A drilling rig owned by one of the UK’s most prominent fracking firms has been seriously vandalised, in a move seemingly intended to slow down the country’s embryonic shale industry.
Derbyshire police said that between 18-24 May, a person illegally entered a facility near Chesterfield run by PR Marriott, Britain’s largest onshore deep drilling company, which stores and maintains the rig on behalf of shale gas firm Cuadrilla.
Once inside, they caused what the authorities described as “a large amount of criminal damage” to the rig. Police are investigating but there have been no arrests so far.
According to a source with knowledge of the matter, the rig was attacked with sledgehammers to smash its touchscreen computers and windows. Components were drilled out, while pneumatic pipes and electrical cables were cut.
In January, Cuadrilla started work on a site in Fylde, Lancashire, where later this year it hopes to frack the first well in the UK since 2011.
Anti-fracking campaigners have staged daily protests outside the fences of the site on Preston New Road, which Cuadrilla’s chief executive has said have been largely peaceful but occasionally tipped into intimidation and harassment.
Activists have also successfully pressured subcontractors into ending their agreements with Cuadrilla.
The Guardian understands that the damage at PR Marriott was to a Drillmec HH220, a mobile rig which it is believed was intended for use during the main drilling stage at Preston New Road.
The yard in Danesmoor, between Sheffield and Nottingham, has been the target of protests by anti-frackers.
Campaigners have blockaded the company several times – 11 people were arrested at one demonstration there in April and two more were arrested on 30 June, one on suspicion of aggravated trespass.
Joe Boyd, a campaigner protesting outside the site, told the Derbyshire Times: “We’ll be here until that [the drilling rig] is removed.”
Paul Matich, the senior project manager at PR Marriott, told the Guardian: “It’s disrupting our business, there’s no two ways about it.”
He said the company was upset by the impact on policing resources and neighbouring businesses.
It is not yet clear what the impact has been on Cuadrilla. The company’s timetable for Preston New Road appears to have slipped – it had originally hoped to drill in the spring, with fracking in the third quarter of the year. It is not known if this is related to the damage to the rig.
A Cuadrilla spokeswoman said: “For commercial reasons I can neither confirm nor deny whether that was going to be the main drilling rig.”
Francis Egan, Cuadrilla’s chief executive, said in the company’s annual report that he now hopes to frack towards the end of this year. The firm recently denied there was any flooding at Preston New Road, after photographs taken by a drone appeared to show surface water on the site.
Another shale company, IGas, hopes to begin drilling in Nottinghamshire in the last three months of the year, but does not yet have permission for fracking.
John Blaymires, the company’s chief operating officer, said fracking had a “very low profile” and would not industrialise the countryside.
“The most important thing that you have [to do] to ensure that we do our jobs safely, environmentally responsibly, is we construct and design that well [in Nottinghamshire] to ensure the integrity. The fracking is incidental, almost, to the whole of the rest of this story,” he told a recent industry event.
The only other company preparing to frack later this year is Third Energy, which has permission to frack in Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire.