Live news as it happens at the 12th day of the inquiry at Blackpool Football Club into Cuadrilla’s fracking plans for the Fylde area of Lancashire. Check our Inquiry page for more information, posts and links.
Estelle Dehon, barrister for Friends of the Earth, will begin the day by introducing her health witness, David McCoy (left). He is the director of the global health charity Medact and director of the global health taught programmes at the Centre for Primary Care and Public Health, Queen Mary University of London.
Dr McCoy will be followed by Richard Bate (right), a senior partner in the planning and environment consultancy Green Balance. Both Mr Bate and Dr McCoy will be cross-examined by Cuadrilla’s barrister, Nathalie Lieven.
The inquiry resumes at 9.30am tomorrow (Thursday 3rd March)
The inquiry discussed whether Cuadrilla should present a new witness to give evidence on the discrepancy of volumes of flowback fluid between the Environmental Statement and the Waste Management Plan.
Estelle Dehon said Friends of the Earth would be disadvantaged if Cuadrilla were allowed to call a new witness. Cuadrilla had chosen how to present its case, she said. The discrepancy had only highlighted a more serious issue. Ms Dehon added : “It is disingenuous for Cuadrilla to suggest that our witness, Alan Watson, accepted that the Environmental Statement was correct because he did not.”
Nathalie Lieven said she would present a note to the inquiry next Tuesday. Ms Dehon said that didn’t give much time to deal with it.
The inspector, Wendy McKay, asked for it tomorrow.
Ms Lieven said tomorrow would be difficult and offered 9.30am Friday. Ms McKay said she would indicate then whether she needed to hear from a witness.
Ms Dehon asked for background information to be supplied at the same time.
Carbon budget The inspector, Wendy McKay, asked Mr Bate if he felt the UK carbon budget should be considered when deciding whether Cuadrilla’s sites should be approved. “Very much so”, he said.
Climate Change Act Mr Bate was asked about what Cuadrilla could do to be seen to be acting within the Climate Change Act. Mr Bate said it would have to something quite significant. He said this should be secured by a planning condition. He said “I don’t put much weight on aspirations”.
Ministerial statement Ms McKay asked him about the weight that should be given to the ministerial statement made by Amber Rudd on shale gas in September 2015. 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.
“When you add onto that the Paris Agreement, which one would expect to lead to tighter obligations on decarbonising our society, the effect on the September 2015 statement would be profound. Substantially less weight should be given to it”.
Energy re-set speech Mr Bate said it hadn’t recommended much weight should be given to this because it did not refer to shale gas. But he said the abandonment of CCS should mean that it received even less weight than before.
Environment Agency position on waste treatment Ms McKay asked Mr Bate about his view of the Environment Agency’s policy on leaving it to the applicant to find available waste treatment capacity. Mr Bate said
“They have not done a thorough job in analysing that matter. There is an issue of whether they think they were supposed to it. The planning authority does need to do this because the Environment Agency is not doing it.”
Re-examination on public health aspects of planning
Ms Dehon asked about the extent to which the Environment Agency regulated public health. Mr Bate said he couldn’t answer that question.
Re-examination on the ministerial statement
Estelle Dehon, for Friends of the Earth, referred Richard Bate to the section of the September 2015 ministerial statement by Amber Rudd, which described shale gas as a lower carbon fuel. She asked Mr Bate how the inspector should use the words “lower carbon” in making her decisions.
Mr Bate replied: “lower than what”. He said there was an obligation to take account of ministerial statements relevant to planning. He said: ” I don’t think it [this section] has a specific meaning in planning terms.”
“There is no question terms in planning terms that lower carbon emissions from shale gas would not be considered in the same breath as nuclear or renewables”.”
Discrepancy on flow back figures
The inquiry had heard last week that the estimated volume of flowback fluid referred to in Cuadrilla’s waste management plan was four times higher than that predicted in the Environmental Statement.
Nathalie Lieven, for Cuadrilla, said the Environmental Statement figure was correct. Ms Dehon said the inquiry had only Cuadrilla’s evidence for this. The inspector, Wendy McKay, said it was a matter that needed to be clarified.
Ms Lieven said Mr Bate should assume the ES figure was correct
Mr Bate asked “Should we assume the Environment Agency has been guilty of a dereliction of duty?”
Mr Lieven said it was a mistake that no one had spotted until Alan Watson, Friends of the Earth’s waste witness, did shortly before his inquiry appearance. She said the Environment Agency had considered the estimate that 10-40% of fluid would return.
Mr Bate said this proportion was in dispute. He said there was a possibility that the actual total flow back could be greater than that predicted, and the volume could be substantially greater. He said this did not obviate the responsibility of the planning authority to be satisfied about the availability of waste treatment capacity.
Cross-examination on waste water
Nathalie Lieven, for Cuadrilla, said it was the responsibility of the Environment Agency to ensure the final disposal of flowback fluid was acceptable. Richard Bate agreed. But he said Friends of the Earth’s complaint was not about the treatment method but the availability of treatment capacity.
Ms Lieven put it Mr Bate that the Cuadrilla wells would use 65% of north of England capacity. Estelle Dehon said this was disputed (she has argued the 65% referred to national capacity) and the point could not be put to Mr Bate. She said Cuadrilla had not cross-examined Alan Watson, the Friends of the Earth witness, on this issue.
Ms Lieven said she would say in final statements that this issue was irrelevant.
She then moved on to statements by the Environment Agency (EA) on the Cuadrilla waste permit applications. These said the operations would have to stop if treatment capacity was not available, Ms Lieven suggested. Mr Bate said this showed the EA had considered only suitability not availability of treatment capacity. Mr Bate added:
“The issue here is what happens if substantially more waste becomes available and the day-day operations couldn’t be carried out as intended. 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.”
The EA has said it is a problem for the appellant, Ms Lieven said.
Mr Bate said putting it back on the applicant may be appropriate for the Environment Agency’s regime. But that didn’t mean it should be left to the applicant by the planning authority.
Ms Lieven said if waste could not be treated then it would have to be stored on site, taken elsewhere or kept it in the well. Mr Bate said there would be knock-on effects, which had to be considered carefully, including lorry movements.
Ms Lieven said even if flowback fluid increased it would not mean traffic movements would reach the daily cap of 50. Mr Bate said he could not comment on traffic generation.
Ms Lieven said if the demand increased for waste treatment the operators of treatment facilities would apply to create new centres or seek to expand them.
Mr Bate said: “Gosh we are running away with things a bit here.”
He added: “The planning authority ought properly to have considered the possibility that this might arise. The decision-maker would do a risk assessment of there being an inadequate availability and consider the options and decide how serious those options would be. Or it would have looked at whether the site was too small to put adequate storage tanks on.”
“This would all be taken into account by the planning authority at the planing application stage so there is a much clearer idea of what would happen on the ground.”
Mr Bate added:
“The decision-maker could then say if we don’t like any of these options, we will refuse the application”.
Ms Lieven said the Secretary of State was now the decision-maker and he had the evidence he needed. Mr Bate replied: “I am sure he will by the end of the inquiry.”
Ms Lieven said: “If there was a shortage of capacity you would expect operators to come forward with applications for expansion or new facilities.”
Mr Bate: “Possibly”.
But he pointed to a government document which said getting new treatment in place was not a rapid process and would take time.
Ms Lieven said it was for the market to respond. It would take time but it would take time for hydraulic fracturing to take off too.
Mr Bate replied:
“It strikes me as extraordinary that the shale gas industry has not addressed this issue”
Cross-examination on health and planning
Nathalie Lieven turned to the impact of shale gas on health. She acknowledged the planning authority had to be satisfied there was no unacceptable impact on health.
But she said under the National Planning Policy Framework the authority had to consider whether there was another regulatory regime that was responsible for controlling the impact. It then had to assume it would do its properly.
Mr Bate said there was scope for particular issues to be the responsibility of both the regulator and the planning authority. It is not quite the separation that Ms Lieven was suggesting, he said.
Cross-examination on Chat Moss
Ms Lieven turned to Mr Bate’s evidence about the refusal of the Chat Moss application for peat extraction in Salford. She said the National Planning Policy Framework said peat extraction should be refused. She asked Mr Bate if there was anything in the NPPF that said shale gas should be refused on climate change grounds. He said there was not.
Cross-examination on government policy
Nathalie Lieven, for Cuadrilla, put it to Richard Bate that the ministerial statement by Amber Rudd on shale gas, made in September 2015, was recent and it dealt directly with shale gas.
Mr Bate said there were also reports from the Energy and Climate Change Committee and the Committee on Climate Change on the subject. The way the government responded to these reports could be considered to be policy.
Ms Lieven said there had been no policy since the Paris climate change agreement to suggest the Government had changed its policy. Mr Bate replied:
“When a major issue like the Paris Agreement comes up everything is viewed through that prism so you wouldn’t expect policies to be changed.”
He added that you wouldn’t expect there to be a statement or policy change following the government’s cancellation of the £1bn carbon capture and storage competition (CCS) in November 2015.
Ms Lieven said the ministerial statement was the last word from the government on shale gas. She said seven days before CCS was cancelled, Amber Rudd made her so-called energy reset speech in which she promoted the increased use of gas. She must have known CCS would be cancelled, Ms Lieven suggested.
Mr Bate replied: “Secretaries of State are hung out to dry by Chancellors. I have no idea if Amber Rudd knew what was coming from the Chancellor when she made her statement.”
“One shouldn’t assume there was any warning before the Energy Secretary’s statement. It may not happen. Lack of joined operations between different arms of government – its very said but there it is.”
“I have no idea if there was any notice”, Mr Bate said, and he asked Mrs Lieven: “Do you?”
Ms Lieven said: “Seven days before the announcement, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change must have known”.
“I don’t accept that”, Mr Bate said.
Ms Lieven put it to Mr Bate that the government could have changed the planning policy guidance following the Paris Agreement and the cancellation of the CCS. Mr Bate said the guidance had not been changed after the ministerial statement either.
Government policy as a planning consideration
Richard Bate was asked about Amber Rudd’s so-called Energy Re-set speech in 2015.
Mr Bate said:
The Statement makes a range of references to gas supplies, but these hint only once at the role of unconventional sources including shale gas.
There is no reference to onshore fracking. A section on ‘Need for more gas infrastructure’ considers various alternatives but these do not include shale gas.
This Statement is nonetheless capable of being a material consideration at the current Inquiry, although the weight to be attributed to it in the light of the above is a matter for the Inspector and subsequently the Secretary of State.
Mr Bate added:
“It is a government view, or opinion. It refers to a safe, timely and sustainable way. It doesn’t mean pushing everything else out of the way.”
“Nowhere does it state or imply it is taking over from anything else. It is stating where the government wants to get there but the way of getting there is through planning process and that it has to be done in a safe, timely and sustainable way.”
Since then, he said two important things had happened:
- The Carbon Capture and Storage plans, on which government gas strategy, was based has been abandoned
- The UK had signed up to the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Mr Bate said the Prime Minister made a speech in Paris about looking after the interests of our children and grandchildren. The increase in global temperature should be fixed at 1.5 degrees C above pre industrial temperatures. This will have a significant bearing on the way in which shale gas can contribute to our energy supplies, Mr Bate said.
The weight to the Ministerial Statement should be reduced because of these two changes, Mr Bate added. Shale gas is a fossil fuel. The means of abating it is lost and the control on temperature rise is increased, he said.
“This reduces the weight that can be given to the material consideration of the ministerial statement.”
Lack of knowledge about health impacts
Estelle Dehon asked Mr Bate about the level of knowledge about shale gas developments on health
Mr Bate said “You have to deal with the situation you are faced, however undesirable that would be”.
But the decision-maker has to be confident that the development follows the policy of local plans, he said.
Discrepancy of waste volumes
Estelle Dehon asked Richard Bate about the discrepancy over volumes of flowback fluid in Cuadrilla’s Environmental Statement (ES) and waste management plan. The waste management plan forecast four times the volume of flowback fluid than the ES.
Mr Bate said of the implications of what would happen if the ES was wrong:
“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 be four times as much as anticipated, with implications for transport, storage, or the operations would go on for four times as long.
“Both scenarios are worrying in planning terms”.
Irrespective of that, Mr Bate said, the evidence of Alan Watson is that even if there hadn’t been this problem, the risks of the proposal are too many and too great and the plans should be refused.
“It would take the waste management arrangements from unacceptable to very unacceptable.”
Ms Dehon asked about what would happen if there is too much waste water in the borehole that can be disposed of.
Mr Bate said:
“The risks would be quite unsubstantial. They would be extreme if the choke manifold [the control mechanism on the well] failed.”
It would increase the risk of fracture and water pollution arising in the borehole or into the formation, he added.
Mr Bate said the likelihood also had to be considered. He said the decision-maker had to multiply the likelihood with the magnitude of the hazard, decide whether this was acceptable and ask what the solution was and whether it was sufficient.
The choke manifold is the only solution suggested by Cuadrilla to controlling waste water, Mr Bates said.
Inquiry adjourns for lunch
Environment Agency “washed its hands”on available waste treatment capacity
A key issue for the inquiry has been whether it can leave the disposal of waste to the Environment Agency (EA) to regulate.
Cuadrilla’s case is that the National Planning Policy Framework requires planning authorities to assume the pollution control agencies will do their job properly – in this case the EA.
But Mr Bate said the EA had “washed its hands” of the issue of “available capacity” for waste treatment. So the practical disposal of waste was the responsibility for the inquiry and for the Secretary of State, who will make the final decision on Cuadrilla’s applications in Fylde.
Mr Bate explained that the EA had granted waste permits for the Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood sites. In the response to the public consultation on the permits, the EA said:
“We have assessed the application and we are satisifed there is adequate capacity”.
“If an outlet cannot be found for the waste, the operation will have to stop”.
Mr Bate said:
“All these statements indicate that the EA has looked at the proposals submitted to it and is satisfied that the method of dealing with the waste is appropriate. It is aware that there are places where the waste can go where this method can take place.”
“But the EA has left open that capacity might not be available in the real world. It has specified a process but not an availability.”
“The issue is then what is to be done about the issue of the availability of the processing capacity. The EA has washed its hands of that matter.”
“In my view the Secretary of State, under the planning policy guidance, has to be satisfied that the waste can be disposed. It is up to him to decide that there is an adequate availability of appropriate capacity.”
“Because of the way the EA’s role is constructed and expressed, the planning authority should be taking account of the practical availability of waste treatment capacity because that is not something the EA is set up to do”.
“Waste is a planning issue”
Mr Bate said the Lancashire Development Plan Policy DM2 said mineral developments should be refused unless:
“all material, social, economic or environmental impacts that would cause demonstrable harm can be eliminated or reduced to acceptable levels”,
This covers wastewater emissions, Mr Bate said. He said the Mineral Planning Authority had to be satisfied that the policy on waste had be resolved. Mr Bate said:
“This means waste is very much a planning issue and an issue now for the Secretary of State”
“Dealing with waste water is very much in the frame of reference of this inquiry.”
The Chat Moss case
Mr Bate said the Lancashire fracking case was similar to an inquiry into a peat extraction scheme at Chat Moss in Salford. In this case, the Secretary of State agreed with the Inspector’s conclusion to refuse the appeal.
Mr Bate said they both concluded:
“That the loss of the carbon stored in the site through continued peat extraction and the difficulties that this would pose in meeting the challenge of climate change would be contrary to policies within the Development Plan which seek to minimise greenhouse gas emissions and to have regard to the need to minimise the impact of development on climate change.”
Mr Bate said peat working and drilling for shale gas were both mineral operations, both regulated by mineral planning authorities and both resulted in greenhouse gas emissions.
“There are significant parallels between them”
The greenhouse gas emissions at Chat Moss and the Lancashire shale gas plans were similar, he said. The Chat Moss decision was relevant to this inquiry, he said.
Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and fracking
Mr Bate quoted comments by the Prime Minister who said if there was no CCS the UK would have to rely on renewables and nuclear. If there was no CCS you would have no unabated gas at all, the Prime Minister said in 2013.
In November 2015, Mr Bate said the government had cut the £1bn competition for CCS development and nothing had replaced it.
Mr Bate referred to the Energy and Climate Change Committee report on CCS published in February 2016. The committee was “sniffy” about the government’s decision to scrap the competition, he said.
The CCS cancellation was in “direct contradiction” of the Energy Secretary’s energy policy reset speech, he said. The Energy and Climate Change Committee had said the government could not afford to sit back and wait to see if CCS would be available if and when it was needed. The committee saw the CCS cancellation as a “serious setback”
Mr Bate said this showed “just how quickly things can change in this fast-moving world of policy.”
“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.”
“Those targets are set down in law and not easily evaded. It is easier to change the policy on different energy types than change the law on de-carbonisation targets.”
Mr Bate added:
“Little weight can be put on govenrment statements made before the withdrawal of the CCS competition on the use of gas for the nation’s energy supply.”
Shale and the Climate Change Act
Mr Bate said national planning policy and the Climate Change Act required local authorities to show how their planning policies will lead to the intended radical reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to meet legal obligations
He said it meant:
“Opportunities must be taken seriously and that there is no space in planning practice for the argument that decision makers can leave greenhouse gas emissions for others to tackle (somewhere else, on another occasion).”
“The argument cannot be entertained that a development’s greenhouse gas emissions amount only to a ‘drop in the ocean’ and therefore be given little weight in a decision.”
Planning and climate change
Mr Bate talks about that local planning policy has to say about climate change.
He said Lancashire County Council’s planning policy DM2 includes a provision that minerals or waste developments will be supported provided that they make a positive contribution where appropriate to “reduction of carbon emissions”.
“The Lancashire Climate Change Strategy 2009-2020, which is a relevant local policy , states that, as the nuclear contribution declines: “The challenge is to ensure that the replacement energy supply replacing this will be low carbon rather than increase the use of fossil fuels”
“The objective of national planning policy could not be clearer in this matter. It is to secure radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”
He added: paragraph 93 of the National Planning Policy Framework states that “planning plays a key role” in helping to “secure radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions” and “supporting the delivery of renewable and low carbon energy”.
Paragraph 93 stipulates that this is “central to the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.”.
Mr Bate said: “Planning plays a key role in helping shape places to secure radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, minimising vulnerability and providing resilience to the impacts of climate change, and supporting the delivery of renewable and low carbon energy and associated infrastructure.”
“This is central to the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.”
Introduction of Richard Bate
Friends of the Earth introduces its final witness, Richard Bate, who will give evidence on planning.
Financial burden on local authorities
The inspector, Ms McKay, asked Dr McCoy about his prediction that shale gas developments would lead to extra expense for public bodies.
Dr McCoy said one of the weaknesses of the report by Public Health England was that it did not cost the effective regulation or the capacity of the regulatory system to assume that shale gas would be operated in a way that would be safe.
Cuadrilla’s mitigation attempts
Ms McKay asked Dr McCoy about his view that mitigation proposals by Cuadrilla were likely to be ineffective. He said a lot of the concerns related not just to exploration on two sites but the prospect of commercial shale gas production more generally.
“One way we could mitigate effects on anxiety would be to conduct an impact assessment of production at scale, including the impact of shale gas on climate change”.
Dr McCoy added that any attempts to mitigate visual impacts or noise would be only partially effective.
Impact of climate change on health
Asked about the affects of climate change on health, Dr McCoy said the impacts, such as ocean acidification, temperature rises and drought, were very varied and depended on the local circumstances. Different regions would be affected in different ways, depending on their location, their vulnerability to effects and the ability to adapt. But when temperatures rose to a certain level there was unlikely to be any areas that would not be affected.
“Case against shale is convincing”
Dr McCoy said: “Independent public health professionals are saying there are clearly signals of the hazards are real and potentially significant and we need to proceed with caution. There is a need for more monitoring.” He added:
“There is also a view that the signals are enough to suggest that we should not go ahead with shale gas production at all.”
This is clearly the view of New York state, where fracking was banned largely on health grounds, he said.
“When you add in climate change and global warming, for me, the case becomes much stronger. When you add up all the arguments, the direct, indirect and long-term potential impacts, the case is very convincing that we should not be undertaking shale gas exploration or production.”
In response to a question from the inspector, Wendy McKay, Dr McCoy said it was a shame that health impact studies had not been carried out in the US 15 years ago.
Dr McCoy told the inspector he could see the evidence of stress and anxiety with his own eyes when he attended the planning application meetings in Lancashire in June 2015.
Ms McKay asked if the impact would be greater at Roseacre Wood than Preston New Road. Dr McCoy said the health impact assessment by Ben Cave Associates had concluded that the impacts would be greater at Roseacre Wood.
Re-examination of risks of stress, noise and waste
Estelle Dehon, for Friends of the Earth, asked Dr McCoy to summarise the public health risks around exploration.
Dr McCoy said there were three areas:
- Stress and anxiety and lack of trust in fracking
- Management and safe treatment of waste water
Dr McCoy said:
“Any conclusion that safe treatment of waste water is not a threat to health is based on an assumption that it would be safely managed. If there were reasons that this would not be so then we need to raise concerns about the risks to public health.”
Ms Dehon asked if there had been any health impact assessments about fracking at Preeese Hall. Dr McCoy said he was not aware of this. Ms Dehon asked if there had been any relevant public information about Preese Hall. Dr McCoy said the only information he was aware of was about disposal of flow back waste.
Ms Dehon asked about the extent to which the Public Health England report relied on US experience. Dr McCoy said fracking was still a relatively new activity for which scientific evidence was still being generated. He said there was still uncertainty about the impacts of the process on health and the way people were exposed to it. There were quite varied findings, he said. Some research showed there was very little exposure to potential hazards while others did. The release of hazardous substances varied from one well to another, he said.
Cross-examination: Health monitoring conditions
Nathalie Lieven, for Cuadrilla, put it to Dr McCoy that Lancashire County Council had not turned down the applications on health issues. Dr McCoy agreed. Ms Lieven said no conditions were proposed by the Council on health grounds. Ms Dehon, for Friends of the Earth, said she had not seen any of the conditions. Dr McCoy said the Director of Public Health for Lancashire had recommended baseline monitoring of public health before any fracking began.
Cross-examination: Difference between the UK and US
Dr McCoy agreed that care is needed in making comparisons with the US. But he said the risks were likely to be greater in the UK.
“Only way to displace concern is to do it”
Cuadrilla’s barrister, Nathalie Lieven, put it to Dr McCoy there was a high degree of concern but the only way to displace it was when the activity commenced (laughter from the audience). “There is no other way to displace those concerns”, she said.
Dr McCoy said a lot of the stress, concern, and anxiety arose from concern about commercial fracking. You could displace that concern by a risk assessment of what commercial scale fracking would look like.
Ms Lieven said there had been only one example of fracking – at Preese Hall – and there was no evidence of health impacts of that
Dr McCoy replied: “There is no evidence but we cannot be sure there was no impact”
Ms Lieven said: “Until you have fracturing in the UK it is impossible there will be no pathway to human health. The only way to do this is for the process to start and then those concerns, we assume, will be dissipated because it will be shown to be safe”. She added:
“You can study until you are blue in the face but until you do it you won’t have the evidence”
Dr McCoy replied:
“You are assuming that it will be shown to be safe and there is no evidence for that. We have experience from other parts of the world and from the oil and gas industry, that is has been shown to be a risky activity.
“We have good evidence of the relation between shale gas and health through climate change. There are a whole range of reasons why we should be cautious about encouraging exploratory fracking. There are reasons that this risk is not worth it.”
Cross-examination: Risk assessment needed now
Cross-examined by Nathalie Lieven, Dr McCoy said:
“Even in this phase of exploration what is very clear is that the stress, anxiety and mental health impacts are related to fears of the risk of commercial production. It is entirely reasonable to undertake a risk assessment of commercial production at this stage.”
Ms Lieven said the direct impact on health from the shale gas plans at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood related to nuisances, such as noise and lighting. Dr McCoy agreed.
Planning policy and health risks
Nathalie Lieven, for Cuadrilla, put it to Dr McCoy that Public Health England did not object to the shale gas plans in the Fylde or recommend specific health monitoring. Dr McCoy said the was not sure about that.
Ms Lieven said it was a fact that planning policy required mineral planning authorities to assume other regulators would do their job properly. Ms Dehon said this was not a fact and there was a disagreement between Friends of the Earth and Cuadrilla’s witnesses on this issue.
Ms Lieven turned to the paragraph 122 National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and read its reference on advising that issues on environmental permitting should not be re-visted by planning issues.
“You would agree that as far as shale gas exploration is concerned impact from pollutants would be low or negligible”, Ms Lieven said.
“That is what I have written”, Dr Mcoy said.
Ms Lieven put it to Dr McCoy: “Your primary concerns are about effects at production”
“No” said Dr McCoy. “There are concerns that should be raised and are reasonable from the two sites where shale gas is being explored. When it comes to commercial production we are looking at a different scale of impacts on human health.”
Ms Lieven said paragraph 147 of National Planning Policy Framework required mineral planning authorities to distinguish between the three phases of development of minerals (exploration, appraisal and production).
The Inspector, Wendy McKay said: “You are veering into areas where other witnesses could give evidence”
Ms Lieven replied: “Dr McCoy has given evidence that is contrary to planning policy.”
Global health critical to public health
Dr McCoy said energy was vital to human health and the ability to harness energy had been accompanied by improvements in health.
But the means by which we produce energy posed threats to human security, he said. “We need to balance energy and human security more broadly.”
He said: “Our fragile and finite planet is protected not just for current but future generations. This recognises that the health of planet is linked to human health. Health organisations are now turning to climate change as a critical public health issue. We need to secure energy but ensure that it is clean and production is fair and consistent with other requirements to produce a secure life.”
Dr McCoy said the level of carbon emissions associated with shale gas production were critical. He said The Lancet and a group of academics associated with climate change had concluded:
“On the basis of current emission trajectories, temperature rises in the next 85 years may be incompatible with an organised global community”.
Cost versus benefit of fracking
Dr McCoy said the benefits of fracking needed to be balanced against the risks and costs. He said:
“A comprehensive economic impact assessment should also examine who exactly will benefit from any economic benefits and new jobs; the costs associated with shale
gas development and the impact on other economic sectors; and the effects of economic decline when shale gas comes to an end.”
He said public health agencies needed to be prepared for increased demand for their services.
Climate change risks
Dr McCoy said: “There are already observed negative impacts of climate change on health. Although future health impacts are hard to predict with precision, all plausible futures resulting from realistic anticipated emissions trajectories will expose the global population to worsening health consequences. ”
“Even if there is a strong likelihood of significant environmental pollution and negative social and health effects, this would need to be weighed up against the potential benefits of shale gas exploitation.”
Low risk rating depends on assumptions
Dr McCoy said the risk to human health posed by various potentially hazardous pollutants associated with shale gas exploration have been generally assessed to be low or negligible but only on the assumption of adherence to best practice guidance and stringent safety measures (properly enforced), and that facilities to adequately and safely store, transport, treat and dispose of wastewater, including flowback fluid, exist.
Evidence produced by Alan Watson shows that this is unlikely to be the case, he said.
“The toxic potential of flowback fluid is a notable health hazard of HVHF[high volume hydraulic fracturing] and this deficiency in Cuadrilla’s assessment may mean that some risk to environmental and human health has been underestimated.”
Of industrial-scale shale gas development, he said: “There is evidence of more widespread stress, anxiety and illness due to fears over the prospect of commercial shale gas production taking place at scale.”
Social and economic risks of shale gas
Dr McCoy referred to a research paper on social and economic risks. He said when you considered the impacts of fracking, you needed to look the potential physical impacts and the psycho, social and cultural impacts and how they may have a secondary impact of human health.
Need for health monitoring at shale sites
Dr McCoy said: “There is common agreement that there should be robust monitoring of the shale gas activities taking place at the proposed sites. The prospective collection and monitoring of data would allow for health risks to be monitored and mitigated if considered to be high or significant.”
“An important recommendation made by the Director of Public Health following the Health Impact Assessment conducted in 2014 is that there must be “robust baseline and long term monitoring of environmental and health conditions”.
But he said it is unclear who would be responsible for funding and collecting the data. Because of mistrust of Cuadrilla, he said, it should be collected by a neutral party, such as an independent group of academics.
Effects of light pollution
Dr McCoy said both light and noise pollution can cause negative health impacts, including sleep disturbance. Some also create an neuro-endocrine response – the way stress and anxiety impacts on health in mental and physical terms, he said.
These effects are influenced by the environment. Noise and light pollution in an urban setting have a different impact than the same pollution in a rural setting, he said.
Impact of exploratory drilling
Dr McCoy said: “My view is that while both projects will produce some health and environmental hazards, any negative direct impacts on human health will be concentrated in people living in the immediate surroundings of the two proposed sites and be most likely caused by the effects of noise and other nuisances.”
“Depending on the extent to which noise and other nuisances are effectively mitigated or tolerated, the level of negative impact may range from being negligible to being significant.”
Perception of risk
Estelle Dehon asked Dr McCoy how justified were the concerns about fracking.
Dr McCoy said there were reasonable reasons for people to have concerns, whether close to the proposed sites or across Lancashire.
He said the stress, anxiety and worry related only in part to potential impacts of fracking on two exploratory sites. It also related to the wider impact of shale gas production in future on the environment.
Stress caused by fracking plans
Dr McCoy said: “There is evidence that fear, anxiety and stress have characterised some of the communities’ response to the planning applications and that the physical and mental wellbeing of some Lancashire residents is already being adversely affected.”
“This is likely to be due to a number of reasons including perceptions of risk to health and the environment, particularly in relation to commercial shale gas production at scale; an apparent lack of trust in the oil and gas industry in general and the Appellant in particular; and feelings of anger and helplessness caused by the view that shale gas production will be forced onto local communities by national government policy and insistence.
“Various mitigations to alleviate worries and fears have been proposed by the appellant, but such efforts are likely to be insufficient as long as:
- there is a belief that the government is set to impose commercial shale gas production at scale
- the risk and impact of commercial shale gas production at scale has not been properly assessed
- reasons exist to doubt the efficacy or effectiveness of the regulatory system to ensure that commercial shale gas production could be conducted safely and responsibly.
Dr McCoy added:
“Although a great deal of effort has been spent clarifying the scope and adequacy of regulation and best practice guidance for onshore gas and oil activity, anxiety and concern about commercial shale gas production being conducted safely and adequately remain for a number of reasons. These include:
- the lack of certainty about the laws, policies and systems that would regulate commercial shale gas production at scale
- a reliance on self-monitoring and reporting by the industry;
- key regulatory bodies, including the EA, the HSE and local authorities, having experienced large budget and staffing cuts in recent years; and
- recent requirements for local authorities to speed up the process for assessing planning applications to conduct shale gas exploration.
Health hazards from fracking
Dr McCoy told the inquiry: “There are few robust and long- standing ‘exposure and health impact studies’ of HVHF [high volume hydraulic fracturing] and a number of reasons why scientific understanding of HVHF is limited and constrained.”
But he said from the knowledge there is hazards were divided between direct and indirect.
Dr McCoy said direct hazards consist of air-borne pollutants; water-borne pollutants; and various so-called ‘nuisances’ in the form of noise, light pollution, odour and traffic congestion.
Intermediate hazards include social and economic effects which may impact on health through neuro-endocrine pathways by causing psychological and emotional distress and anxiety.
Dr McCoy’s evidence said a third set of potential health hazards are those associated with global warming and climate change, whose effects are not limited to populations living in around shale gas extraction sites, but extend across the country and globe. Climate change is now widely considered the biggest threat to human health in the 21st century.
Introduction to Dr David McCoy
Ms Dehon, for Friends of the Earth, introduces Dr David McCoy to the inquiry. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Public Health. He had previously worked as an NHS Director of Public Health and worked on a climate change commission. He is a trustee of the New Economics Foundation. He co-authored the Medact report from April 2015 on fracking and public health. He is currently reviewing public health research on fracking.
There are new papers almost on a weekly basis on health and fracking, he said.
Comment on waste treatment
Nathalie Lieven, for Cuadrilla, responded to a comment made last week by Alan Watson on waste treatment at Third Energy’s proposed fracking operation at Kirby Misperton. Ms Lieven said there was a different technology at Kirby Misperton but there was no difference in the ultimate disposal between North Yorkshire and Lancashire.