The prospect of Cuadrilla’s proposed fracking sites near Blackpool is already causing fear, anxiety, stress, sleep disturbance and depression among people living nearby, according to study for Lancashire County Council.
The company is applying for planning permission to drill and frack up to eight exploratory shale gas wells across two sites in the Fylde, at Roseacre Wood and Preston New Road. As part of the planning process, Lancashire County Council commissioned the Director of Public Health to do a health impact assessment.
Feelings of disempowerment and lack of control
Research for the assessment included two 2½ hour workshops with a total of 110 people. None of the residents who attended expressed any positive expectations about either of the two proposals for shale gas exploration and extraction, a report on the workshops said. “The overriding responses were those of fear anxiety and stress, which are affecting their metal wellbeing, with some people experiencing sleep disturbance and depression”.
The report said participants felt a lack of control over what might happen, leading to feelings of disempowerment and helplessness. People also felt they did not have a voice and that their concerns were not being addressed. They had a lack of trust and/or confidence in the agencies responsible for regulating shale gas operations and for protecting public health, the report concluded.
When asked about their concerns, people mentioned issues such as:
- Health effects of fracking on the young and elderly and people with pre-existing health problems
- Lag time between exposure to a health hazard and the appearance of any symptoms
- Changes to the rural nature of the landscape and threats to farming and tourism
- Potential de-population of the area
- Potential for gaps in regulation of shale gas operations
- Competencies of the regulatory agencies
- Apparent lack of compensation for residents for accidents or damage
Residents also said Cuadrilla had exacerbated their feelings of anxiety and stress by providing what they called inconsistent information during the planning process.
Key risks of shale gas sites
The overall health impact assessment identified the following key risks to the health and wellbeing of local people, should the sites go ahead:
- Poor mental wellbeing caused by
- stress and anxiety due to uncertainty
- lack of public trust and confidence
- Noise-related health effects due to continuous drilling
- Treatment and disposal of flowback waste water
It said the risks were greatest for people living near Roseacre Wood site because this area is quieter and access to the proposed site would be along narrow roads.
The assessment concluded that the risks could be overcome by Lancashire County Council (LCC), the Environment Agency (EA), Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). It called for
- Vigilance during shale gas operations
- Preparedness for any emergencies
- Baseline and long-term monitoring of environmental and health conditions
- Active involvement of local communities
- Better communication of risks
- Closer working relationship between the industry, agencies and organisations with an interest in shale gas exploration
- Adequate resources for regulatory and public health agencies to improve public confidence
If the industry were to develop, the assessment calls for a local strategy for shale gas in the Fylde and more research on its effects on health and well-being.
The assessment said there would be drilling, hydraulic fracturing and flaring of the four wells in each site and this could last for at least 240-360 days. It also noted there was no maximum permitted level for fugitive emissions and recommended the EA set a limit at both sites.
The assessment said noise from the sites was likely to be continuous for 14 months. “It is very likely that the increase in the night time indoor noise levels, particularly from the Roseacre Wood site, will be noticeable and intrusive. There is a significant risk of health effects, particularly sleep disturbance and the related effects, during the project”.
Resulting health problems could include: interference with communication; annoyance responses; effects on sleep, and on the cardiovascular and psychophysiological systems; effects on performance, productivity, and social behaviour; and noise-induced hearing impairment.
The assessment recommended further noise assessment and a requirement that outdoor noise at night was limited to 40dBL.
The assessment said Cuadrilla should demonstrate that there were liability and compensation arrangements to cover structural damage to properties.
Site lighting at night would be visible from quite a distance and have a significant impact, the assessment said. There would also be glow from flare stacks. The Fylde is a dark sky area and any extra light would be noticeable.
“When exposed to overnight light, people can have disturbed sleep patterns. Although uncertainty remains, there is plausible epidemiological evidence that circadian rhythm disruption has a variety of adverse physiological effects”.
The assessment recommended that Cuadrilla be asked to fit blackout blinds to bedrooms in affected houses.
The assessment said road injuries and deaths in Fylde were already significantly worse than the average for England. Traffic problems were likely to be most serious at Roseacre Wood where the roads were narrow. Pedestrians in some villages were likely to be affected by heavy traffic.
The assessment recommended health surveillance of site workers for exposure to noise, air pollution fugitive emissions, dust, silica, and handling waste. There should also be a baseline study of environmental and health conditions before any activity on the sites, followed by long-term monitoring.
- HSE publish findings of well integrity inspections regularly
- EA estabslish long term plans for monitoring contamination
- DECC confirm that Cuadrilla has open-ended liability to remedy well leakage problems after its permits expire and the site is restored.
- DECC to clarify who is liable if the operator is no longer in business
- The Director of Public Health should be informed of breaches to planning permission, permits or consents that relate to the health and well-being of local people
The health impact assessment is to be discussed at two meetings of Lancashire County Council next week:
Executive scrutiny committee on Tuesday 4th November at 2pm. The meeting is scheduled to be webcast and can be viewed here.
Cabinet meeting on Thursday 6th November, which starts at 2pm. This is also due to be webcast.