Lancashire councillors call for single regulator and tougher rules for fracking

A councillor for residents in the Fylde area of Lancashire, where Cuadrilla wants to frack, has called on the government to bring in tougher regulation for the shale gas industry before operations begin.

Cllr Liz Oades, who represents Fylde East, told a senior committee of Lancashire County Council: “I really do believe that regulation is the key to this. I don’t think it is in place”. She said: “There are too many agencies being made responsible and I think there are far too many holes in the regulatory process that is there”.

Cllr Oades was speaking yesterday afternoon at a meeting of the council’s Executive Scrutiny Committee, which was discussing a health impact assessment of Cuadrilla’s proposals. The company has applied for planning permission to drill and frack up to eight exploratory gas wells at two sites: Roseacre Wood and Preston New Road. Decisions on the applications are expected in December and January.

The health impact assessment, by Lancashire’s Director of Public Health Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, is the first of its kind in the UK. It argued that the prospect of Cuadrilla’s operations had already caused anxiety, stress and depression. More details

If fracking went ahead, the assessment argued, it could result in:

  • 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
  • Problems caused by treatment and disposal of flowback waste water

But the assessment concluded these problems could be dealt with by the regulatory process.

“Royals report recommendations not in place”

During the committee, Cllr Oades referred to the report, published in June 2012, by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering, which is frequently quoted by the government as an endorsement that fracking is safe. Cllr Oades told the committee: “The government’s own Royal Academy and Royal Society have actually said that 10 things must be put in place before fracturing takes place and only one has been put in place so far”.

Among its 10 recommendations, the “Royals” report called for:

  • A single body to take the lead in coordinating regulation of the industry
  • Guidelines specific to shale gas extraction to regulate the industry
  • Independent well inspectors who would carry out onsite inspections and review well designs from environmental and health and safety points of view.

At the time report was published, the government said it accepted all the recommendations. But the government has required companies to comply with only one – on mitigating induced earthquakes.

Cllr Oades said the health impact assessment had made some “hard-hitting” points and she hoped these would be sent to the government. Ministers, she said, “need to put some regulations in place to ensure that this process [fracking] is going to be safe.”

Residents must not be guinea pigs

“My residents and Paul’s* residents must not be used as guinea pigs. I think it is highly irresponsible for the government not to have sorted out all of this before pressing ahead with fracking.”

The committee’s chair, Cllr Bill Winlow, agreed. “Yes we need an inspectorate and yes we need an industry-specific regulator – that is county council policy”, he said.

Another member of the committee, Cllr Marcus Johnstone, added: “As we go further down this debate the case for industry-specific regulation becomes more and more compelling. We currently have four regulators and the report has actually drawn out the fact that there is a fifth with the district council’s environmental health function. That is a total nonsense that any industry can have four regulators. Would you have the rail industry by four or five different people? Of course you wouldn’t.”

Report of the Director of Public Health Potential Health Impacts of the Proposed Shale Gas Exploration Sites in Lancashire

Webcast of committee (discussion begins at 1 hour, 20 mins)

*Cllr Paul Hayhurst, Independent county councillor for Fylde West. Cllr Hayhurst is not related to the author of this post

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