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.
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.
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
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.
“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 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.
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