Special Digest


09/09/2014

FBC recommended to reject fracking

The battle against Cuadrilla’s plans to frack at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood took a dramatic turn today as Fylde Borough Council’s officers recommended the two applications be refused.

FBC, of course, is only a consultee on these applications, the decision lies with Lancashire County Council as the Minerals Planning Authority. But it – along with parish councils – represents the local elected voice. If councillors agree with their officer’s recommendations, and they would have to show good reason for doing so, if only not to risk losing their seats at next May’s council elections, it represents a severe blow for Cuadrilla.

With over 12,000 objections from the public lodged against the applications, and with objection from FBC, not to mention parish and town councils – recommendations for refusal have come in from Westby-with-Plumpton, Medlar with Wesham and Newton-with-Clifton – it is hard to see how Lancashire could bow to central government rather than local pressure and retain its integrity.

Certainly we could say Cuadrilla has totally lost any claim to having public acceptance or “licence”.

So we must hope FBC places objections when they meet on the 17th..

The problem is how much weight they will carry with LCC. That needs a check of what the FBC officers actually say.

In the first place, they essentially pass the buck to LCC on a number of issues. They claim they do not have the relevant technical expertise or experience, and leave in Lancashire’s hands many important environmental issues.

The fear is now that government guidance has attempted to take responsibility away from the MPAs regarding a number of environmental issues, LCC will do the same. It will rely on DECC, the Environment Agency and the HSE to have done their job. Effectively the government has not only taken responsibility out of their hands, it has allowed them, too, to pass the buck. As we are becoming increasingly aware, the existing agencies are in no way capable of running the fracking show. They do not have the onshore experience, are understaffed, or otherwise allow themselves too to pass responsibility from one to the other.

So it is against this background we take a look at what FBC officers say.

Preston New Road

At Preston New Road, whilst leaving the traffic issue to LCC to determine, it is clear that they do not think there is a traffic (highways) issue at PNR. They say there will be no impact on amenity. This has to face serious challenge.

In fact the agenda item is more useful in terms of summarising the applications than it is in assessing the potential impact.

However FBC does accept there are properties some 260 metres from the proposed site, at Staining Wood Cottages. One area of complaint about the application which LCC has so far stonewalled is that the environmental assessment effectively misses out this clutch of families. Not only does it render the environmental assessment flawed, it also affected probably the view of Public Health England. They have been advised that their response was based on incomplete or inaccurate information, but they have refused to act, saying that they can only respond to information that was supplied by the application.

The FBC report reminds us that groundwater will be monitored at three points around the perimeter of the site. This, of course, is totally inadequate. Groundwater needs monitoring (pre-drilling as well as during and post-drilling) within a far wider area. Any area that lies within a short distance of the fracked horizontals.

Flaring I think is a serious issue. The application is for five or six years “temporary” exploration. However it includes the plan to build a gas pipeline to take gas from the site to a grid pipeline. This is a clear indication that LCC should not regard this as merely temporary but assuming that the site would move to production. As we know from Cuadrilla statements, they envisage on each of their wellpads perhaps up to 40 horizontals in total. This would mean intolerable disturbance for the area for perhaps twenty years, not just the period of the current “temporary” application. The application consideration can NOT ignore the possibility of production.

And the argument for the “need” for the development is, of course, the economic well-being and energy security. The FBC report states this has to be balanced against the local adverse impact. Again we are forced to examine the strength of that argument by looking beyond the temporary period, and look at the national benefits of production at this site. This is an issue for further discussion.

But back to flaring. The first well is said to be flow-tested with flaring (two dlares) for three months. If the flow testing is satisfactory they will build a gas pipeline so that an extended flow test can continue for up to two years.

But then the application goes on to say that they will drill wells two, three or four under same conditions as well one. In other words they will use flaring for the next three well flow tests. Even though there is provision for the link to gas mains there with pipelines and the necessary compressors/pumping equipment or whatever else they need to clean the gas up and deliver it at proper constituency (this may involve truck deliveries of propane but I don’t think this appears in the appllcaitions), they still intend to flare. This is wrong, given that flaring is not anyway a best available technique. The government claims to ensure implementation of BAT, but our knowledge says this is simply not the case.

To move on, the estimated timescale is 5 years 10 months. The suggestion that Cuadrilla has added two months as contingency must raise a laugh. We are all now fully aware that Cuadrilla are serial over-stayers. If anyone believes they can implement a major project like this safely and to timescale they are deluding themselves. If anyone believes that LCC will not allow them to extend way beyond the six years they have not followed the history of Cuadrilla’s experience.

The statement of the County’s main relevant policy document on Minerals and Waste local plan and in particular policy DM2 raises one minor issue, the mention of reduction of carbon emissions. But no mention of methane emissions, which as we all now know are far more potent greenhouse gases than CO2. The plan policy is out-of-date.

That policy should also be interpreted by consideration of whether impacts are temporary or permanent. We must stress to LCC that even though this is an application of a supposedly temporary nature, it will have permanent effects underground.

The conclusion appears out of the blue. There is no justification for saying that the proposed drilling operation would be in relatively close proximity to residential properties and it is considered that the noise and disturbance from a 24 hour drilling operation would be significant. This is therefore a very weak conclusion. Although it gives hope, and is a right recommendation, it remains to be seen how this fares when it comes up against LCC pro-fracking hardline officers and councillors.

Roseacre Wood

The recommendation at the start of the agenda item is the same as for PNR, ie refusal on neighbour disturbance. However when we come to the end of the document, the reason for refusal has changed,. It is now highways and the effect on the character of the area that new roads etc would have.

Whilst this can easily be seen as a cut-and-paste slip, it is clearly incompetent for FBC officers to let this error through. The reason for refusal, as explained in the agenda report, is indeed only highways and character.

Apart from the description of the highways situation, the report is essentially the same as for PNR.

However it is extremely curious as to why, when the report states that Roseacre village is within 400 metres of the proposed site but then goes on to confirm there are closer properties at Roseacre Hall, Stanley Farm and Old Orchard Farm, it does not conclude that these neighbours will not suffer enough disturbance to give rise to a second reason for objection, as for PNR.

On the grounds FBC have considered, it seems Roseacre must fight to have the effect on neighbours recognised, and PNR residents on traffic and local amenity grounds (the fact there is a main road passing nearby doesn't affect the rural nature of the location) so that when the matter comes before LCC they are competing on level terms and both have optimum opportunity to gain refusals.

There are, of course, many more objections that can and will be raised against both appliations. More on that in due course.

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