Councillors and anti-fracking groups are planning a series of meetings in Sefton and West Lancashire in response to plans by the oil and gas company, Aurora Energy Resources, to carry out 3D seismic surveying.
The surveys may begin within the next two weeks in an area covering parts of Halsall, Formby and Aughton and Downholland.
The councillors’ awareness campaign includes meetings and events to inform local people about what the surveys and fracking could mean for the area.
It is led by Maureen Mills, Halsall’s Labour councillor on West Lancashire Borough Council. She has been joined by independent Sefton councillors Patricia O’Hanlon, and Matt Gannon and local anti-fracking groups.
Cllr Mills told The Southport Visitor:
“We are very concerned these seismic surveys are going ahead. Landowners have basically been bullied into allowing these test to take place on their land, as refusing access would result in high court action, sanctioned by the Secretary of State.
“There is nothing democratic about the way this government is trying to force fracking upon us by any means they can, including changing laws to allow them to do so. A better description would be “tyranny”.
“As information about the risks of contamination to water supplies, risk to public health, noise, industrialisation of the countryside and harm to the environment generally, is getting through backed up by hard evidence from countries that have embraced fracking at any cost.”
Aurora said the survey work in its exploration licence area PEDL164 involves siting an array of geophones across the survey area. They record reflected signals generated by buried charges or vehicles, often called thumper trucks, fitted with vibrating plates. The work does not need planning permission.
Seismic surveying work in other parts of Lancashire led to allegations of trespass and damage to property.
Cllr Mills said: “Residents need to know they do not have to allow these people to gain access to their properties without consent.
“There is action they can take if this happens and at the public meetings as part of the presentations we will ensure people are fully aware of their rights.”
DrillorDrop asked Aurora for more details on the surveys. Ian Roche, the managing director said:
“Local press notices and leaflets to residents and businesses in the survey area will go out in the period leading up to the survey”.
He also added that the government took steps in legislation passed in 1934 to ensure that surface access to oil and gas resources “could not be blocked unreasonably by private landowners”.
Aurora’s proposal to carry out seismic testing in the area dates back to 2014 but was delayed, partly because some landowners did not agree to agree to allow access.
Oil and gas companies can apply to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change for what is known as ancillary access rights if landowners refuse.
A Freedom of Information Act request revealed that in Aurora’s case it had applied for access rights after being refused entry by 46 landowners. This number was later reduced to four.
Earlier this month, the Department for Energy and Climate Change told Cllr Mills
“I can inform you that the Energy Minister, Andrea Leadsom (on behalf of the Secretary of State) concluded that a prima facie case had been made by the applicant in relation to three of the four landowners. She therefore concluded that it was appropriate to refer the matter to the court for determination (in respect of these three landowners). This was communicated to Aurora and the landowners.
“However, subsequent to communicating this to Aurora and the landowners, we were informed that negotiations on access rights between the relevant landowners and Aurora had started to take place. In light of this change in circumstances, it was considered appropriate to put the referral of the matter to the court on hold for a short period to allow progression of these negotiations.”
One major landowner in the area is the Church Commissioners for England. The head of responsible investment, Edward Mason, said the Church Commissioners had not sought the survey and would not benefit financially from it. He added:
“The regulatory framework for these applications is weighted in favour of the company applying, and landowners who withhold consent risk being ordered to allow access by the High Court.
“As responsible landowners, we entered into negotiations with Aurora, which are now at an advanced stage, to reach an agreement that provides full protections and indemnities for our tenants and us, while allowing that access. A geophysical survey does not create a presumption of later test drilling or extraction and the agreement we are negotiating covers seismic testing only.”
Timing and purpose
DrillOrDrop understands the surveying will be carried out by TESLA Exploration International and could begin within the next two weeks.
Aurora has said it will advertise in local newspapers a week before the work is due to start. But it’s not known which papers the company will use.
It told Halsall Parish Council it expected the work to take four to six weeks. It said:
“The data will be used to progress our technical understanding of the licence area, prior to making any application for future exploratory drilling.
“Should the results of the survey prove to be encouraging, it is likely that we will subsequently seek planning permission to drill a number of exploratory wells. Ahead of any planning application for drilling, Aurora will fully engage with relevant stakeholders in the community, as set out in the UKOOG Comunity Engagement Charter.”
Protection for wildlife
A site of special scientific interest is in the proposed survey area and two national nature reserves, another SSSI and a Special Protection Area are within 2km of the boundary.
An ecological report written in 2014 concluded that TESLA had agreed with Sefton Council and Natural England that all seismic surveying would be undertaken from 15 April to 15 August.
This would, the report said, avoid the sensitive wintering and passage bird period. It would also avoid potential likely significant effects on the Ribble and Alt Estuaries SPA. The report concluded:
“Should the surveys extend past mid-August then the likely significant effects on the SPA would need to be re-assessed.”
The fracking awareness meetings are:
Tuesday 31 May, 7:30pm, Haskayne Village Hall
Friday 3 June, 7.30pm, Halsall Memorial Hall
Monday 6 June, 8pm, Maghull Methodist Church
Updated 27/5/2016 to include quote from Ian Roche