Chris Holliday, 60, recalls the exact moment a 2.9-magnitude earth tremor brought a halt to fracking in the UK. It was 8.30am on August bank holiday Monday in 2019 and Holliday, a retired IT consultant, was with his wife, Susan, in their neat kitchen when all of a sudden the cups and saucers began to shake.
“The crockery and glasses were rattling. The windows were rattling,” he said on Thursday.
“It was frightening,” said Susan. “I personally felt seven or eight of these earth tremors and it’s quite a scary situation to live in – and to think that could start off all over the country.”
The Holliday’s retirement home is barely 300 metres from Britain’s fracking frontier at Preston New Road in Lancashire. Cuadrilla was forced to stop drilling at the site in November 2019 when the government announced a temporary moratorium after repeated earth tremors above the 0.5-magnitude limit set by regulators.
The site, set among acres of farmland on the Lancashire coast, is the only fracking operation in the UK in which horizontal wells have been drilled and hydraulically fractured into shale rock.
Locals said on Thursday they feared it puts them back on the frontline after Liz Truss, just 48 hours into her premiership, lifted the moratorium on fracking, aiming to get gas flowing in six months.
“It’s just dismay,” said Chris Holliday. “The drilling itself is very intrusive. The earth tremors put you on edge the whole time. You can’t really relax at all.”
It was not just those who live nearby who felt the 2.9-magnitude tremor in August 2019. Nearly 200 properties, including some several miles away, reported damage, according to data collected by the British Geological Survey.
Cuadrilla, which offered people “goodwill payments” of hundreds of pounds for the property damage, welcomed Truss’s announcement and promised to work with the government “to ensure this industry can start generating results as soon as possible”.
Preston New Road became the focal point for anti-fracking protests from across the UK as campaigners, led by a group of women calling themselves the Nanas, frustrated Cuadrilla’s operations as activists blocked roads, chained themselves to fences, and forced the police to make arrests.
Tina Louise Rothery, 60, who was arrested seven times at the site, returned to Preston New Road in the Nanas’ signature yellow tabard on Thursday and vowed to “pull out all the stops” to stop fracking going ahead.
“It won’t just be frontline stuff. We will oppose this with legal challenges, planning applications. We will call on XR and the unions and the lines to blockade things. We will pull out all the stops,” she said. “And this time we won’t settle for a moratorium either. We’re just going to keep on hammering this until we get the proper ban on fracking.”
Rothery said there would be no local support for fracking even if the government promised discounted energy bills for the affected communities. She said: “It’s dangling a precious, precious thing, which is a reduction in your energy bills, in a town like Blackpool that is among the most poverty-stricken places in the country – that isn’t local support, that’s desperation.”
Rothery, who said she had no history of activism before Cuadrilla announced its fracking plans in 2011, stood against George Osborne for the Green party in Tatton during the general election. Fighting the proposals “consumed our lives”, she said, but they were taking action for the good of future generations. “I’ve watched my grandchildren grow from six to 17 and miss the bits they grew up in. I’ve watched people get sick and have PTSD as a result of their treatment at these demonstrations.
“We’re here and we’re never going away until they [Cuadrilla] do.”
Another Nana, Julie Daniels, 62, said she was in “disbelief” when she saw reports the fracking ban was being lifted. “Today I feel ill to my stomach,” she said. “Nobody wants to do this again but if we don’t object, if we don’t push back, who is going to stop it?”
Daniels said the Nanas campaign group had kept in touch since fracking was banned but hoped any action it took in the future could be proactive, rather than fighting against something. She said: “We didn’t think we would have to come back. We worked tirelessly for years, we were here outside the site for 1,000 days. It went on and on and we were mostly held together by the solidarity of the community and from right across the UK.”
She added: “Liz Truss has no idea what she’s talking about. She thinks we’re going to be pumping gas within six months – what ignorance.”
Truss had spoken in favour of fracking during the Tory leadership campaign, despite the previous opposition of her chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng. He wrote in March that fracking “would come at a high cost for communities and our precious countryside” and that no amount of domestic shale gas “would be enough to lower the European price any time soon”.
Mark Menzies, the Conservative MP for Fylde, whose constituency includes Preston New Road, said on Thursday he had written to Truss to make clear the area was “entirely unsuitable” to future drilling.
He said: “Twice fracking has taken place here and twice it has resulted in a national moratorium. That is no coincidence. The last seismic event here was 250 times the industry-agreed safe limit, releasing 3,000 times more energy.
“It has been demonstrated without doubt the geology here is not suitable and I have made clear to the prime minister exploration should not resume locally. If she is serious about fracking only going ahead with local consent she will listen carefully to what I have to say.”