The public inquiry into Cuadrilla’s plans to frack near Blackpool reached its final stages last week with the closing arguments from half the groups involved.
Friends of the Earth, a parish council and a residents’ group summed up their final case against the schemes at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood. The local chamber of commerce put its arguments in favour.
On Wednesday, (16th March) the inquiry will hear closing statements from another residents’ group, Lancashire County Council and Cuadrilla.
The five-week inquiry has heard evidence from more than 20 expert witnesses and more than 15 hours of public statements. The applications to frack up to four wells at each site were refused by Lancashire County Council in June last year.
Noise case “hopelessly misconceived”
Cuadrilla had argued throughout the inquiry that its predicted noise levels of 42 decibels at night and 55 during the day met government guidance and that only three properties would be affected by the Preston New Road site.
But Ashley Bowes, barrister for Preston New Road Action Group, said Cuadrilla’s noise levels were too high and based on a premise that was “hopelessly misconceived”.
He said the company had not taken into account the character of the noise. Nor had it adjusted for low frequency noise, which was more intrusive. The elderly population in the area would be more vulnerable to night time noise and this should also have been considered.
Dr Bowes also said Cuadrilla’s survey of background noise over-estimated current levels. The survey was “defective” because it was too short and did not put sound monitoring equipment downwind of the noise source or monitor at nearby properties. It also didn’t take account of frozen or waterlogged ground, which would increase noise levels by three decibels.
Waste risks “unacceptable”
Cuadrilla accepted that the volume of liquid waste, known as flow back, would have “a very substantial and significant” impact on water treatment capacity. But it argued that under planning law this should to be dealt with by the Environment Agency, not the inquiry
Estelle Dehon, barrister for Friends of the Earth, said planning policy required that the inquiry had to be satisfied that disposal of waste water would be adequately addressed and the impacts of waste were acceptable. She said:
“Cuadrilla’s case requires the turning of a very blind eye to the repeated use of the word ‘satisfied’ in planning policy.”
She said the Environment Agency had not taken responsibility for available capacity of waste treatment and had “washed its hands of that matter”.
Ms Dehon added that Friends of the Earth found “the risks arising from the limited available and accessible treatment capacity to be unacceptable”.
Carbon emissions equivalent to 18 months of car use in Fylde
Ms Dehon also said Government policy required planning to “secure radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions” and support low carbon energy.
Shale gas could not be defined as a “low carbon” fuel, she said. It could not be justified in electricity generation because to achieve a low carbon economy, the UK needed to move to a zero carbon electricity generation system.
Cuadrilla had estimated that the operation of the Roseacre Wood and Preston New Road sites would generate up to 124,397 tonnes of greenhouse gases. Ms Dehon said this was probably an underestimate but even this figure was the equivalent of more than 18 months of total car travel in Fylde.
Both sites would flare off gas during flow testing, making this phase “particularly carbon intensive”, she said.
The schemes did not comply with local or national planning policy on tackling climate change, she argued.
Impacts on public health
Planning policy requires mineral developments to ensure there are no unacceptable adverse impacts on human health.
Ms Dehon said the inquiry had heard “ample” evidence that exploration for shale gas at the sites would have unacceptable adverse health impacts and that these impacts were being happening now.
Health impacts could be caused, or made worse, she said, by emotional and psychological factors. She quoted Friends of the Earth’s health witness, Dr David McCoy, who said:
“There is a lack of trust in the oil and gas industry generally and Cuadrilla in particular.”
He also pointed to feelings of anger and helplessness cause by perceptions that shale gas production would be forced onto local communities by national government policy.
Roseacre lorry route “a mistake”
In his summing up, Peter Collins, a member of Newton-with-Clifton Parish Council, criticised Cuadrilla’s proposed lorry route to and from the Roseacre Wood site as “a mistake”
At 18.1km, it was the longest of all those considered and did not meet the test of being direct, he said.
Cllr Collins said roads around Roseacre Wood had been developed for the horse and cart. They were already “at a tipping point” from their use by modern traffic. He said the alternatives routes from Roseacre Wood to the M55 were not suitable either.
“A transport assessment cannot come up with a suitable route if there is not a suitable route in the first place.”
“We owe it to future generations”
The North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, which supports Cuadrilla’s schemes, told the inquiry:
“It is our responsibility to ensure that the economic benefits [of shale gas] will come to local businesses. We owe it to future generations not to let this opportunities pass by”.
Its chief executive, Babs Murphy, said the chamber did not disregard local communities but added.
“Someone somewhere will be inconvenienced”
Ms Murphy said the supply chain in Lancashire was ready to serve the shale gas industry and there were already skills and infrastructure in place.
“Lancashire is very well placed to be a centre of excellence for shale gas”, she said but she warned the industry would go to another part of the UK if exploration was not allowed in the county.
“The window of opportunity is not infinite.”
“We should get out there to prove that the region could be a centre of excellence in Europe. We must be ready to kick start an important new industry.”
Appropriate conditions and other regulations would mitigate any effects, she said. “Shale gas should not be treated as a special case”.
She said the potential for gas production in the Bowland shale under Lancashire was a material consideration that the inspector should take into account.
“If we could get a fraction of the shale gas, the prize would be tremendous”.
- The inquiry continues on Wednesday 16th March 2016 with closing statements from Roseacre Awareness Group, Lancashire County Council and Cuadrilla