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PNR Presentation Day, 18th June

 

The majority of the members of the Lancashire County Council Development Control Committee attended this closed (i.e. not open to the general public) session which included six half-hour presentations by local groups, plus expert witnesses and lawyers speaking on their behalf. The afternoon ended with a presentation by Cuadrilla.

 

Session 1

 

The morning opened with a short video introduced by Pat Davies. The video gave a view of the area and community under threat from fracking, contrasting the current farmland vista with the impact of a drilling rig, and demonstrating to the councillors that the community included many ageing people, as well as children who could have their whole childhood impacted by fracking.

 

Pat continued with some detail, describing the area as some of the best quality farmland in the West of England, with farms, little villages and pockets of houses. She mentioned the number, age profile and vulnerability of residents living nearby, the fact that there is a primary school 3/4 of a mile downwind of the site, and the fact that she herself, with a serious illness that might be exacerbated by pollution, lives only 230 metres from the planned site. There are 328 residents at Carr Bridge park, within 900m of the site, the youngest is 65 the oldest over 90. There are over 4,000 residents within a two mile radius of the site. 1400 new homes are planned within this distance in a new development at Whyndyke Farm, which has been described as a new mini-town.

 

Pat reminded councillors that the council’s Director of Public Health had produced a lengthy report on potential health impacts of the development and had listed over 60 recommendations, many of which had not been met.

 

A telling moment was when Pat showed a slide illustrating the size of the walls that Cuadrilla need, varying from 4 metres on the site perimeter to 10 or 14 metres around noisy equipment, and contrasted that with the size of the wall separating Israel from Gaza.

 

Pat also talked about employment in the area, mentioning in particular the thriving business at Ribby Hall which could come under threat from fracking, with risk to many jobs and local suppliers. Whilst appreciating that the committee would have difficulty in taking reduction of home values into account, she quoted a specific example of a property which was valued in 2012 at £725,000, and now was valued under £200,000.

 

Session 2

 

The second presentation was from  Mike Stigwood of MAS Environmental, who had done a thorough review of the potential noise impact of the application, and the mitigation measures proposed by Cuadrilla which now, after LCC officers recommended refusal on noise grounds in January, appeared acceptable to the council officers.

 

Mr Stigwood described his qualifications. He spent nearly twenty years as a local government environmental health officer, and for the last twenty years has worked in consultancy with particular focus on noise issues. He runs courses for environmental health officers, has particular expertise in enforcement of planning conditions, and has frequently acted as an expert witness and was prominent in a 2014 Supreme Court case judgement.

Mr Stigwood proceeded to surprise us by launching a strong attack on the officer report, in particular the noise conditions, which he described as inadequate and unenforceable. They are full of loopholes and could be undermined very easily. In his view if the committee agreed these conditions this issue alone would justify the launch of a judicial review.

 

Mr Stigwood described a number of defects in the consultant report that LCC are relying on.

 

Sometimes technical in nature, his presentation included some easily-understood points. For example the fact in his view that no difference had been drawn between what he described as “Benign” noise, and “Psych-acoustic” noise. Benign noise is of a type which becomes accepted by the brain, and the irritation factor is switched off. Non-benign noise is of a type which the brain does not learn to accept, and this is potentially damaging. Mr Stigwood claimed the officers had misrepresented World Health Organisation guidelines, and he spent some time explaining why, and how British Standards should be applied. He criticised the acoustic wall for failing to block low-frequency noise, potentially more harmful than higher frequency noise. He made the point that any limit was not a target to be achieved but a maximum value. He compared this with road speed limit. The limit does not mean it is acceptable to drive at the maximum speed at all times. It is a maximum, and the actual speed must vary often well below that maximum, depending on conditions. Another point made by Mr Stigwood was that arrangements for noise monitoring were quite inadequate, consisting of a single monitoring point only, and that in the wrong position due to prevailing wind direction.

 

Session 3

 

The third presentation was given by Dr Ashley Bowes, a barrister with Guildford Chambers who has expertise and experience in planning and community matters. He stated quite clearly in his opening remarks that in his view the application merited a refusal on two principal grounds. Firstly the noise impact, which he agreed with Mike Stigwood was unacceptable and contrary to local and development plan policies EP27 and DM2, and that conditions were unenforceable.

Dr Bowes also recommended refusal on visual and landscape grounds, citing plan policies DM2, EP11 and SP2. He referred to the officer acceptance that the development was not in keeping with the landscape area. He pointed out the intrusion of a rig 35m high, 15m storage silos, 10m high flares, fencing and lighting. All these intrusive effects exacerbated by removal of 35m of hedgerow, plus a further 100m of hedgerow to be reduced in height. It was admitted that there would be an unavoidable landscape impact. The applicant was wrong to assert the construction of a 4m high wall would help. Lighting would be intrusive for 5 months for the first well and 3 months for each subsequent. The sky glare for up to a total period of 19 months would add to the landscape impact.

 

Dr Bowes left the councillors with the thought that this was a value judgement to make, whether the undeniable impacts were acceptable.

Session 4

 

David Smythe, emeritus professor of Glasgow University, opened the fourth presentation. He started with a strong criticism of the officer report, which said
"Comments that the geology of Lancashire is not suitable for fracking have been provided by a professor who retired 18 years ago and is now living in France running a B&B.  Evidence in the US and UK is to the contrary."

Prof Smythe called these comments not only prejudicial to his evidence, but wrong. Since leaving university employment he had spent over ten years in consultancy for the oil and gas industry, followed by two years  work on the suitability of the geology of West Cumbria for nuclear waste disposal, and more recently studying the suitability of the Fylde and Weald geology for fracking.

 

Prof Smythe presented a series of slides demonstrating the differences between the Fylde geology and the geology of fracking regions in the US. Essentially the message was that the US geology is built of a series of layers which are uniform and extensive. In the Fylde the layering was very disjointed by extensive faulting. The faulting of the Fylde was something like 500 times more than in US fracking areas. This meant firstly that the Manchester Marl was not a uniform barrier at all to migration of fracking fluids as had been suggested. Secondly the faults themselves formed migration channels for fluids, and a recent study in the US had proved conclusively that in the US fluids had migrated horizontally along faults to pollute groundwater sources a couple of kilometers from a fracking well.

 

Another point Prof Smythe made was that the freshness or salinity of the Sherwood Sandstone in the Fylde area is inadequately known. There is insufficient data, and the conclusion that the Sherwood aquifer locally is highly saline is likely to be wrong. The high levels of salinity were found in Manchester Marl, not the Sherwood Sandstone. At two wells in the area the use to which water was put, at a dairy and at a farm, suggested the water was in fact fresh.

Prof Smythe demonstrated why he thought the existing mappings of the geology and faulting were mutually inconsistent. His interpretation of the likely fault triggered by Cuadrilla’s fracking at Preese Hall indicated to him that Cuadrilla’s information was wrong and in his view they had mistracked a fault in their mapping and it was this fault which had in Prof Smythe’s view intersected the area of the PH1 well, resulting in its deformed casing.

Prof Smythe went further in describing Cuadrilla as technically incompetent, not only as evidenced in the Fylde but at Balcombe.

 

Following on from Professor Smythe we heard another local voice. Robert Sanderson is a Fylde farmer, the Chair of the local branch of the British Dairy Farmers. He described himself as a third-generation farmer, and over those three generations his family had built a dairy and beef herd which had achieved national acclaim. The herd of 150 cattle ran on 400 acres. The milk production provided sufficient milk for 4,500 homes, two litres per day. Robert has six full-time and further part-time employees. They have won many prizes for herd management, and in fact sold their cattle to Canada and other parts of the world.

A dairy farmer depends on the integrity of the soil, clean water and good air. Robert cited an example from Pennsylvania of 140 cattle being exposed to fracking pollution. 70 died and of the rest they produced only 11 calves of which only 3 survived.

Robert is not only concerned about potential soil, water and air pollution. Noise and light pollution could also have a negative effect on his herd. Robert stressed that a happy cow is a healthy cow, and a healthy cow is a productive cow, and economic cow. The value of his land and stock is of paramount importance. If these are affected then he can not borrow money to survive. There is no compensation scheme for farmer losses due to fracking. And there are 171 farmers in the Blackpool and Fylde region. They are not hobby farmers. Fylde is one of the richest productive areas in the UK, and farming is the backbone of our community.

 

Session 5

 

Dr Paul Kelly, the director of Medact, spoke next. Medact is a UK organisation of health professionals active in raising awareness and speaking out on health issues, a registered charity, it has over a thousand members, health professionals with a wide range of experience and knowledge.

Dr Kelly’s presentation highlighted the concerns raised in a recent Medact report on the potential health issues of fracking. In December 2014 Medact wrote to LCC expressing the view that the council should not grant permission for the application. This view was strengthened in light of ever-emerging new evidence on health risks.

Medact believes that fracking poses significant risks to the health and well-being of local residents and the wider general population, questions any belief in fracking providing a clean energy solution, and also questions whether any sustainable economic benefits would accrue to the local population.

 

Medact’s view is that the government-inspired PHE (Public Health England) report produced in 2014 is inadequate, incomplete and out-of-date. It furthermore arrived at an erroneous and unsubstantiated conclusion based even on its limited scope. LCC’s own health impact assessment is also limited in scope and fails adequately to address uncertainties in health impacts of fracking.

 

Fracking is an inherently risky activity and the precise level of risk is not known. Despite the level of uncertainty there is a mounting body of evidence from the US that suggests exposure to toxins such as benzene, emissions of particulate matter and the generation of smog (in particular) is a substantial and serious health issue. A growing body of data shows that fracking will also impact negatively on human health through the effects of noise pollution, heavy traffic, spoilage of the natural environment, and social and economic disruption. The predicted levels of future fracking demand a full health impact assessment. The merits of exploration can only be assessed if the safety of industrial-level fracking is examined.

 

Although these considerations provide sufficient reason for the application to be refused, Medact believe there is weak regulation, regulatory bodies are increasingly poorly resourced, there is little experience of an onshore industry, lack of an appropriate monitoring framework, poor industry compliance and potential conflicts of interests within the planning regime. In short, there is inadequate safeguard in place.

Medact have also examined the role of fracking in relation to climate change and found no substantiation for claims that fracking can provide a cleaner - or cheaper - source of energy.

 

The only prudent course is for LCC to refuse the application.

 

Dr Kelvin Mason objected on grounds of no assessment made of human rights impact. Dr Mason is a member of the Human Rights  Consortium, Extreme Energy Initiative, School of Advance Studies, University of London. He referred to the Human Rights Assessment which was made on fracking and commissioned by the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation.

 

He referred to a report submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2011 which described environmental damage caused by fracking as a new threat to human rights. He drew the committee’s attention to their clear legal duty to properly consider human rights in its decision-making process. This should include best-available evidence including data from health professionals and social scientists.

Regarding health, Dr Mason pointed out that over ninety new reports on health and fracking had emerged since those considered by the PHE review of June 2014, and many of which were considered by the recent New York State report and the Medact report.

He made the point that the way fracking is experienced by people is as an industrialisation of their locality, together with traffic, pollution and environmental degradation, and although fracking can be made “safer” it can never be made “safe”.

 

Data emerging from the US and Australia documents a wide range of social adverse impacts. Dr Mason quoted a Texas study which concluded the benefits of fracking were outweighed by adverse impacts, on public health and safety, environment and quality of life.

The conclusion is that the breadth and nature of documented harms in the US means they can not dismissed as unlikely in the UK due to the regulatory regime, which itself is subject of much concern. A full impact evaluation must not be limited to technical matters, and the public must be involved in and informed by a full impact assessment. Until that is produced fracking should not go ahead.

 


Session 6

 

Estelle Dehon is a barrister instructed by Friends of the Earth.

 

She outlined a number of areas she believed were problematic in the officer report. Firstly it did not address in any way the cumulative effect of different objections. She stressed that to be lawful planning decisions have to meet a number of criteria. In her view the fact that the officers felt it necessary to impose 48 conditions, of which 46 were necessary to render in their opinion the proposal acceptable under the main relevant planning policy DM2, graphically illustrated how the application was indeed in conflict with DM2.

 

Ms Dehon made some significant points about the conditions. In her view many were unenforceable. Secondly the applicant Cuadrilla had a poor track record of keeping to conditions. Both in Lancashire - where Cuadrilla breached conditions at Becconsale imposed to safeguard wildlife, and in Balcombe. In Balcombe West Sussex County Council had confirmed that Cuadrilla breached a number of conditions of planning permission Ms Dehon asserted that knowledge of previous breaches is a relevant issue. Not only will public confidence be affected, but if the authority is aware that conditions may not be complied with this must be taken into account in coming to a decision. Just one example served to clearly show this. There were no facilities to properly monitor noise, and Ms Dehon queried whether in fact the noise conditions as they stood were even legal.

 

 

Session 7 Cuadrilla

 

Francis Egan reminded the committee this was a small application, just to drill four deep slender holes , injecting one non-toxic chemical. The application was small in scope and scale. To drill and frack would take only 24 months.

 

This will be highly-regulated and intensely monitored, the most scrutinised exploration in the world. Egan listed a large number of factors that would be monitored.

 

Egan said the committee should approve the application because of the current reliance on imports and the commercial benefits including jobs. He said it can and will be carried out environmentally safely.

Mark Smith of Arup spent most of his few minutes telling us about how much money had been spent on publicity and public engagement.

 

Andy Sloan, an engineer, was hardly comprehensible as he spoke with a thick accent. What he was saying was largely misleading, his main deceptions were that well monitoring would be independent, and telling the committee that the model of a well he showed them was the same design as had been used without problems in the past in the UK.

Egan finally wrapped up suggesting to the committee what they had heard from previous presenters was untrue.

Frankly, this was a totally unimpressive performance, but of course we don’t know how the committee saw this.


The Presentation Video