Regulation

“Elderly people need core sleep but they are not going to get it”, Cuadrilla fracking inquiry told

Mike Stigwood

Cuadrilla’s proposed fracking site at Preston New Road would disturb the sleep of elderly people living nearby with serious consequences, the inquiry into the plans heard today.

Mike Stigwood, an environmental health expert, said drilling at the site would keep people awake and would particularly affect the elderly.

The inquiry heard that all but one of the houses in the nearby Foxwood Chase had an elderly resident.

Mr Stigwood, giving evidence for the Preston New Road Action Group which opposes Cuadrilla’s plans, said the drilling noise would be 24-hours a day, seven days a week and would last for a total of two years. He said:

“It will be dominant and during core sleep periods will lead to sleep disturbance”.

Asked what the impacts would be, Mr Stigwood replied:

“There will be serious effects”.

He said of elderly people:

“Their need for sleep is as much as for the young. They need core sleep but they are not going to get it.”

He said:

“The probability is that they will not get back to sleep because of the dominant drilling noise. It is a noise that they will clearly identify. If they have emotional response to the noise it will take them longer to get back to sleep.”

Cuadrilla has argued that the first drilling phase would last only four months. But Mr Stigwood said

“Four months of that level of noise leading to sleep disturbance would be unreasonable.”

He said elderly people were particularly vulnerable to sleep disturbance because they:

  • Take longer to get to sleep
  • Have fragmented, less deep sleep
  • Need to use the toilet in the night, up to six times

A large proportion wake throughout the night and have a greater difficulty getting back to sleep, he said.

How noisy is too noisy?

Cuadrilla has said it cannot reduce noise levels below 42 decibels at night. Lancashire County Council has proposed a level of 37 decibels and Mr Stigwood said it should be 30.

“There will be times in the night when the drilling noise will be dominant. It will be audible for a significant period, and it will be dominant, noisy, loud, for considerable periods.”

Nathalie Lieven, for Cuadrilla, said audibility was not grounds for a refusal. Mr Stigwood said he had not argued that.

Ms Lieven said the Cuadrilla proposals complied with evidence from the World Health Organisation that sleep disturbance began above 42 decibels. Mr Stigwood said there were physiological responses to noise at 30 decibels and complaints at 35. He said the WHO evidence was based on transport noise and this was less likely to disturb people than drilling noise.

How quiet is Preston New Road?

Ms Lieven said it would not be possible to describe Preston New Road as a quiet noise environment.

But Mr Stigwood who carried out a five-week noise survey near the site, described it as “very quiet” at night and lower than estimated by Cuadrilla.

“I have been there at 3am in the morning and it is pin drop quiet. Noise dropped to the floor of the meter”.

A car passing will lead to some sleep disturbance, he said. “More noise events will lead to a lower quality of sleep. The Cuadrilla noise will stop people getting back to sleep.”

Failings by Cuadrilla

Mr Stigwood criticised Cuadrilla’s noise survey and predictions. He said the company and its consultants failed to:

  • Gather sufficient appropriate evidence of the existing sound environment
  • Consider non-acoustic factors
  • Provide sufficient evidence to support conclusions.

He said other failings included:

  • Applying inappropriate and selective guidance
  • Producing prediction errors leading to understating of levels
  • Assuming noise mitigation without supporting evidence

Mr Stigwood said a noise assessment should add the proposed site noise to the existing background levels and Cuadrilla had not done this.

Ms Lieven said Jacobs, the consultants for Lancashire County Council, had done the same analysis as Arup had done for Cuadrilla and gone the same results. But Mr Stigwood said

“They don’t tell us what they did. It doesn’t change the uncertainties. We don’t understand how they got to where they got. We did that exercise and we can’t replicate what they got.”

Low frequency noise

Mr Stigwood said the Preston New Road site would produce low frequency noise from pumps and generators. This type of noise was less likely to be blocked by buildings, he said, so lower night time noise limits were needed.

“Cuadrilla dismissed low frequency noise at an early stage. They said it is not a problem. The company said it doesn’t wake people up below a certain level.”

“It would be a lovely concept if it applied but it doesn’t.”

Ms Lieven said four other noise consultants who have given evidence to the inquiry had not said low frequency noise was a problem. Mr Stigwood said they either did not have the data or had not analysed it as he had done.

Other noise headlines

Weekend protection
Mr Stigwood said the maximum noise limit during the day at weekends should be 45 decibels, rather than the level of 55 proposed by Cuadrilla. This would take account of lower background noise levels at Preston New Road at weekends, he said.

Construction versus industrial noise
Cuadrilla likened noise from the proposed site to construction noise. Mr Stigwood said construction noise was relatively short-lived and was extremely infrequent at night. When it does happen at night it is extremely infrequent, he said, and it tends to move around over geographical distance. Mr Stigwood said the drill rig at Preston New Road would produce industrial noise.

Is drilling a constant noise?
Ms Lieven said noise surveying of Cuadrilla’s rig at the Horse Hill oil well near Gatwick showed that drilling produced a “fairly constant noise”. Mr Stigwood replied that the site drilling noise had regular individual noise events.

“Cuadrilla will slow down drilling if noise levels are approached”
Ms Lieven said Cuadrilla would monitor noise levels in summer months to ensure it did not breach the limits, should the proposal go ahead. If there were noise issues, the site manager could slow down the drilling, she said. Mr Stigwood said the site manager may be able to draw those conclusions if he had done a sufficient investigation of noise emissions in all directions and all meteorological conditions. And he added:

“We do not have evidence before the inquiry that slowing down the drilling would reduce the noise.”

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

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