Fracking firm Cuadrilla trespassed on private land for geological surveys, Firm has had to pay out to at least one Lancashire homeowner and was warned by ministers

Fracking firm Cuadrilla trespassed on private land for geological surveys, Firm has had to pay out to at least one Lancashire homeowner and was warned by ministers by Damian Carrington, August 2, 2013, The Guardian
Fracking company Cuadrilla repeatedly trespassed on to private land during geological surveys and in one garden marked a site for the detonation of explosive charges before being chased off, the Guardian can reveal. The company, currently facing serious protests at its drilling site in Balcombe, West Sussex, has paid out to at least one Lancashire homeowner to settle legal action over the trespassing and was warned by ministers that such issues undermined confidence in the company and “only served to strengthen what was now becoming a national campaign” against shale gas exploration. Between April and June 2012, Cuadrilla used explosives and lorry-mounted ground vibrators to probe the geological layers beneath the surface of its exploration area in Lancashire. Mark Mills, who lives near Lytham St Annes, told the Guardian: “They blanketed the area; it was unbelievable to see.” Mills said Cuadrilla operatives repeatedly trespassed into his large garden in May to lay cables and drive in dozens of sensors to make seismic recordings. After the first cables were laid, he said: “I told an operator don’t go back on my land and he said, ‘I won’t.’ But lo and behold, the next day they had been in again and put a big red mark on the ground.” Mills said the operators’ maps, which he copied, showed the mark was to be the site of a detonation. “It was right near a gas main and my septic tank,” he said.

Mills said an argument ensued with a group of operators that led to them leaving his property: “It was the most stressful hour of my life. They were extremely unpleasant and my blood pressure had gone through the roof.”

Mills received a letter in June from Cuadrilla’s then CEO, Mark Miller, apologising for the “disturbance and inconvenience” of “accidentally accessing your property”. In February, the company settled a legal complaint from Mills by paying his legal fees and compensation. Mills has also written to the company requesting compensation for damage to his property following explosions set off on his neighbour’s property, he says. Mills said he had initially been in favour of the shale gas exploration, but said: “Cuadrilla have lived up to my worst expectations. I am not a negative person but these people were so disingenuous to deal with: could they not have done it in a professional way?”

Other local residents, who have chosen anonymity, also reported trespassing by Cuadrilla in the same local area in May. One householder, near Kirkham, said: “I caught four contractors trespassing on my land having gained entry through a field gate which was closed. No permission had been given or indeed sought.” A spokesman for Cuadrilla said: “We acknowledge there were some issues with the contractors involved in this operation and we have learned lessons. We are committed to being a good neighbour where we operate: recognising our mistakes and learning from them is an important part of this commitment.” [Fracking Community: Actions and Omissions Speak Louder than Words ]

The issue of trespassing was raised with senior Cuadrilla managers at a high level meeting on 2 July last year with Charles Hendry, the energy minister at the time. Miller attended the meeting, as did Cuadrilla chairman Lord Browne, who is also the government’s lead non-executive director. According to the minutes of the meeting released to the Guardian under freedom of information rules, Hendry told Cuadrilla’s team: “Fracking has now turned into a very controversial issue. The issue of seismic tremors has contributed to this, but the situation has got worse because of recent reports of badly managed community meetings, reports of trespass on people’s land, etc.”

Hendry also expressed concern over “recent reports of intrusion into developed areas for the seismic testing over the Jubilee weekend” and said “these incidents only served to strengthen what was now becoming a national campaign”. He warned that before taking a decision on the future of fracking, “the government would need to have confidence that the correct procedures were in place”.According to the meeting notes, Lord Browne said the board was now working effectively and was taking these issues very seriously.

Previously, the Guardian revealed that Cuadrilla broke the terms of its planning permission in Lancashire by drilling beyond an agreed time limit put in place to protect wintering birds. The Guardian revealed in March that Cuadrilla had failed to inform the government for six months that small earthquakes triggered by their drilling had deformed the well casing that is designed to prevent the contamination of ground water. The latter incident led Hendry to warn Cuadrilla over “weaknesses in its performance as a licensee”. Ministers have made a series of announcements in recent weeks to encourage shale gas exploration, including tax breaks…. [Emphasis added]

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