Cuadrilla’s Lancs shale gas exploration plans were “production in disguise” – High Court told

Preston New Road 10 March 2017 Frack Free Creators Knitting Nannas of Lancashire

Photo: Frack Free Creators Knitting Nannas of Lancashire

The legal challenge against the government over permission to frack for shale gas in Lancashire heard this morning that the exploration plans were “production in disguise”.

The high court in Manchester was told this allowed the proposals by Cuadrilla to avoid a proper assessment of the impact on climate change.

An anti-fracking campaigner and a residents group are challenging the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, over his decision to grant planning consent for drilling, fracking and testing up to four wells at Preston New Road, near Blackpool.

Mr Javid followed the recommendation of a planning inspector but overruled the refusal of permission made in June 2015 by Lancashire County Council.

Campaigner Gayzer Frackman and the Preston New Road Action Group are arguing in separate challenges that Mr Javid’s decision was unlawful and should be quashed.

Marc Willers QC, for Mr Frackman, said this morning:

“The application presented by the developer [Cuadrilla] was dressed up as exploration but with production in disguise.”

He said the company planned to pump gas produced during three years of extended flow tests directly into the grid.

The company had given estimates in its application of the greenhouse gas emissions released during the construction of the site and during drilling and fracking, he said.

But the estimate of emissions during extended flow testing, of just 134 tonnes, did not take into account what happened when it was burned in homes or businesses.

Mr Willers said minerals planning policy (paragraph 120) required the decision-maker to look only at exploration in this case, rather than production.

“[Cuadrilla’s application] by dint of the disguise and planning policy will avoid a proper assessment under the Environmental Impact Assessment directive.”

He said case law required the courts to be “energetically concerned” with applications that avoided the requirement of the EIA directive.

He said if the greenhouse gas emissions from burned gas produced in the extended well tests were taken into account, Cuadrilla’s project could exceed the carbon budget for the Fylde.

The gas produced by the tests did not displace imported gas and so was incompatible with climate change commitments, under the tests set out by the Committee on Climate Change, he said.

Mr Willers summed up his case as:

“What do we want? An EIA. When do we want it? Now”.

key dates

“Minister misconstrued planning law”

The court also heard the case for the residents’ group, which argued that Mr Javid had acted illegally in misinterpreting planning law and breaching natural justice.

David Wolfe QC, for Preston New Road Action Group (PNRAG), said Mr Javid in making his decision had misconstrued local and national planning policy designed to protect the landscape and the lives of local people. He also said the decision breached natural justice.

The PNRAG case centres on policies in the Fylde Local Plan, the Lancashire Minerals Plan and the National Planning Policy Framework.

Mr Wolfe said the Secretary of State had wrongly concluded that Cuadrilla’s plans did not breach landscape policies CS5 in Lancashire Minerals Plan and EP11 in the Fylde Local Plan only because the project was temporary and impacts would be short-lived.

He said Mr Javid had also misapplied policy DM2 in Lancashire minerals policy, designed to protect residents. The Secretary of State had agreed with the inspector that the policy was not breached because the shale gas site would not make the outlook for local residents so “unpleasant, overwhelming and oppressive” that it would become an unattractive place to live.

That is a very high threshold, Mr Wolfe said, and the wrong test . It would be alarming to people living in shale gas areas if that was to be test of what was acceptable.

Mr Wolfe also said both the inspector and Secretary of State had failed to consider a sub-section of policy DM2 which said minerals developments should make a positive contribution to local residential amenity.

Preston New Road Action Group also argued that it was unfair that Mr Javid decided that policy EP11 should not be considered in making his decision. During the public inquiry, both sides had agreed that the policy was relevant but during the hearings, Cuadrilla changed its argument.

Mr Wolfe said PNRAG could not afford to send its barrister to every day of the inquiry hearings and the members of the group could not have been expected to be aware of this change in the common ground agreed between the participants.

On this issue, the Secretary of State had acted in breach of the rules of natural justice, Mr Wolfe argued.

The case before Sir Ian Dove continues this afternoon and is expected to end on Friday.

Report from afternoon session, Day 1: Shale gas regulation is not “up to scratch” and Cuadrilla fracking permission should not have been granted 

Report from Day 2: Government lawyers defend decision to give planning consent to Cuadrilla fracking plans

22 replies »

  1. There is no doubt that extracting oil and gas from shale is an intrusive industry. The fact that output drops significantly in a short time produces the need to regularly drill and frack more wells. Large volumes of waste would be produced.The industry requires vast areas of land to operate. Industrial areas and brown field sites could not meet their requirements. They would be to restrictive. Access to Green belt is their only option.

    That is why they have done everything they can to avoid presenting the industry in it’s entirety.

    Staying silent on environmental issues whenever possible, salami slicing planning applications, and trying to emerge using ‘exploratory’ and ‘temporary’ requests whenever possible to minimise impact. Keeping community engagement down to a minimum and avoid answering probing questions.

    Exposing the realities of this industry allows the public and planning authorities to make informed decisions. High profile court cases will add significantly to that exposure.

    A big thank you from REAF members to all those who have worked so hard to get the real story heard.

    • I read a paper a couple of months ago that plotted the decline rates of over 80,000 conventional and unconventional wells in Texas. They basically overlaid each other, which surprised the authors. Unconventional wells do decline roughly 80% over the first 2 years. However, so do the AVERAGE conventional wells. From the look of it what has happened is that US anti fracking groups, again without really getting all the data, jumped on the early decline rates and compared the AVERAGE unconventional well against NON-AVERAGE conventional wells. I.e. they chose conventional wells that were really really good without considering what the overall dataset looked like if you compare ALL conventional wells against ALL unconventional wells. When you do that it evens out and they look very similar, except that unconventional wells do not have as many dusters because shale is more uniform and so unconventional is more efficient. Then since multi-lateral projected are common in unconventional wells the shale projects were on average producing nearly 3x the conventional. That is why they so strongly disturbed the world market and lowered the global fuel price as strongly as they did.

      • But Garry, it doesn’t really matter whether conventional wells suffers similar decline rates – the fact is that the decline rates are what mean the frackers have to drill more and more wells, requiring more and more capital. The hamster wheel has to keep spinning or they fall of into bankruptcy as we saw so much last year

        • refracktion, your contention that I have been banned from posting on this site is simply another piece of propaganda. But what is one more fabrication from you and your group? I am no longer posting actively here because I feel that the censorship policies are enforced unevenly. I would encourage other pro-industry posters to do the same. There are plenty of other open forums that don’t practice selective enforcement.

          • It’s ok Peeny – it was just to make you angry enough to post carelessly with both IDs on the same newspaper column to expose your sock puppetry to the readers and it worked like a charm – Clockwork Peeny – you really are so easy to wind up 🙂

        • Hi Refracktion. Yep. All it means is that unconventional is not so different to conventional in terms of production decline rates. It allows arguments against it to be more accurate. Conventional drilling also requires more and more wells. The constraining issue with conventional was the more random nature of the geology which meant that more wells were dusters. Drill 10 conventional wells and get 2 producers etc. With unconventional they drill 10 wells and can get 10 producers. It changed the scale of the output entirely. That along with the high oil price drove massive expansion, which as you point out resulted in a large number of wells being drilled. However, the reason is different to what people have previously believed. It isn’t the decline rates of the wells doing this; it was the ambition of the companies wanting to produce such large amounts so quickly (enough for the US to so strongly depress the world oil and gas prices). Hopefully you can see that this puts things in quite a different light. The constraining factor now is the much lower oil price – which might still be strongly affected by even small increases in output. However, people need to get out of the idea that there is such a large difference in geology between the two types; it isn’t seen in the data. Unconventionals outperform conventional ON AVERAGE (thats the important bit) and so 20,000 unconventional wells compared to 20,000 conventional wells look very similar plotted on the same graph and adjusted for the higher output typical of unconventional projects (which typically have more than one well per site and include laterals etc). It is the fact that shale formations are easier to predict that has led to the desire to expand across them. The UK has typically had small scale onshore operators because the geology of onshore conventional reserviors is hit and miss. Shale being more predictable removes that to a very large degree. The affect of that on US production (along with the high oil price) was to drive what people have called this conveyor belt of drilling, which simply was not possible on a large scale using conventional reserviors because of the reality of those conventional reserviors, which are more limited spatially.

          • Garry. Thanks for the enlightening post comparing the conventional and unconventional wells. I agree the US junior shale companies rush to drill because they want revenue to pay off the debt and consolidation their loan and financial balance and there was huge certainty back then 3 years ago whether the technology is viable to produce economically. Now that they do know the drilling will be based on market demand. This is the reason oil major will buy up productive shale acreage in us to replace their dwindling reserves offshore and drill only when market is viable.

            • however much oil gas they cet out at commercially viable rates, there will ALWAYS be some left, at extreemely high pressure and trying to rise through the KNOWN LEAKS, to the surface, VIA THE AQUIFERS

  2. The photograph accompanying this post should be more than enough to dissuade anyone from supporting this industry, and this is before the site is completed, when buildings and the rest of the infrastructure are in place. And should they ever get to proceed to production, there could be 10 or more wells drilled here, along with years of additional HGV traffic transporting toxic payloads past people’s houses. And as production declines, then further similar sites will be required to maintain production and to make the whole initiative cost effective. Anyone who has seen the aerial photos of sites in the USA will know what will become of the UK countryside, industrialised with the positive support from government. It is appalling that this government continues to ignore all the evidence of the adverse consequences of this industry, providing it with financial incentives whilst making solar panels less financially attractive. The pro frackers will continue to say these are all scare stories; scary they most definitely are, but they are not stories; we don’t need to write such stories, as the evidence comes thicker and faster from the USA, where opposition to this industry continues to grow.

  3. “USA, where opposition to this industry continues to grow”!!??

    Not from those who can not afford oil to be at $100/barrel. Not from those who need some manufacturing jobs to return. Obama, the first black American President, after 8 years in office, left vast numbers of proud working age Americans living off handouts with no chance of a job, and in some cases, living in shacks with no toilet facilities. Absolute disgrace, which history will not look upon kindly. The first black American President, and will probably be seen as the worst. Domestically, a mess, overseas policy- Aleppo will be his legacy, and the decline of the world’s predominant armed forces, which we rely upon under the NATO umbrella.

    Fracking will increase further in the USA-FACT. If there are a number of disappointed democrats, it will make no difference. They are now the opposition, that is true. Just a few frogs croaking, even before the swamp is drained. No, I am not a Trump supporter, but he will have a hard job to be worse than Obama. That was fantasy, (the Emperor’s New Clothes) in fact.

    • “but he will have a hard job to be worse than Obama.” Fair play though Trump is managing that quite well already – it sees to be one of the few things he’s really good at.

      • I can’t remember where I read it, I think it was linked to by Prof Iain Stewart, but there was a piece about the affect of geology on the US elections and the way that geology was part responsible for Hillary’s loss. For example Pennsylvania voted democrat in:
        1992, 1996 (Both Bill Clinton)
        2000 (Al Gore)
        2004 (John Kerry)
        2008 and 2012 (Barack Obama)

        Hillary Clinton wasn’t entirely over-optimistic in thinking the state would be hers, but she walked a tight rope with the more hard core environmentalists that affected Bernie Sander’s platform and the voters in the energy rich states. It is always worth baring in mind that many anti fracking bans have been places where it hasn’t been done. There are many examples of places that have rejected fracking bans multiple times and places where it has been done can have high popular support. All I mean by that is that just looking at whether there are protesters active in a region isn’t always the best way to judge how people will actually vote there. In the end Pennsylvania went for Trump, which would be difficult to understand if the idea of everyone hating fracking and it causing a huge number of environmental disasters was the reality. People would have definitiely voted against it if that had been the case, but in the end they didn’t.

  4. Without the Vigilance and Actions of pressure groups, so many things would pass by with disastrous consequences for the few or the many.
    Respect should be given to all anti fracking groups wherever they are.

  5. Depends on your definition of “worse”. No, he is not trying to be a cool dude, demonstrating his compassion at the expense of the poor in his own country. He has said in the campaign what he would do, the voters in USA wanted that to happen, and he is setting out to do it. He will produce a big economic boost to the USA which will ripple around the world. The markets have already factored it in. What he then does with that economic boost to deal with social issues we will have to wait and see.(Perhaps he will produce a health care system which is affordable, rather than a gesture.) I know you have problems with economics, but if an economy is a mess then, ultimately, so are social issues. One pays for the other. If you want to try and disprove that, try and do it from N. Korea.
    As I said, I am not a Trump supporter, but what I find refreshing refracktion, is that he does not care about how he is perceived by the world, or yourself. He has been voted in on a particular mandate, and peculiar to many, and he is sticking to that, so far. He will have to moderate that as time passes, undoubtedly, but for anyone to expect his energy policy to be radically changed is sheer fantasy.

  6. Frankly, I am astounded, that after 5 years of campaigning personally against fracking on the known, and unavoidable issue of oil and gas pollution of aquifers, people are still ignoring this lethal issue. If this continues, we are fracked, as no other argument against fracking stands up under rational scrutiny.

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