The High Court has refused to grant an interim injunction preventing Cuadrilla from carrying out hydraulic fracking operations at the Preston New Road site in Lancashire. The ruling means that Cuadrilla can resume fracking in the UK for the first time since 2011.

Mr Justice Supperstone also refused permission for judicial review of Lancashire County Council’s decision over the adequacy of the risk assessment and emergency planning procedures.

Cuadrilla had been granted a petroleum exploration and development licence and an environmental permit for the Preston New Road site, as well as planning permission in 2016 to develop the site as a temporary exploration site with permission to drill, hydraulically fracture and test the flow of natural gas from up to four horizontal wells. Having completed drilling for the UK’s first two horizontal shale gas wells, and obtained Hydraulic Fracturing Consent from the Secretary of State in July 2018, the company was due to commence hydraulic fracking.

The High Court initially granted an interim injunction on 5 October preventing the commencement of fracking until the hearing on 12 October. The claimant local resident sought to extend the interim injunction until such time as the High Court had an opportunity to consider the claimant’s proposed legal challenge.

In requesting permission for a judicial review, the claimant submitted that the local planning authority had failed to carry out an adequate risk assessment (categorising the risk of fracking as ‘medium’ rather than ‘high’); had failed to apply the ‘precautionary principle’; and had failed in its duty to communicate with the local community about the risks associated with fracking and emergency procedures.

However, the court refused both applications and held that there was not a ‘serious issue’ to be tried which would justify an interim order. In addition, the court held that the environmental and regulatory risk had been adequately assessed and that there was no evidence to support the claim that the risk should have been categorised as ‘high’ rather than ‘medium’. In this respect, the court was reluctant to intervene and substitute its own risk assessment for that of experts. The risk assessment had satisfactorily applied the ‘precautionary principle’ by considering the worst-case scenario and there was no arguable case that the local planning authority had failed to conduct appropriate emergency planning procedures.

Following the ruling, Cuadrilla announced its intention to start fracking immediately and news reports indicate that, notwithstanding a blockade by protestors at the entrance of the site, fracking commenced on 15 October. It has been reported that the claimant will appeal against the judge’s decision.

R. (on the application of Dennett) v Lancashire CC