A few nights of lost sleep can make you ill, fracking inquiry hears


Wednesday 21st August 2013. Balcombe South East England, UK. Cua

Picture by David Burr

Opponents of fracking in Lancashire argued today that a few nights of disturbed sleep could lead to health problems.

They told the inquiry into Cuadrilla’s plans to frack at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood that residents near the two sites would face 14 months of drilling if the appeals were allowed.

Cuadrilla’s noise expert, Dr David Hiller, stated: “There is no evidence of health effects due to temporary noise sources”.

He argued that a night time level of 42 decibels would not lead to chronic sleep deprivation and would meet national planning guidance.

But he conceded that if the drilling caused sleep deprivation or annoyance then the 14 months proposed by the company was a significant length of time.

Barristers for residents said World Health Organisation guidance recommended night time noise levels of 40 decibels.

They said disturbed sleep was linked to health problems. And only a few nights of reduced sleep could lead to cognitive difficulties. Excessive daytime sleepiness was a major health concern, they said.

Dr Hiller said night time noise at Roseacre Wood was likely to be 40 decibels. The opponents asked why not set the level at 40 then? Dr Hiller said 42 met the national planning guidelines.

What must Cuadrilla do about noise?

The opponents argued that under planning guidance, Cuadrilla had an obligation to reduce noise to as low a level as possible. Developments should ensure residents had a “good quality of amenity” and, under England’s noise vision, noise should be managed effectively to promote good health and good quality of life.

But Dr Hiller said the planning guidance also said that this should not impose an unreasonable burden on the operator.

Is sound-proofing worth it?

In March 2015, Cuadrilla offered to pay £1.46m for each site to reduce noise levels. The company has since withdrawn the offer because planning permission was refused and the costs of the appeal.

Dr Hiller said the mitigation measures would have reduced noise levels by 3 decibels, which would be barely perceptible. He said: “In view of the additional cost that seems to be a very limited benefit”, adding there would be “no benefit from sleep disturbance”.

How certain are the predictions?

The opponents said Cuadrilla’s predicted night time noise levels could be plus or minus 3 decibels. This meant that night time noise could breach the 42 decibel level.

Dr Hiller said if this happened more sound reduction measures would be needed. But Alan Evans, for Lancashire County Council said Cuadrilla couldn’t do this because it had said extra mitigation would be an unreasonable burden on the company

How noisy is it now?

At Preston New Road, Dr Hiller said background levels were already higher than the noise predicted from the site at night.

But a study commissioned by Preston New Road residents showed levels routinely fell to 25 decibels and often reached 20-21. Dr Hiller disputed that this was typical and said Cuadrilla wasn’t required to compare predicted noise against the quietest period of the night.

But Dr Hiller did accept that the residents’ study was more detailed than those carried out for Cuadrilla or Lancashire County Council.

What type of noise is most annoying?

Cuadrilla argued it was the level rather than the type of noise that disturbed sleep. But under questioning by Ashley Bowes, for Preston New Road residents, Dr Hiller accepted that low frequency noise was more intrusive than medium and high frequency sounds.

Ashley Bowes, for Preston New Road Residents’ Group, argued that people were more tolerant of what he called anonymous noise, than source-specific sound. Dr Hiller said this depended on the character and tonality of the noise.

Will there be tonal noise?

Cuadrilla conceded that drilling might result in tonal noise  when the rig has to work hard but the risk was low.

Dr Hiller said the conclusion was based on a study of a drilling rig used at Horse Hill, in Surrey, which could be used at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood. He said: “I don’t believe there were any complaints around tonal noise from that site”.

Should weekends be quieter?

Mr Bowes argued that there should be lower decibel levels at the weekends than during the week.

Dr Hiller agreed that overall noise was lower at weekends but said this did not justify reducing the decibel level for the sites. He said some operations would not be allowed at weekends.

What does minerals planning policy mean?

Cuadrilla and the opponents disagreed on the wording of a paragraph on noise in the planning policy guidance on minerals. This reads:

“For any operations during the period 22.00 – 07.00 noise limits should be set to reduce to a minimum any adverse impacts, without imposing unreasonable burdens on the mineral operator. In any event the noise limit should not exceed 42dB(A) LAeq,1h (free field) at a noise sensitive property.”

Alan Evans, representing Lancashire County Council, put it to Dr Hiller “this policy must be drafted on the basis that adverse effects can occur below 42 or there would not be need to mitigate.”

Dr Hiller replied: “I don’t think this wording is terribly helpful in the context of the other guidance behind it”.

Which British standard on noise?

Cuadrilla uses BS5228 but the opponents argue this was produced for quarries and mineral sites with large amounts of excavation. They recommend using BS4142.

Links here to all posts from the inquiry

This report is part of DrillOrDrop’s  Rig Watch project.  Rig Watch receives funding from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. More details here

3 replies »

  1. “For any operations during the period 22.00 – 07.00 noise limits should be set to reduce to a minimum any adverse impacts, without imposing unreasonable burdens on the mineral operator.

    Yes the problem with this statement is the definition of ”unreasonable burden’s on the operator”…as if the operator somehow has needs of an alien never experienced by a human being? Also what constitutes a ”burden”– money? employee health and safety? more equipment needed therefore more training for newer equipment……Why is operator king whose need are to be obeyed amongst a rural community all of a sudden?

    Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission was established as part of the Colorado department of natural resources. It aims to foster the responsible development of the state’s oil and natural gas resources. Their noise regulations stipulate maximum permissible levels depending on land use ranging from 55dB for residential/agricultural and rural to 80dB for industrial land use. Levels
    are more stringent during night time. During daytime, the regulations permit an exceedance of up to 10dB
    of these limits providing it does not last more than 15 minutes in any one hour period. In addition, periodic,
    impulsive or shrill noises have different level limits.

    The company gets fined if it doesn’t comply, in the UK we know perfectly well very few companies get fined due to toadying and lobbying by company execs.

    Noise regulations were imposed as part of planning permission for the exploration site in Balcombe in Sussex, granted in 2010. The
    restriction required that noise levels should not exceed 55dB for nearby residents between 7:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Monday to Friday and not to exceed 42dB at all other times. A number of complaints about the noise were received and measurements taken by independent experts indicated that noise levels were nearing the prohibited levels, prompting calls for the site to be shut down. The exploration company immediately stopped work in order to fit sound baffles to reduce noise levels.

    Notice the company never got fined………………….

  2. A few nights of lost sleep can make you ill, fracking inquiry hears….well I’m surprised any parents with children under 5 arn’t falling over like ninepins. My own daughter didn’t sleep through the night until she was 4. Yet I like 99% of parents coped OK. What about the health benefits of moving gas production from dangerous North Sea rigs to safer onshore infrastructure? Have a bit of a think about the issue please.

  3. Replying to mar g – am I right in thinking you are suggesting around 55db as an appropriate target. Looking at the DriilDrop reports the objectors seem to be arguing that a level of 43db is unacceptably high. Is that right? For comparison purposes Isn’t 50db ithe average surburban noise level?

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