28th April 2014
Tomorrow the planning committee of West Sussex County Council discusses the application by Cuadrilla to test drill its well at Balcombe.
It will consider a report by the council’s strategic planning manager, Mike Elkington, which recommends approval of the application. The committee will also hear from opponents of the application, including Balcombe Parish Council and the Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association, who are expected to challenge the recommendation. We’ll cover these views in a report on the committee meeting tomorrow.
This post looks at the arguments put forward by the strategic planning manager. He argues that the proposed development is needed. He also argues that any impact it may have is acceptable to:
- Road capacity and safety
- Amenity and public health
- Water environment
Need for development
The report to the committee argues that national and local planning policy recognises the need for oil and gas production. It also says there is an identified need for development at Balcombe, to establish whether the hydrocarbons found during drilling last year are exploitable.
Road capacity and safety
The report suggests that the flow testing operation would, at most, increase road traffic by 18% and for most of the time the increase would be 10%.
The county council’s highways officers have not objected to the proposal. They conclude that the increase in vehicle movements is not large enough to “materially impact” on the capacity or safety of the highway network. The report does, however, require Cuadrilla to submit a Traffic Management Plan, which the council will approve before work can start.
Amenity and public health
The report argues that noise from flare and plant can be adequately controlled by planning conditions. They will, it says, require monitoring and, if noise levels are exceeded, action should be taken.
The report also states that there could be an impact on air quality from the flare but this will be controlled by environmental permits. The strategic planning manager writes: “Potential impact of flaring of gas on air quality is not a matter for the County Council”. He says the Environment Agency has not raised an objection and has granted a permit which considers flaring can be done without risk to people or environment.
The risk to air pollution from increased traffic is not considered to be significant, as numbers are relatively low and the increase will be for a temporary period.
On groundwater, the report says: “It must be assumed that the well is constructed and operated to the appropriate standards. It is therefore concluded that the development does not pose a risk to the water environment, either at the surface or groundwater.”
The report quotes the Environment Agency that a solution of hydrochloric acid, which will be used to clean the well, “does not create a risk to groundwater as it cannot migrate to where there is groundwater as there is no pathway to where groundwater can be found”. It also rejects proposals for a bond or financial guarantee to cover any accidents.
The strategic planning manager dismisses concerns about how the well could be affected by the Balcombe-1 well, drilled in the 1980s. He acknowledges that the Health and Safety Executive has not inspected Balcombe-1 since it was abandoned but he says the organisation was not required to do so.
Although the site is in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the report says its impact on the landscape is acceptable. The rig, which is 22m high, will be in place for four weeks and the flare, 14m high, for one week. Other equipment, the report says, will be screened.
The report concludes that the potential impact of the development on habitats and species would be minimal and, anyway, subject to controls on emissions to air and water. The council’s ecology officers have raised no objection, providing the lighting is controlled, and bat monitoring is carried out.
The planning report proposes a range of conditions on the planning permission. These include:
- Work must be carried out within three years
- Operations shall cease within six months of the start of work
- Work must be in accordance with approved drawings and documents and should not include high pressure hydraulic fracturing
- Cuadrilla must give 14 days notice of the start of work
The council requires Cuadrilla to submit the following documents that must be approved before work can begin:
- Pollution prevention statement
- Surface water drainage scheme
- Foul water drainage scheme
- Lighting strategy
- Traffic management plan
- Noise management plan
- Restoration scheme
- Security scheme
The conditions also include hours of operation, limits on noise and a requirement for noise and bat monitoring.
We will be covering the views of Balcombe residents when they speak at the committee meeting tomorrow.
The report and conditions can be seen at http://www2.westsussex.gov.uk/ds/cttee/plng/plng290414age.pdf Scroll down to item 4 and click on attached.