29th April 2014
A group of Balcombe villagers has vowed to challenge the decision to grant planning permission to Cuadrilla because it was based on incorrect information
This morning, a meeting of West Sussex County Council’s planning committee voted overwhelmingly in favour of approving Cuadrilla’s application to test the viability of its exploratory oil well. Only one member voted against the application. The committee followed the advice of officers, whose report argued that the application did not pose a risk of pollution to air or groundwater and other impacts are acceptable.
But Frack Free Balcombe Residents’ Association, which has 300 members in Balcombe, told the committee the report did not give an accurate assessment of the risks. It said the report relied too heavily on advice from the Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive, which had been “deficient in their responsibilities at Balcombe”.
The organisation called for tougher conditions on the Cuadrilla’s operation and a legal agreement between the company and the council.
FFRBA’s vice chair, Sue Taylor, told the committee:
- It should not rely on advice about well integrity from the HSE because the organisation hadn’t visited Balcombe when the well was being constructed.
- The well was 10 metres from an earlier oil well drilled by Conoco, which the HSE had not been inspected since it was abandoned in the 1980s. The risks of drilling so close were unquantifiable, FFBRA said.
- The EA had not recognised the risk of ground water pollution by drilling through geological faults in the Balcombe area.
- The EA had not mentioned that South East Water has groundwater boreholes drilled into the same aquifer as the oil well that were used to top up supplies in droughts.
- The EA issued an environmental permit to Cuadrilla without knowing there was a direct connection between a tributary of the River Ouse, 15 metres from the wellhead and the Ardingly reservoir, which supplies drinking water.
- The EA had not imposed a limit of any kind on emissions from a gas flare which would be used during flow testing.
FFBRA also criticised the planning conditions proposed by the planning officers. Louisa Delpy, another member of the organisation, told the committee the conditions were “weak” and needed to be “much tougher” to protect the public and the environment.
She said “too many of the conditions ask Cuadrilla to submit further proposals at a later date.” Planning committees were not required to consult on conditions which are set after an application is agreed. Miss Delpy said: “In the interests of democracy and transparency, I ask you to decide all the conditions at the same time as the application.”
She said the recommended conditions on noise were “wholly unacceptable” because the noise limits had been set at the maximum which should ever be allowed. “There is no justification for allowing such a high volume of noise”, she said.
Mrs Delpy also criticised the noise monitoring regime. This requires Cuadrilla to monitor noise once every seven days. It then has three days to submit the results and another two days to put in place any measures to reduce noise. “
Even if the county council validates the results on the same day (which is unlikely),” Mrs Delpy said, “then Cuadrilla could breach the noise limit for 12 days before it has to do anything”. The company plans to operate a gas flare for seven days. “This means there will be no effective control over the noise from the flare, she said.
Mrs Delpy asked the committee to include Balcombe residents in discussion about the conditions.
Charles Metcalfe, the third member of the group to address the committee, described the difficulties the village had faced when Cuadrilla drilled the well last year:
- Cuadrilla breached its noise condition
- Cuadrilla breached the condition on lorry movements
- West Sussex County Council and other bodies did not ensure the conditions were complied with
- Villagers had to buy their own noise measuring equipment
Mr Metcalfe said a poll of Balcombe villagers showed Cuadrilla had no social licence. The application risked the industrialisation of the countryside. If approved, he said “it would lead to more and more hydrocarbon exploration sites across the countryside and increase the danger of climate change.”
Mr Metcalfe urged councillors not to vote in favour unless they were sure the application would not jeopardise public health.
“The safest way to protect people and the countryside”, he said, “is to vote against this application. If, however, you are absolutely convinced that this application should be approved you must understand that Cuadrilla cannot be trusted to comply with planning conditions.”
He urged the committee to require Cuadrilla to sign a legal agreement with the county council. This would allow the council to use an injunction to force the company to meet its planning obligations.
- The committee agreed to changes to the planning conditions on lighting, lorry movements and noise monitoring. It also voted to require Cuadrilla to establish a liaison committee with villagers and pay for any road repairs outside the site entrance.