UK: Fracking

Last Updated: 8 August 2019
Article by Sandy Telfer

Fracking: The events so far...

The use of the drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing (colloquially known as fracking) as part of onshore unconventional gas exploration has begun again in England for the first time in seven years.

The process, which involves pumping water, sand and drilling fluids at high pressure into a target shale play deep underground to create and keep open narrow fissures (typically hairline in width) from which gas is then released into the wellbore and captured at the surface, is currently prohibited in Scotland and Wales. However, despite vigorous opposition from environmental groups, which has involved several unsuccessful Court challenges, neither the energy exploration companies nor the UK Government at the moment show any sign of giving in to the objectors' demand that the controversial process should also be banned in England.

Why frack?

The UK currently produces 44% of its gas needs from the North Sea and East Irish Sea. It imports 47% of the gas it uses from Europe and Norway with the remaining 9% being imported by tanker in the form of liquefied natural gas. The British Geographical Survey estimates that trillions of cubic feet of shale gas may be recoverable from beneath certain parts of the UK. As a result of these findings energy companies applied to the UK Government in the 13th Onshore Licensing Round held in 2008 to explore for the first time for shale gas. However, since then, despite the industry's best efforts, only one shale gas well has been fracked in the UK (Cuadrilla's Preese Hall 1 well near Blackpool), a test that had to be suspended before completion of the fracturing programme after two small induced earthquakes were recorded. This led to a yearlong moratorium being imposed on onshore fracking operations until a method to control seismic activity through the use of a real time "traffic light system" was introduced.

Fracking in practice

The planning history at the Preece Hall site demonstrates the regulatory hurdles faced by the industry. Cuadrilla were initially refused planning permission by Lancashire County Council in June 2015 but that decision was overturned over a year later on appeal. Although the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government granted Cuadrilla planning permission in October 2016, the discharge of the last of pre-commencement conditions which he had attached to his decision letter was only finally obtained from the local planning authority in January 2018.

That, however, was not the end of Cuadrilla's legal problems. On 5 October 2018 a local resident was granted a last minute interim injunction on the grounds that the local Council had allegedly failed to put in place an emergency contingency plan for the area. Following legal debate, this argument was subsequently rejected by the High Court thereby allowing Cuadrilla to finally begin drilling at Preston New Road on 15 October 2018.

This site is currently the only one in the UK that is authorised to frack.

Public nuisance or peaceful protesting?

Following the grant of a High Court injunction prohibiting objectors from unlawfully obstructing Cuadrilla's shale gas site and the sites of their suppliers, objectors have sought to disrupt operations from further afield.

In September 2018 these "off-site" tactics led to three anti-fracking protestors being jailed for causing a public nuisance after they took part in a four-day "lorry surfing" protest near to Cuadrilla's Preston New Road site. It is believed that this is the first time in England that public nuisance as a crime at common law has been used to deter environmental protest. The campaigners, having been initially jailed for between 15 and 16 months, were subsequently released six weeks later after their sentences were quashed by the Court of Appeal on the ground that they were "manifestly excessive".

The future of fracking

In a Written Ministerial Statement issued in May 2018 the Business and Energy Secretary reminded local planning authorities that shale gas development is of "national importance" and that the UK Government expected them when determining applications for planning permission to give great weight to the benefits of mineral extraction, including to the economy. Promising results from Cuadrilla's appraisal borehole in Lancashire early this year provided the industry with a glimmer of hope. The data indicated that there was a significant reserve of gas held in the target shale rock.

Since then, however, the industry has faced a series of significant set backs.

In March anti-fracking campaigners successfully challenged the provisions in the section of the UK Government's revised National Planning Policy Framework dealing with onshore shale gas development on the grounds that the government had failed to take proper account of certain scientific information on low carbon claims as part of the review public consultation.

Then, in another blow to the industry, the UK Government's shale gas commissioner, Natasha Engel resigned in April citing her frustration at what she described as the "ridiculous" seismic limitation regulations that in her view were causing the nascent onshore shale gas industry to "wither on the vine.

With political support at Westminster continuing to be on the wane in the face of the climate change debate, it remains to be seen whether the industry's appetite to invest in onshore shale gas development will continue to hold firm the face of such growing opposition. But as one commentator recently remarked, "All it might take to turn public opinion around would be a gas supply deficit in the face of a harsh winter leading to factory closures. Time will tell".

Given the close interaction between the law and politics in this sector, the future of the fracking industry in the UK remains an interesting area to watch.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions