U.K.-based energy company Cuadrilla is starting construction on the country’s first large-scale hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, site.
The site, located in Lancashire, will need at least three months of construction work to prepare before drilling can commence. The U.K. government officially approved fracking at the site in October. Cuadrilla expects to start drilling in the second quarter of 2017.
The U.K. is one of the few countries in Europe to allow fracking, but local governments had repeatedly refused to give energy companies permits for years. The British government overruled local objections to fracking at the Lancashire site, and issued the first fracking permits in Western Europe since 2011.
Fracking operations were halted, however, after test-drilling allegedly triggered a small magnitude 2.3 earthquake in 2011. A British Geological Survey report, which was carried out by independent experts, said the quakes were due to an “unusual combination of geology at the well site,” adding that the conditions that caused the minor earthquakes were “unlikely to occur again.”
That hasn’t stopped environmentalists.
British environmental groups Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth claim to have gathered more than 186,000 signatures on a petition to ban fracking in the country.
Activists claim fracking has no “democratic mandate.” The British Geological Survey has investigated environmentalist claims about fracking since May and found no evidence to substantiate them.
“We have been through an exhaustive environmental impact assessment on this,” Francis Egan, CEO of the Cuadrilla, told the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). “We have assessed everything; noise, traffic, water, emissions, etc. The Environment Agency are entirely comfortable with it.”
The U.K. estimates it has 26 trillion cubic feet of shale gas reserves, according to a 2013 report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Energy analysts say that even in the most favorable circumstances, large-scale development of fracking in the U.K is at least five to 10 years away due to legal and regulatory barriers.
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