New study finds community suffered “collective trauma” over Lancs fracking decisions – plus round-up of other research


Photo: Frack Free Dee

Plans to frack for shale gas in Lancashire resulted in individual harm and a “considerable toll” on the local community, even before drilling began, according to a new study.

It concluded that people experienced feelings of powerlessness, depression, guilt and anger during the process to decide Cuadrilla’s applications for two sites in the Fylde district.

Researchers Damien Short and Anna Szolucha, of London and Bergen Universities, said:

“It was apparent from the research that a form of ‘collective trauma’ was experienced by the affected communities.”

They defined this as “a blow to the basic tissues of social life” and damage to community bonds.

From analysis of interviews and conversations, the researchers said people described:

“A sense of powerlessness and feelings of depression, a sense of loss, fear, betrayal, guilt, anger, and an emotional rollercoaster ride of highs and lows as the planning process ebbed and flowed through various stages and the appeal process.”

The researchers concluded:

“Significant individual harm and a palpable community collective trauma were experienced from the planning process itself, the various stages of objections and bureaucratic hoops through which concerned citizens have to jump; the feelings of powerlessness in the face of corporate lobbying; the perception that whatever happened locally ‘Westminster’ would likely intervene via the ultimate authority to approve fracking applications vested in the Secretary of State for Communities.”

They said people became disillusioned with the political process and felt they were being treated as “collateral damage”. During the planning process, some councillors also started to feel manipulated and to notice the power imbalances between the gas company and the local government, the researchers said.

LCC meeting June 2015 (2)

Wall outside Lancashire County Council building during decision meeting in June 2015. Photo: DrillOrDrop

The decision by Lancashire County Council to refuse applications for both Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood was welcomed by the anti-fracking movement. But the researchers said

“The process up to that point was deeply concerning on a number of levels, which do not bode well for local citizens who wish to resist future fracking applications”.

They alleged the report by the planning officer, which recommended approval of the Preston New Road application, was flawed and biased.

“Amongst the objectors to the application, there were serious concerns about possible industry influence or political pressure.

“From the interview data it is clear that the PO’s [planning officer’s] report caused considerable stress and worry to those most likely to suffer a direct impact if the applications were to go ahead”.

Cuadrilla appealed against the refusals and was granted planning permission for Preston New Road by the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid in October last year. Two community challenges to this decision were heard in the High Court in Manchester in March this year. The ruling is expected shortly.

Despite this, Cuadrilla began work at the Preston New Road site in January. Since then, there have been daily protests and police presence at the site.

pnr arrests 170404 Ros Wills 1

Preston New Road, Little Plumpton, 4 April 2017. Photo: Ros Wills

The researchers said:

“This situation will have significant and long-lasting impacts on the local community, contributing to the collective trauma already experienced by the residents living in the vicinity of potential fracking sites in Lancashire.”

They called for more studies on the social impacts of shale gas exploration applications, as well as for production sites.

Fracking Lancashire: The planning process, social harm and collective trauma
Damien Short and Anna Szolucha, Geoforum (peer-reviewed journal), 17 March 2017

Other recent research

Environmental justice

Local control: authority, resistance, and knowledge production in fracking
Valencia, C and Carrillo Martinet, M, Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews Water (peer-reviewed journal), March-April 2017, online 29 December 2016
The authors reviewed research on problems of authority, resistance, and knowledge production related to fracking.

Risks and contamination

Modeling potential occupational inhalation exposures and associated risks of toxic organics from chemical storage tanks used in hydraulic fracturing using AERMOD
H Chen and KE Carter, Environmental Pollution (peer-reviewed journal), May 2017
The authors investigated the possible occupational inhalation exposures and potential risks related to the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from chemical storage tanks and flowback pits used in US hydraulic fracturing. Results show that chemicals used in 12.4% of the wells posed a potential acute non-cancer risks for exposure and 0.11% of the wells may provide chronic non-cancer risks for exposure. Chemicals used in 7.5% of the wells were associated with potential acute cancer risks for exposure. Those chemicals used in 5.8% of the wells may be linked to chronic cancer risks for exposure.

Cytotoxicity and molecular effects of biocidal disinfectants (quaternary ammonia, glutaraldehyde, poly(hexamethylene biguanide) hydrochloride PHMB) and their mixtures in vitro and in zebrafish eleuthero-embryos
Verena Christen, Susanne Faltermann, Nadja Rebecca Brun, Petra Y Kunz, Karl Fenta, Science of The Total Environment, (peer-reviewed journal), May 2017
This study looked at the impact of five biocide disinfectants on the liver cells of fish. The authors assessed the cytotoxicity of the substances individually and as a mixture. A mixture containing all five compounds mixed at their no observed effect concentrations showed strong cytotoxicity, suggesting a synergistic interaction.

Mobility and persistence of methane in groundwater in a controlled-release field experiment
Aaron G. Cahill, Colby M. Steelman, Olenka Forde, Olukayode Kuloyo, S. Emil Ruff, Bernhard Mayer, K. Ulrich Mayer, Marc Strous, M. Cathryn Ryan, John A. Cherry & Beth L. Parker, Nature Geoscience, (peer-reviewed journal), online 27 March 2017
The authors carried out a 72-day methane gas injection experiment into a shallow flat-lying sand aquifer. The found that equal amounts of methane vented to the atmosphere as remained in the groundwater. The lateral migration of gas in the aquifer was beyond that expected by groundwater mechanisms alone. The authors concluded that even small-volume releases of methane gas can cause extensive and persistent free phase and solute plumes emanating from leaks that are detectable only by contaminant hydrogeology monitoring at high resolution.

Chemical and toxicological characterizations of hydraulic fracturing flowback and produced water
He Y, Flynn SL, Folkerts EJ, Zhang Y, Ruan D, Alessi DS, Martin JW and Goss GG, Water Resources, (peer-reviewed journal) online 14 February 2017
This study examined solids, salts and organic signatures in hydraulic fracturing flowback and produced water. The authors concluded that toxicological profiling of produced and flowback water presented great challenges for assessing the potential risk and impacts of spills.

Energy independence

“We Can’t Be Dependent on Anybody”: The rhetoric of “Energy Independence” and the legitimation of fracking in Pennsylvania
Carlo E Sica and Matthew Huber, The Extractive Industries and Society, (peer-reviewed journal), online 24 February 2017
This paper examine the argument that hydraulic fracturing has reduced US dependence on oil imports. The authors argue that discourse about energy independence sees the world as a struggle between territorial states but this obscures how international commerce and investment relies on interdependence, cooperation and co-production. In fact, they argue, fracking was made possible by a global network of oil and gas firms, shale gas from the US has been exported and profits have flowed into global cooperative investors.

Reporting of the fracking industry

“Who Is at “Fault?'” The Media and the Stories of Induced Seismicity
Jonathan M Fisk, Charles Davis and Benjamin Cole, Politics and Policy, (peer-reviewed journal) 20 February 2017
The authors analysed newspaper coverage of seismic events in Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas linked to injection of fracking wastewater. They concluded that the level of media attention about induced seismicity was linked to issues such as past experience of oil and gas development, the economic clout of the industry, timing and location of quakes and whether the injected waste was from wells in the state or from outside.

Citizen science

Citizen Science and Democracy: Participatory Water Monitoring in the Marcellus Shale Fracking Boom
Abby Kinchy, Science as Culture, (peer-reviewed journal), Volume 26, 2017
The author examines the impact of citizen science environmental monitoring projects in fracking areas in the north east US. She concludes that most of the efforts emphasize the collection of “baseline” data, which they view as essential to future efforts to hold polluters accountable. However, these projects tend to channel public concern about fracking toward future scientific controversies, instead of political action now to prevent pollution. Project organizers try to convince volunteers that their work has meaning and that they are being empowered, but future-oriented data collection is often at odds with volunteers’ current-day motivations.

Click here for DrillOrDrop’s compilation of research, guidance and reports on fracking and the onshore oil and gas industry

28 replies »

    • Jack

      Not to say fracking is OK, but the 2014 article just highlights the issues facing all extractive companies, and in particular oil and gas companies. The debt issues were faced not only by fracking companies but such companies as Exxon, who’s debt rose from 9 Billion to 29 Billion in the 5 years to 2014. Since then it had risen to 42 Billion. Exxon is not a company with a large fracking portfolio.

      But it is a lead in to talk about fracking.

      While there are plenty of US fracking companies in dire straits, indutry resilience has been tested by OPEC and was found to be good ( or bad if you are Saudi Arabia). Costs of fracked oil production have dropped and well technology refined to defer production decline.
      Fracked gas is not doing quite as well, but they can wait for the further decline of the US coal industry, as more coal fired power stations shut, or the fracking company goes bankrupt, and then resurrects themselves. They may owe money but they still have an income stream, albeit declining without further fracks and or wells.

      It is correct on the issue of cheap debt. Cheap debt fuels lots of zombie companies, who should really just go out of business. When money can be created by the fed with a few keystrokes, it is not just oil and gas companies who take advantage of it.

      So …. Ponzi schemes can be found in any given sector, such as wind power.
      So called Ponzi Schemes in 2014
      Pacific Hydro … Australia 700 million loss, despite no cut in subsidy
      Sun Edison USA burned through 1.5 Billion on taxpayers subsidies to almost go bankrupt (and again in 2016), and finally really did this year. Goodbye investor and tax payer cash. Receivers are picking over the bones of the business.

      So not specific to fracking, could be wind power, snap chat, gold, uranium etc?


      • hewes62 I take note of what you say and the points raised within your above post.

        ( Agreed )
        Although we live in a world, increasingly, where money is created by keystrokes on a computer and the need for some countries to actually work/manufacturer products has become an outdated concept.
        The idea of spend now, live for today, will as we all know have serious repercussions for future generations.
        For the large majority of companies that go bust, all they saddle the banks/state with is unpaid debt.
        When fracking companies go bust, not only is there the unpaid financial debt, but also an infante time scale of financial burden for clean up operations and the maintenance of abandoned wells… One could argue that such companies would have insurance to cover for such eventualities, but costly on going bills for insurance companies would undoutably be passed on to ordinary people’s insurance policies in the form of increased premiums.

        Adding to the above, yes, solar and wind companies have also gone bust but their legacy for future generations is only a financial debt. Clean up operations are all above ground.
        Fracking companies going bust will also leave a toxic legacy below ground which will be all but impossible to control. The on going financial burden of this on future generations could be limitless.

        A key promise made by President Trump during his presidential campaign was to reserrect the US coal industry, we will just have to wait and see how that promise plays out.


        • Jack
          Thanks. Re US Coal, I do not think Trump can save it. The gas price is too low to compete. Maybe some stabilisation for a year or two followed by continual decline to a very low level .. maybe just remnant opencast for coking coal etc. Trump would have to stop drilling, solar, wind and Shale Oil as well.
          Re fracking companies going bust, it is interesting. They may go bust, but be fracking without polluting any aquifer, ( somewhere other than the Marcellus Shale perhaps) and with technically competent (in good order), wells. The cost of well abandonment are not excessive compared to cleanup costs ( as bp know too well ). Once abandoned, the company is off the hook, as will all the companies in the N.Sea be once they leave, for example.
          But the point about damage, immediate and or long term is one well debated on Drill or Drop as well as elsewhere.
          I am working my way through the doc and various papers linked to ‘Oil and Gas Wells and their Integrity. Implications for Shale and Unconventional Resource Exploitation.’
          In addition I cannot find a free copy of the one listing all the various oil and gas seeps in the U.K. It being a hot topic in the Weald.

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