The Environment Agency has “washed his hands” of whether there would be available capacity for treating flowback waste from Cuadrilla’s fracking sites in Lancashire, the shale gas inquiry in Blackpool heard today.
Richard Bate, the planning witness for Friends of the Earth, said the Environment Agency had not “done a thorough job” of analysing this issue.
He told the inspector:
“That is something that the EA has not addressed, something it has washed its hands of and something the planning authority needs to consider so that the Secretary of State can be satisfied it can be carried out.”
Cuadrilla had argued that waste disposal was not a matter for the inquiry because it was the responsibility of the EA.
But Mr Bates said:
“The EA has left it open that capacity might not be available in the real world. It has specified a process but not an availability.”
Other key issues
Discrepancy on flowback volumes
The inquiry heard last week that Cuadrilla’s waste management plan estimated flowback volumes would be four times higher than the forecast in the Environmental Statement.
Cuadrilla said the Environmental Statement (ES) was correct. But Friends of the Earth said the inquiry only had Cuadrilla’s word for this. Mr Bates was asked about the implications of the discrepancy. He said:
“It is quite scary. If the ES is wrong it means there has been no proper assessment of waste impact of the proposal and what it would mean if the scheme were to go ahead. There would be four times as much waste as originally anticipated.”
He said that in order to keep to the timetable the level of intensity of operations would have to be four times as much as anticipated or the operations would go on for four times as long.
“Both scenarios are worrying in planning terms. It would take the waste management arrangements from unacceptable to very unacceptable.”
Cuadrilla is to present evidence to the inquiry on Friday about the correct figure. The inspector, Wendy McKay, will then decide whether she wants to hear a witness from the company.
Waste treatment is for the market
Nathalie Lieven, barrister for Cuadrilla, told the inquiry that if demand increased for waste treatment the market would respond. She said operators of treatment facilities would apply to create new centres or seek to expand them.
Mr Bate responded: “Gosh we are running away with things a bit here.” He said the decision-maker of planning applications should do a risk assessment on waste treatment capacity. If it was not satisfied with the result, it could refuse the application, he said, adding:
“It strikes me as extraordinary that the shale gas industry has not addressed this issue”
Amber Rudd’s shale statement overtaken by events
Cuadrilla has argued that a statement promoting shale gas made by the Energy Secretary Amber Rudd in September 2015 supported Cuadrilla’s applications.
Mr Bate said that since Mrs Rudd made her statement two important things had happened which meant “substantially less weight” should be given to it:
- The Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) plans were abandoned in November 2015
- The UK signed up to the Paris Agreement on climate change in December 2015, committing to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.
Mr Bate said: “The abandonment of the CCS competition has a profound impact on the future of fossil fuels, particularly the supply of gas, which the government has put some store on.”
“Following many expression of the importance of gas, including shale gas, from the government, it now appears that they will have real trouble meeting their de-carbonisation targets.”
Mr Bate said the Amber Rudd statement was opinion. “Nowhere does it state or imply it [shale gas] is taking over from anything else. It is stating where the government wants to get but the way of getting there is through planning process and that it has to be done in a safe, timely and sustainable way.”
Even less weight to energy re-set speech
Amber Rudd made a speech in November 2015, which has become known as an energy re-set, in which she promoted the use of gas fired electricity generation. Mr Bate said he hadn’t recommended much weight should be given to it because it didn’t refer to shale gas. He said the abandonment of CCS should mean that it received even less weight than before.
The Chat Moss case
Friends of the Earth compared the refusal of plans for peat extraction at Chat Moss in Salford to Cuadrilla’s plans for fracking in the Fylde. Mr Bate said they were both minerals and both generated similar levels of carbon emissions. But Cuadrilla said the National Planning Policy Framework said applications for peat extraction should be refused and there was nothing in the NPPF about refusals of shale gas plans.
Climate change policy
Mr Bate said Lancashire’s development plan policy, DM2, required mineral developments to “make a positive contribution where appropriate to reduction of carbon emissions”. He said:
“The objective of national planning policy could not be clearer in this matter. It is to secure radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”
Today’s session of the inquiry identified at least two factual disputes between Cuadrilla and Friends of the Earth
- Cuadrilla argued that 10-40% of fracking fluid would return as flow back. Mr Bate said this figure was disputed. He said the total flow back could be greater than that predicted, and the volume could be substantially greater.
- Cuadrilla said the proportion of waste treatment capacity in the north of England used by the two schemes in Lancashire would be use 65%. Friends of the Earth said this figure referred to national not regional capacity.