Fracking in Lancashire could damage tourism, the second day of an inquiry into Cuadrilla’s shale gas plans heard this afternoon.
But Mark Smith, a planning expert witness for Cuadrilla, said tourism would recover when the shale gas industry became established in the county.
Earlier today the inquiry heard that Cuadrilla’s plans for two shale gas exploration sites in the Fylde would create a total of 22 jobs. Local employment would be mostly in security and cleaning and specialist jobs would go to people outside Lancashire.
The inquiry, at Blackpool Football Club, is considering Cuadrilla’s appeals against the refusal of planning permission for fracking up to four wells each at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood. It is also reviewing the refusal of permission for a seismic monitoring scheme at Preston New Road and some of the conditions attached to a similar scheme at Roseacre Wood, which was approved.
The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will make the final decision on the appeals.
Threat to tourism jobs
Robin Green, the barrister for Roseacre residents, put it to Mr Smith: “You said it was possible jobs could be lost in the tourism sector but this was likely to be short-term. It was speculative and unquantifiable and linked to public perception of fracking.”
Mr Green asked why the impact on tourism jobs would be short-term.
Mr Smith said: “In the longer term, when the industry is established and people are aware of the actual impacts, tourism will recover.
He suggested that perceptions would change because the company had assessed the impacts of fracking to be minor and negligible.
Mr Green suggested:
“Come to Lancashire home of fracking that will have the tourists flocking”
He put it to Mr Smith:
“There is no evidence that the public are moving towards acceptance of fracking as an industry.”
Mr Smith replied
“I don’t have any evidence. There may be evidence but I don’t have the knowledge”.
Mr Green said:
“As a tourism draw, fracking is unlikely to be up there as draw.”
Mr Smith replied: “There is no evidence of fracking having an impact, I have not seen the evidence.
22 jobs at fracking sites
This morning, the inquiry heard that the proposed exploration sites would generate a total of 11 jobs each.
The North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce has said shale gas would create well-paid and numerous jobs for Lancashire.
But Mr Smith, of Arup, accepted that only 22 jobs would be created by the two exploration sites.
He agreed that the jobs would be mostly in cleaning, security and possibly well decommissioning. Jobs involved in the drilling and fracking the wells would go to people from outside Lancashire, the inquiry heard.
Estelle Dehon, the barrister for Friends of the Earth, said the figures had included any benefits of local spending.
She put it to Mr Smith that the economic benefits would materialise only if the sites went into production. Mr Smith agreed.
Ms Dehon said that the wider effects beyond Lancashire had not been quantified. Mr Smith again agreed but added:
“It is only through exploration and testing that those potential substantial benefits would be realised.”
“There is no certainty but if those benefits do arise they would be substantial to the economy.”
Ms Dehon suggested to him that if wanted the inquiry nspector to take account of benefits of the site going into production she should also had to take account of the costs.
Mr Smith replied: “If that information is available. I’m not aware of that information being available.”
Other issues in today’s hearing
Mr Smith told the inquiry that a government statement supporting shale gas, made by the Energy Secretary, Amber Rudd, in September 2015, removed the need to assess greenhouse gas emissions for gas projects.
He said UK policy was now that these projects would contribute to achieving UK climate change targets because the government regarded gas as the cleanest fossil fuel. Gas would help the UK move to a low carbon energy supply, he said.
But Ms Dehon, for Friends of the Earth, said the statement did not displace the statutory duties of the Climate Change Act. She added that the weight that should be given to the statement was reduced because it had not been consulted on nor debated in parliament.
She described a project to extract peat near Irlam, which had been turned down on climate change grounds by the Secretary of State because it would have emitted 181,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide over its life.
Ms Dehon said exploration at the Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood sites together would release 236,000 tonnes of Co2 on lowest estimates.
Cuadrilla has not fielded an expert witness on climate change at the inquiry. It said at the opening that this was not matter for the inquiry.
But today Mr Smith acknowledged that planning policy guidance made it clear that climate change was a material consideration in planning decisions. He also agreed that targets to be achieved under the Climate Change Act and the Paris Climate Agreement should be taken into account.
Low carbon energy
Ms Dehon also challenged Mr Smith on whether gas could be described as low carbon. She said:
“Shale gas is a fossil fuel and it is not low carbon is it?”
Mr Smith replied:
“It is clearly a lower carbon fuel that coal. That is why it helps meet climate change targets.”
Ms Dehon said:
“Natural gas’s role to a low carbon economy is as a transition. It is not part of the low carbon economy.”
Mr Smith replied the government had supported shale gas as a lower-carbon form of energy to replace coal.
Ms Dehon said she would call evidence to show that if Roseacre Wood and Preston New Road operated together they would generate waste fluid that would amount to 65% of the UK waste treatment capacity.
She said the inspector had to be satisfied about the disposal of waste water from the sites.
Mr Smith agreed but he said these issues had been dealt with by the Environment Agency when it issued a waste permit. He said:
“The guidance is clear. The inquiry should assume that other regulatory regimes will operate effectively”.
Mr Smith said later that Cuadrilla had identified water treatment facilities in the north of England but because of commercial constraints they could not be identified. He added:
“When there are no longer commercial constraints these treatment facilities will be made available to the public”.
Mr Green, representing Roseacre residents, put it to Mr Smith that Cuadrilla had a licence area of more than 1,000 sq km and it could have chosen sites from anywhere within an area of 100 sq km where it had undertaken 3D seismic surveys.
Mr Smith said the sites at Roseacre Wood and Preston New Road had been chosen because of the geological conditions were suitable. He said the company had considered fracking at existing sites at Anna’s Road, Becconsall and Preese Hall but they were not as suitable.
Ms Dehon, for Friends of the Earth, put it to Mr Smith that research found people were already experiencing sleep disturbance and depression at the planning stage of fracking in Lancashire. Mr Smith said Cuadrilla acknowledged people were suffering from anxiety and had proposed measures to address this.
Cuadrilla has argued that impacts from the sites had been overstated by opponents. But Mr Smith accepted that any public health issues arising from noise, traffic or lighting at night were material considerations that should be considered when coming to a decision.