More than 20 people, many of them in business, explained this afternoon why they supported Cuadrillas’s plans to frack for shale gas at a site in the Fylde area of Lancashire.
The county council’s development control committee had heard evidence earlier from opponents of the plan to drill, frack and test up to four wells at Preston New Road, near Little Plumpton. See our report here.
The supporters said the proposals would help to reverse a loss of jobs in the area, increase national energy security and boost the local economy. Some criticised what they said were “scare-mongering” claims by opponents of fracking. One witness attacked the credibility of an expert witness who had given a presentation to the committee at an information meeting for councillors last week
Here’s a selection of the supporters’ arguments.
Criticism of anti-fracking campaign
Retired vicar, Michael Roberts, told councillors he made a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority about a leaflet produced by anti-fracking campaigners.
Lytham resident, David Kenworthy, accused opponents of ignorance and of using the experience of fracking operations abroad in their arguments. Too much attention had been given to fracking protesters and their views, he said, without any assessment of their credibility or discussion of the facts, he said.
Dennis Beardall, of Blackpool, people were genetically predisposed to pay more attention when told things were dangerous. He said: “A few hundred vocal opponents appear to have captured the narrative.” He complained that the county council had refused permission for a group of supporters of shale gas to make a longer presentation to the committee at a pre-meeting.
Nick Riley, who described himself as a world expert on shale rocks, criticised David Smythe, an Emeritus Professor of geophysics at Glasgow University, who gave a presentation to the pre-meeting last week. Dr Riley accused Professor Smythe of undermining public confidence and of creating uncertainty and anxiety. It was ridiculous, Dr Riley said, for Professor Smythe to claim that shale gas was not regulated.
Cllr David Howarth said Dr Riley’s comments amounted to a personal attack and he asked the chair to ensure that speakers kept to the subject.
Claire Smith, a hotelier and president of Stay Blackpool, said: “We must investigate [shale gas] further. That there is a vast amount of gas in the ground is not in any doubt. … Provided it can be done properly and there are adequate safeguards I am absolutely in favour of fracking”.
She told councillors Blackpool had lost 4 million visitors and 14,500 jobs in recent years. Unemployment was 17% and most work was in medium to low income jobs. Social problems were above average and Blackpool was the third most deprived local authority in the country.
Andy Ireland, of Blackpool and Fylde College, said plans to make the institution a hub for the onshore gas industry would secure local jobs. But Babs Murphy, chief executive North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, warned: “Failure to approve or delay in approval severs the link between Blackpool college students and jobs”. Lancashire had been at the centre of the industrial revolution, she said. “We now have the potential to be at the centre of the shale gas revolution”.
Tim Freshey, a local engineer, said a shale gas industry could get people back into work and retrain others. “Give this project a chance to succeed”, he said.
One of those to benefit already was Arthur Parson, of PR Marriott, who retrained in the oil and gas industry. He told councillors Cuadrilla gave him this chance of experience. “It was all possible because Cuadrilla came to the area”, he said. “The only way for us to succeed is to show we can do this right”, he added.
Neil Harris told the committee he took an entry level job with Cuadrilla. The industry needed a range of skills, including electricians, engineers, local laundrettes, security, catering and accommodation, he said.
Sean Lord, of the Network Box IT company said approval of the application would lead to the creation of more specialist non-oil and gas jobs in the area.
Richard Warren, of the Engineering Employers’ Federation, argued that a domestic shale gas industry would reduce the UK’s dependence on imported gas, cutting our exposure to volatile prices and transport costs. He said it would create incentives for energy intensive industries and those that used gas a feedstock. Under the most optimistic estimates, shale gas could create 70,000 jobs and generate £33bn of investment, he said. “One of the single most important development would be the establishment of an exploration site”
Lee Petts, managing director of Remsol, said: “Exploration for shale gas can be carried out safely and is well regulated and the environmental risks are no greater than other industrial processes that we take for granted”.
Engineer, Marcus Addison, said his company had reviewed Cuadrilla’s proposals to control noise at Preston New Road and believed they would work.
“I have found Cuadrilla to be responsible, respectable and engaging, particularly in relation to the local supply chain. The company’s technicians were competent and knowledgeable”, he said.
Competition from other regions
John Kersey, chair of the Lancashire branch of the Institute of Directors, said shale gas “has the capacity to put the county back at the top of enterprise zones in the UK, with the added benefit of new jobs and skills.
Steve Pye, of Addison Academy, criticised arguments that most fossil fuels should be left in the ground to limit climate change. “Why are we so discriminatingly selective about what we take out of the ground?”, he asked
“Natural gas will be needed for heating homes and for business for decades to come.”
He said: “If Lancashire rejects this opportunity of being the test bed for fracking our neighbours in Manchester and Merseyside are queuing up.”
Paul Landers, who runs a fracking company, said he’d already been approached by Liverpool and Yorkshire offering a base for his business.
Don’t do nothing
Tony Raynor, a Blackpool property owner, said doing nothing about shale gas could lead to economic and social stagnation for the area. Children would have to move away from the Fylde coast to find jobs and other areas would seize the advantage.
“I do hope that the political minds realise that most people in our area are ambivalent as to whether gas production proceeds or not”, he said. “Loud volume and tenacity from opponents, particularly from people in this room, is not an indication of the will of the people.”
Updated 26/6/15 to correct Claire Smith’s position as president, not chair, of Stay Blackpool