Although no hydraulic fracturing will take place during the current exploration drilling near Balcombe, Cuadrilla has not ruled out using the controversial technology in the future.
In spite of protesters blocking the site in west Sussex for nine consecutive days, the company has today started exploration drilling to assess how much oil can actually be extracted at the site.
Cuadrilla’s spokesman said that even though some media might have suggested so, no hydraulic fracturing will be carried out at this stage. “We are using a conventional oil drilling technology now to see whether there is any oil at the Balcombe site.”
However, he said, if oil is found and it is not possible to extract it via conventional means, the company will probably start the application process to acquire permits and licenses to extract the oil with the help of hydraulic fracturing.
“There are three scenarios,” the spokesman said. “Either no oil is found and then Cuadrilla will simply leave Balcombe, or it is found and then we will consider how to extract it,” he said, adding that the company sees the conventional drilling technology as a more favourable way of extracting the oil.
Cuadrilla has started boring the more than 900m deep well today (Friday 2 August) at 11:15am. The work was delayed by several days in the wake of the fierce protests, during which more than 30 people have been arrested.
The exploration will take about three months, after which the decision will be made regarding the future of the site. In every case, if Cuadrilla wants to start oil extraction at the site, it will have to apply for new licences.
Earlier this week, Cuadrilla’s boss Francis Egan reassured the public that the company has no intention of 'ruining' the countryside.
However, emotions are running high regarding the controversial technology that is widely feared as being able to trigger earthquakes and contaminate underground water resources.
Hydraulic fracturing, or 'fracking', involves liquid being pumped into the ground at high pressures to split shale rock and release gas supplies that are not accessible by conventional means.
The technique was developed in the USA and resulted in a major energy revolution.