

However, recent unlawful protest actions carried out at Preston New Road in Fylde that have resulted in obstruction to the highway and significant disruption to traffic and the lawful business of residents give cause for concern.

In particular disquiet has been voiced that Lancashire Police are slow to remove obstructions to ensure the free flow of traffic and to remove those acting unlawfully.

In addition, Council notes that the Police action has so far cost over £3million and that this impacts negatively on the Police budget and thereby frontline policing in Lancashire.

This Council therefore:

(i) Calls on the Chief Constable of Lancashire to ensure that adequate provision is made and necessary measures taken to minimise disruption.

(ii) Requests that the Chief Executive writes to the Home Secretary to express this concern and requests that police action at this, and other similar protests, are funded by Central Government."


There was always going to be something of an argument at this meeting.

We'll leave our readers to come to their own view about whether Cllr Fillis was really worried about the fracking, and was being very serious in his proposition, or whether it was more party political - and Labour had spotted a point-scoring opportunity as a salvo in the opening shots in a campaign for May's Borough Council elections. We honestly don't know him well enough be able to comment which (if either) of these was his motive.

Equally, readers will have to come to their own view about whether Cllr Nash's motion was a counter-response to what Labour had proposed, or whether is was a pure coincidence that two such diverse motions appeared on the agenda of the same meeting.

But by accounts reaching us, it became a bad tempered exchange and has infuriated many local people who are genuinely concerned about the impact fracking is having, and will have, on the area in which they live.

 Comments from the meeting

One of our readers told us that at the meeting, Cllr Fillis' motion was waylaid by an amendment from (Conservative) Cllr Michael Green (representing Moss Side & Farington towards Leyland) - which actually totally replaced Cllr Fillis' motion and, to our reader, it did not seem to be an amendment (which they had expected to tweak the wording not come from a different angle altogether

The wording of the amendment can be found in item 10 of the official record of the meeting. Readers can follow this link to see the minutes. (starting at item 10)

We were told there were lots of points of order during the debate, and a chair that did not seem to know what she was doing, and what our reader thought was an inconsistent Monitoring Officer appearing to threaten the Development Control committee, but when challenged, seemed to back off.

In the end, the Conservative majority ensured the 'amendment' to Cllr Fillis' motion was the resolution adopted.

Things became worse for our reader with a clash taking place between Cllr Nash and Cllr Dowding about the truthfulness of Cllr Nash's comments on delays caused to 'blue light' emergency vehicles, and his retaliation that she had a criminal record, and with Cllr Tim Ashton alluding to protestors as being an out-of-town-rabble.

Our reader concluded that in some circumstances this sort of political sparring could be viewed as good clean fun, except that in their view, it was not clean, and it was not harmless. They thought the Conservative councillors were simply propagating lies about protestors and supporting fracking even when proposal was simply to pause and investigate.

 Reaction to what was said

Separately, but on the same topic, we also received a copy of an open letter written by (what seemed to us to be a very hurt) Mrs Barbara Richardson who chairs the Roseacre Awareness Group.

She spoke of her dismay having heard Cllr Nash and Cllr Ashton's comments the previous day at the full Council meeting, regarding "fracking, rent-a-mob protestors, and significant traffic delays"

We have personal knowledge of Mrs Richardson and we could in no-way imagine her being described as a rent-a-mob protestor, a point which she makes clear in the open letter to both Cllr Nash and Cllr Ashton, affording them far more courtesy than was evident in the meeting.

Readers can follow this link to read Mrs Richardson's Open Letter in full (except we have chosen to remove her address).

We can't help thinking that using insulting language about those who oppose what Cuadrilla are doing in Fylde's rural villages can be anything but counter-productive with an election looming in May.

Dated:  4 January 2019

 

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