Wednesday, 21 January 2015

County Council planning report recommends refusal of fracking applications

Jerusalem builded here:
An artist's impression of a proposed Lancashire fracking site

Lancashire County Council's Development Control Committee  will spend Wednesday 28 and Thursday 29 January, from 10am at County Hall in Preston, deciding on Cuadrilla's two fracking (shale gas drilling) exploration applications at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood.

The Committee's Executive officers have published their recommendation that the applications for exploration drilling be refused on grounds that 'as it has not been  satisfactorily demonstrated that noise impacts would be reduced to  acceptable levels and would therefore unnecessarily and unacceptably result  in harm to the amenity of neighbouring properties by way of noise pollution.'
You can download the full report from the County Council website here.

The final decisions will be taken at next week's meetings and there is considerable speculation about whether Cuadrilla's champions on the Council will be able to swing the vote in their favour, as most people seem to have made up their minds already.

Demonstrations planned
Local anti-fracking groups will be organising demonstrations outside County Hall on both days. Lancaster people who oppose these applications will catch the 8.27am train on both mornings, travelling together.

An actual Lanashire Cuadrilla fracking site
Those in favour
By December, the report states, 173 representations in support had been submitted, following intensive networking by the Chamber of Commerce, linked with the North West Energy Task Force, a lobbying group sponsored by fracking company Centrica.
Some of these attended briefing sessions given by Cuadrilla's 'independent' environmental consultants Arup, one of which was most agreeably hosted in Peel Tower at the Trafford Centre.

You can see Arup's presentation in support of Cuadrilla, entitled 'Shale Gas: Myths and Realities' on the NW Business Leaders Team website. In the Q and A they suggested that the fracking sites would be a 'low key operation like an intensive chicken farm.' This is perhaps like stating that an atomic bomb is like a giant bundle of candles. Other briefings not sponsored by the applicant are available, although not on that website.

Many potential drilling sites are owned by Peel Holdings, whose property holdings in the North West are gargantuan, including airports, seaports (eg Heysham Port), retail centres such as the Trafford Centre, housing and business development land, country estates, and much, much more, with representatives on every business lobby group in the region. You might say that Peel has taken over where Lord Ashton left off.  Fracking licenses are attached to the site, not the fracking company and are marketable. Peel is owned by a Qatari family. Qatar is, coincidentally, where 'independent' consultants Arup have won major World Cup construction contracts.

Issues raised in favour include varying estimates of additional revenue and jobs for the area,

The report illustrates an unprecedented level of co-operation from a range of public and private organisations, from United Utilities to the Environment Agency, which granted toxic waste licences for the site last week. The Environment Agency's pension fund is heavily invested in Cuadrilla's enterprise. Sir Philip Dilley, Chair of the Environment Agency was, until last April, Executive Chair of  Arup Group.

Even Prime Minister David Cameron has helpfully appointed Lord Browne, the Chair of Cuadrilla to be the Government Lead Non-Executive, managing non-executive appointments to each government department.

Those against
11,125 objections had been received from members of the public to the Preston New Road site and 8,924 objections to the Roseacre site as well as objections from many stakeholder agencies and local councils.  Virtual-Lancaster understands that further petitions objecting to the plans were being handed in at County Hall this morning.

Objections covered a great many issues, including
  • water shortages
  • risk of toxic land and groundwater contamination 
  • toxic gas flare air contamination 
  • threat to public health 
  • threat to rare species 
  • long term storage of large volumes of heavily toxic waste 
  • risk of seismic disturbance  
  • over-dependence on fossil fuels in contradiction of climate change policies 
  • Cuadrilla's track record of sub-compliance, earthquakes and well casing damage 
  • costs to public in tax subsidies to fracking companies 
  • relative lack of investment in sustainable energy development in contradiction of climate change requirements
  • low expectation of profitability 
  • heavy industrial traffic in rural areas 
  • large scale disruption and noise for many years
  • local residents being unable to sell their homes already 
  • damage to tourism
  • the future problems associated with the large scale commercial fracking on dozens of sites that is planned to follow the exploration. 

It is clear from the report that a great deal of work has been done to exclude, on paper at least, some of these potential impacts.

Sorting out the bugs
For example, estimated daily water use during hydraulic fracturing activities has been reduced from 765 cubic metres per day to 600 cubic metres per day by reducing the proposed number of
hydraulic fracturing stages and reusing flow back water to make up part of the fracturing fluid for the subsequent fracturing stages. The flowback water would be stored on site and removed by fleets of tankers to 'suitable arrangements in place with licenced waste disposal companies'.

The water requirements for the Project would be provided by a pipe connection to an adjacent United Utilities (UU) water main. That particular main has a history of busts and so would be upgraded with pressure and flow regulators.

The report notes that a £13 million scheme to clean and upgrade the relevant water pipeline, which runs from Singleton into Blackpool, is currently being planned for 2015 and a new water supply point of connection has been  identified on the new stretch of water main.

The report projects that the project seems likely to cause disruption to the area for up to six years, during its use, with monitoring of the well casings for a further 30 years after, assuming all goes well.
It also projects that monitoring of soil and groundwater would take place for a further five years after the operations ceased, with the objective of returning the site to agricultural use.

External regulation
However most of the environmental and public health impacts are regulated by external authorities, such as the Environment Agency, whose pension fund is counting on Cuadrilla.

The report notes that LCC must presume that Cuadrilla will comply with regulation, noting that: 'With regard to the applicant's previous operations and compliance with planning  permissions, a planning application goes with the land rather than with the applicant  and it is right to assume that the applicant would comply with conditions attached to  any planning permission.' In other words, LCC has concluded that it may not concern itself further with these objections nor learn from experience where fracking is concerned.

Thin end of the wedge
The report can only consider the applications as they stand and doesn't refer to the further stages planned in Cuadrilla's project, should exploration of the shale beds prove fruitful. The purpose of Cuadrilla's exploration is to determine whether fracking on a commercial scale would be viable. This would involve an array of dozens of drilling sites across the area of the shale bed, which underlies much of Lancashire.

It appears that the only area of objection left open to the Council is that of noise and disruption of the initial exploratory fracking, which would contravene Local Plans set out for the area. How heavy this narrow area of reference to the overall impact on Lancashire and UK residents will weigh, against the demands of dinosaur oil companies, sleazy politicians and Qatari billionaires, will be decided next week by our elected councillors.

Commenting on the report Gina Dowding, Green Party Lancashire County Councillor said:

"Along with all the residents in Lancashire who have researched the terrible impact that fracking would have on the County, I am both relieved and pleased that the officers are recommending refusal of the planning applications. Fracking is bad news for local communities. There are no long term benefits. We have to hope now that next week the county councillors on the development control committee will take note of the report and vote for refusal at the meetings. "

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