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 The company has since withdrawn the offer because planning permission was refused and the costs of the appeal.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.