Emails Reveal Cuadrilla's Plans to Change Rules, Not Behaviour, After Fracking Drill Rig Breach


Fracking company Cuadrilla plans to avoid future breaches of planning permission at its shale gas site by applying to change the rules, rather than its operations, it has told Lancashire County Council.

After Cuadrilla breached its planning conditions to deliver a drill to its Preston New Road fracking site in July, Lancashire Council required the company to demonstrate how it would prevent further breaches.

Correspondence between the company and the council’s planning officer, obtained by DeSmog UK through a freedom of information request, reveals Cuadrilla said it planned to apply to change the planning conditions, rather than detailing any changes in its operations.

Lancashire council did not punish Cuadrilla for the breach at the time, and it remains unclear if it considers these steps are sufficient to satisfy officials that planning conditions will not be breached again in the future.

In the its letter to Cuadrilla on July 27, the council stated that the drill arrived “before the times allowed in condition 19 of the planning permission, and is a breach and that the council “requires you [Cuadrilla] to put in place measures to prevent a recurrence of the breach”.

The letter said that “further breaches will result in proportionate action being taken by the County Council”.

Lancashire County Council did not respond to repeated requests for clarification over whether its warning to punish “further breaches” was the full extent of the action taken against Cuadrilla in response to the drilling rig breach. 

A reply from Cuadrilla to the council on August 3 , sent seven days after the council notified Cuadrilla that it had breached its planning permission — the maximum time allowed — said:

With regard to the measures that Cuadrilla plans to put in place in respect to adherence of planning condition 19 … we plan to seek a variation of this condition that will allow for a limited number of deliveries outside of normal working hours”.

The company justifies this request with reference to “the increasing number of illegal actions we, the general public, and the police have faced outside the PNR [Preston New Road] site”.

Cuadrilla has now submitted an application to revise its planning permission to “allow up to a maximum of nine single convoy deliveries or removals to be conducted outside the hours specific in condition 19”. The change could mean up to 1,000 deliveries at night and on Sundays, independent news website Drill or Drop estimates.

When DeSmog UK asked if this modification was the only change Cuadrilla planned to make to avoid further breaches, a spokesperson for the company said:

We stated at the time the main drilling rig was brought onto our Preston New Road site, outside of our permitted delivery hours to avoid yet more major road blockages by protestors and ensure commuter, protestor and our employee and supplier’s safety. We strongly believe that in doing this we minimized any potential harm to individuals and the environment in carrying out the early morning delivery and as such fulfilling the spirit of the planning condition.

In order to avoid any future breach, should the need arise for out of hours deliveries to mitigate against illegal protest activity, we have submitted a variation of our delivery hours to Lancashire County Council for their approval.”

Referring to Cuadrilla’s application to modify the planning conditions, Claire Stephenson, a spokesperson for Frack Free Lancashire, told Desmog UK:

By Cuadrilla continually seeking to change the rules to suit themselves, they are demonstrating their ineptness in adhering to the agreed conditions.”

She said local officials needed to do more to ensure Cuadrilla operates within the confines of regulations that were put in place to protect residents.

Conservative-controlled Lancashire County Council have absolutely no interest nor abillity to enforce planning conditions. The continual breaches that Cuadrilla have racked-up since January have largely been ignored or dismissed.

“Where is the gold-standard we were promised? Robust regulations are translating to mean weak and feeble: they are not worth the paper they are printed on and any further applications to alter planning conditions should be refused.”

Cuadrilla regularly uses protestors as a justification for altering its operations at the site. DeSmog UK previously revealed that traffic to the site used a route other than the agreed ‘preferred route’ under the planning conditions 115 times in three months.

Campaigners pointed to those figures as evidence that promised heavy regulation of the industry to protect residents was “non-existent”.

Police Involvement

In the same letter to the council, Cuadrilla said it took the decision to bring the drill into the site in the early hours of the morning “following detailed consultation with Lancashire police”.

Once the delivery had been confirmed, Lancashire Constabulary released a statement that said, “Our aim as always is to ensure there is a consistent and coordinated policing response and ensure a balance between the rights of people to peacefully protest, together with the rights of the wider public, including local businesses, to go about their lawful activities.”

Lancashire police have previously claimed the decision to breach the planning condition was Cuadrilla’s, and that the force then had a responsibility to mount an operation in response.

Lancashire Constabulary denies recommending that Cuadrilla breach its planning conditions as part of that consultiation. No details of the consultation have been released, however. 

A police spokesperson told DeSmog UK that, “having been presented with a delivery plan by Cuadrilla, a decision was made based on public safety. A police operation was put in place based on this”.

Despite receiving advance warning of the breach, the force maintains that it seeks to facilitate any lawful activity, whether that is by Cuadrilla or the protesters. A spokesperson said:

“Since January we have facilitated peaceful protest on a daily basis while balancing this on the rights of local community both individuals and companies to go about their lawful business. Our paramount consideration has been the safety of everybody concerned at all times.”

When asked if the police had recommended the company breach its planning conditions, a spokesperson for Cuadrilla told DeSmog UK:

We regularly consult the Police on our delivery schedules to ensure the safety of all highway users and this was the case for the delivery of our main drilling rig, we do not disclose Police advice.”

The police’s role in escorting the drilling equipment to the site demonstrated the weakness of the planning regulations around the site, Stephenson told DeSmog UK.

“If the police are ‘told’ by Cuadrilla that they are bringing in a large convoy, outside of permitted hours, and the police are obliged to facilitate this, what then is the point of having regulations that are unravelling to mean very little?”

Main image credit: Mat Hope/DeSmog UK CC0

Updated 30/10/2017: An additional line linking to Drill or Drop’s story on Cuadrilla’s new planning application was added. 
Updated 31/10/2017: Reaction from Lancashire Constabulary was added. The police did not provide a quote in time for the original publication date, despite being given fair warning of publication. The quotes were added as soon as they were received.

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Mat was DeSmog's Special Projects and Investigations Editor, and Operations Director of DeSmog UK Ltd. He was DeSmog UK’s Editor from October 2017 to March 2021, having previously been an editor at Nature Climate Change and analyst at Carbon Brief.

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