Balcombe residents say Cuadrilla’s plans to flow test well risk harm, lack information and have no social licence

22nd March 2014

Cuadrilla’s latest planning application for Balcombe fails to meet planning policies, lacks key information, risks harm to residents and the environment and has no social licence – so said a group of Balcombe villagers this week.

Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association (FFBRA) submitted its formal objection to West Sussex County Council yesterday (21/3/14). The application (WSCC/005/14/BA) is to flow test and monitor the horizontal borehole drilled last year. It also includes proposals for security fencing, a flare and restoration of the site.

In a comprehensive 67-page document (excluding appendices), FFBRA identified a wide range of concerns with the application, including:

  • Additional traffic
  • Potential water and air pollution
  • Methods of toxic waste disposal
  • Noise from flaring, a diesel generator and lorries
  • Disturbance to wildlife and ecology
  • Integrity of the well to be tested and the earlier oil well, abandoned in 1987
  • Financial security of Cuadrilla Balcome Ltd
  • Inadequacy of baseline studies on wildlife, water and air quality, radiation and seismicity
  • Lack of other key documents and information
  • Lack of a social licence

Reasons for rejection

It recommended the application should be rejected when it was considered by the planning committee of West Sussex County Council (WSCC) for the following reasons:

  • Does not comply with the sustainable development requirements of national and local planning policies
  • Does not meet requirements of the National Planning Policy Framework because it does not:
    • Conserve the natural environment
    • Include an adequate assessment of any unacceptable adverse environmental impacts
    • Adequately protect the workforce and Balcombe residents
  • Does not comply with the county structure plan because of the impact on the natural beauty of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)
  • Has not been proved to be in public interest
  • Does not comply with the West Sussex Minerals Plan by not including an Environmental Impact Assessment.

FFBRA identified more than 20 pieces of information that it said should be included in the application. It also said Cuadrilla had no social licence to return to Balcombe, based particularly on the village poll, announced last month, which found 60% of respondents opposed the application.

WSCC should not consider the application, FFBRA said, until the shortcomings and missing information were addressed.

Some of the key issues raised
Public health
FFBRA raised concerns about:

  • Vulnerability of water supply to contamination from spillages or failure of well integrity
  • Lack of information about storage, handling, transport or disposal of flow back from acid wash
  • The effect on air quality of toxins emitted by flaring of gases.

The document referred to a petition signed by 5,280 people

We the undersigned strongly object to the activities of Cuadrilla in Balcombe and demand that you take all possible measures to ensure the cessation of its activities with immediate effect, on the grounds that it poses an unacceptable threat to our water supply, air purity and overall environment.

Water pollution
FFBRA said the drilling site was unsuitable because it was 30 metres from a tributary of the Ouse, which then flowed into the drinking water reservoir at Ardingly.

It said there was an unquantifiable risk to ground water because the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) had not adhered to best practice in regulating Cuadrilla. FFBRA said the HSE had confirmed it had not inspected the well during the construction phase so the integrity of the well could not be verified.

FFRBA also cited evidence that the HSE had also not inspected the Conoco well (known as Balcombe-1) since it was sealed in 1987. Balcombe-1 is thought to be 10m away from the well drilled last year and its condition is unknown.

FFBRA said the application should not be considered until the condition of Balcombe-1 was obtained and consulted upon.

Air pollution
FFBRA criticised the application for not including an analysis of the gas that would be flared. If the application were approved, FFBRA said there should be more accurate air dispersion calculations for sulphur dioxide, as well as continuous radioactive monitoring of the flare emissions.

FFBRA said Cuadrilla should reveal which licensed waste facility it would be using and which route would be taken to get there. Should the application be approved, it called for a traffic statement and highways assessment, as well as controls on vehicle movements at school drop-off times and reduced speed limits for lorries.

The application’s noise impact assessment (NIA) was “disgracefully weak”, FFBRA said, and for that reason the application should be refused. The NIA excluded noise from flaring, failed to take account of wind speed or direction and assumed trees around the site would reduce noise impact year round. FFBRA called for a complete and accurate NIA, including unambiguous noise limits that would be respected.

FFBRA said wildlife could be affected by air, water and light pollution, as well as noise. If the application were approved, it called for

  • No flaring from March-August (bird nesting season)
  • Detailed information on the lighting plan
  • Monitoring strategy to determine the impact of the operations on wildlife
  • Environmental Impact Assessment
  • Research into any protected species
  • Fresh bat survey carried out when there was no activity on the site

Lack of community engagement
FFBRA said “There has been no discussion between Cuadrilla and the local community prior to the submission of the planning application. This is contrary to the guidance for on-shore oil and gas issued by DCLG [Department for Communities and Local Government].”

Other concerns about Cuadrilla
FFBRA also quoted financial information for May 2013 which suggested the liabilities of the applicant, Cuadrilla Balcombe Limited, outweighed the assets by £392,751 to £12,253. The document also accused Cuadrilla of breaches of planning conditions at Balcombe and other sites. It questioned the adequacy of previous baseline testing for air and water quality at Balcombe and criticised the application for lacking an accident and emergency plan. It further quoted an undertaking by Cuadrilla to Fylde Borough Council that it would not drill in an AONB. (The Balcombe site is the High Weald AONB).

Last year, FFBRA said WSCC admitted it did not have either the trained staff or equipment to undertake its own noise monitoring. FFBRA said: “WSCC needs to prove that it has the expertise and manpower to deal with the conditions surrounding planning permission, with a programme of unannounced visits and rigorous monitoring. Conditions must be real, impossible to be wriggled out of, and they must be properly monitored and enforced.”

Additional conditions
Should the application be approved, FFBRA called for:

  • No flaring or noise at night
  • 28 days’ notice of the start of testing operation
  • No lorry movements past school at set down and pick up times
  • Exclusion of any further drilling, well stem testing and hydraulic fracturing
  • Exclusion of any chemical use beyond 10% hydrochloric acid
  • Permission required before water is abstracted from the monitoring borehole
  • 14 days’ notice of flaring

Updated on 23rd March to correct date

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