Week Ending 17th March 2013

Delay for Cuadrilla's plans, Browne defiant

Big news of the week was that Cuadrilla told the press that they would not be fracking Annas Road site until 2014, setting their plans back a year.

The trailer to this announcement was in the Guardian on the 12th March. Lord Browne said he would invest “whatever it takes” to ensure success of the “dash for gas”. Naturally this was not all Browne’s money, not that he is exactly a pauper. He was talking about equity finance, then equity and debt. He admitted that the US experience was not all good. However he expressed confidence in the UK onshore regulations which have “plenty of regulators”. What Lord Browne did not say is that the regulators may be many but toothless and under-financed. He expressed frustration at the system which according to him needed streamlining.

Given that he gave this release to the Guardian, known for a more balanced viewpoint than the Tory press, he was clearly sending a signal to the environmental lobby that he would spend, spend, spend his way to ensure its defeat.

The real reason for Browne’s childish outburst came the next day. Cuadrilla said they had put their exploration plans on hold until the next year. They were now preparing to carry out a full Environmental Impact Assessment on their planning applications, but specifically at Annas Road, where they have a current application in with Lancashire County Council.

This was in marked contrast to their earlier position when their scoping application said they - following LCC advice - would not undertake as part of their assessment socio-economic impacts, landscape, visual, noise, traffic, archaeological, climate change and agricultural impacts.

So what brought about this significant change? Nick Grealy, ex-gas salesman and Cuadrilla payee, was up in arms, ranting on his web site No Hot Air against Mike Hill, David Cameron and the Lancashire anti-fracking lobby. He claimed the delay would cost Cuadrilla at least 12 million pounds, but at the same time said this was “back of the sofa” peanuts for the Carlyle Group, Behind Browne’s Riverstone venture capital company.

Grealy was clearly outraged - good news for the anti-fracking lobby. Anything that sends Grealy into an illogical rant had to mean they had done something right. Grealy did not hide his contempt for Conservative ministers and in particular David Cameron.
v Grealy did make one interesting comment, that “allegedly” LCC planning department had requested the government to call in the Annas Road planning application, in accordance with the Tories’ attempt to undermine local democracy and the spirit of their localism legislation by centralising decision-making on nationally important projects. If true this would be an appalling move by LCC to avoid their responsibility to the Lancashire public.

Grealy further suggested that if the UK didn’t play ball, Cuadrilla could take its billions elsewhere. Go ahead and do just that, I can hear anti-fracking protesters saying.

The main question is - why Cuadrilla’s change of heart? It is simply not credible that they elected for full EIA of their own accord. They were pushed, which would explain Grealy’s anger at the government. However
Refracktion has suggested another option, that Cuadrilla have secured a bigger player as backer, who can afford to wait an extra year in order perhaps then to use the UK “good practice” example to sell Cuadrilla’s reputation to a wider European or international audience.

Jessica Ernst reaches Lancashire minds and hearts

The Lancashire anti-fracking movement had a significant move forward when Counterbalance, the Fylde commentary on local politics, published an appreciative review of Jessica Ernst’s visit to St Annes. Ernst has been involved in a protracted legal battle against drillers and regulators in Alberta, Canada, and was invited over from an Ireland tour by RAFF to give a talk in St Annes.

The fairly comprehensive
Counterbalance report was not only complimentary to the organisers (slick, upbeat and professional) but appreciative of Jessica Ernst’s qualifications and stand. It accepted that fracking had indeed ruined Ernst’s land and water, and that corruption and undue pressure from the authorities had affected Ernst’s case. It suggested that what had already been seen in the Fylde was perhaps a sign of turning a blind eye or weakening regulatory control, and was a matter of concern.

In itself, had this come from a dyed-in-the-wool anti-fracker, this would not be significant, but given that Counterbalance started off with an open mind but a detectable pro-fracking starting view the changeround is important, and indicates progress in getting the message across in the Fylde and West Lancashire.

Cuadrilla - fish deaths revealed

Another black mark against Cuadrilla was revealed this week with the information emerging that back in early May 2012 their geophysical survey had caused fish deaths in a pond near Greenhalgh. A number of fish were killed by explosive charges, and Cuadrilla within minutes had phoned the local angling club to apologise.

EDF climbdown

Although not directly linked to fracking, another victory for direct action against gas expansion came when EDF, who were threatening to sue 21 protesters for five million pounds, backed down. On the 29th October 2012 the protestors had scaled and occupied the chimneys of EDF’s West Burton power station, shutting down its operation.and halting further construction. EDF’s original announcement that they were to sue caused outrage, and within days some 64,000 signatures had been collected in support of the No Dash For Gas heroes. They still await sentencing, having all pleaded guilty, at a February court hearing, to aggravated trespass

International news was generally positive, with Australia’s Metgasco announcing it was withdrawing from coal seam gas in northern New South Wales, blaming the NSW government’s delaying policies and Federal government’s increased attention to strengthening regulation. Following the previous week’s announcement from Ireland that there is now in effect a moratorium on exploration licences, campaigners against fracking have had a good two weeks.


Preston New Road Action Group