Work to prepare the first horizontal fracking site in the UK for shale gas extraction has begun in Lancashire.
The government approved energy firm Cuadrilla Resources’s plans to frack at the Preston New Road site at Little Plumpton in October last year.
The firm said it started site construction work on Thursday after Lancashire County Council agreed planning conditions had been met.
Cuadrilla said drilling will commence in approximately three months after the surface site, which it describes as “roughly the size of a rugby pitch”, is prepared.
A new site entrance, access road and well pad will be constructed before a protective membrane is installed “to create an impermeable barrier underneath the site”, the firm said.
Mr Egan said the work will “be undertaken to the highest safety and environmental standards” and monitored by the firm as well as by regulators and academics.
“Twelve months from now we hope this work will prove the economic viability of this indigenous shale gas resource in Lancashire which will help improve energy security for the nation,” he said.
A second Lancashire site, Roseacre Wood, has not yet been given the green light amid concerns over the impact on the area.
The council had refused permission to extract shale gas at both sites on the grounds of noise and traffic impact but the government overruled the decision for the Preston New Road site.
Cuadrilla believes that some 200 trillion cubic feet of gas could lie in its Lancashire licence area. If 10% could be extracted, it would be equivalent to about 7 years’ worth of the UK’s gas needs.
The private equity-backed company has not undertaken any shale drilling in Lancashire since 2011 when it caused earth tremors attempting to frack a vertical well at Preese Hall, leading to a moratorium.
Indeed, despite the lifting of the ban a year later and Government backing for the development of a UK shale gas industry, no fracking has taken place anywhere in the country since.
This year, however, industry hopes are high with Cuadrilla’s efforts in Lancashire getting underway at the same time as Third Energy prepares to frack an existing vertical well at its site in Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire.
The Kirby Misperton fracking, which got planning consent from the local council earlier last May, had been held up pending a judicial review challenge which was thrown out in December.
Though there are two outstanding legal challenges against Cuadrilla’s planning consent, the company said they did not represent any impediment to it starting work.
In Lancashire on Thursday, a handful of anti-fracking campaigners gathered with placards on the pavement by Cuadrilla’s new roadworks.