Gas company’s statements about fracking impacts on wildlife “not backed up by evidence”, say experts

Altcar Moss The MOss Alliance

Altcar Moss, proposed site for shale gas fracking by Aurora Resources. Photo: The Moss Alliance

Residents and experts have accused a shale gas company of not giving enough detail about how it would assess the impact of fracking on protected wildlife nearby.

Aurora Resources wants to drill and frack two wells near the village of Great Altcar, close to special wildlife sites. They include one of the few remaining places in England where red squirrels can be seen. There are also internationally-important sites for wintering birds and the home to 40% of the UK’s natterjack toads.

Altcar Moss Aurora

Proposed site (small red rectangle). Source: Aurora Resources

The company has begun the process of applying for planning permission for the site by submitting a scoping request to Lancashire County Council.

This is a report which sets out what the company thinks it needs to include in an Environmental Impact Assessment that would be part of the full application.

“No likely significant effect”

The company said in the report it did not believe its proposals would have a “likely significant effect on the environment”. It said the area around the site was “arable farmland of low botanical value”.

But the proposed location is within 2km of seven protected wildlife sites. Eight species protected by European or national law have been identified within 2km.

Ecological experts and a coalition of campaign groups have now pointed to what they say are inadequacies in the scoping report.

The National Trust, which owns nearby coastal pinewoods and dunes, said:

“There are a number of statements made by Aurora in their scoping requests which are not backed up by evidence in the document.”

In its response to the scoping document, the Trust said there could be impacts on protected wildlife areas because of changes in water level, water and air pollution or induced seismicity.

It added that there was not enough detail on potential hydrogeology or contamination to “adequately assess” the baseline condition of the internationally-important Ribble and Alt Estuaries Ramsar site nearby.

Aurora scoping request for Altcar Moss

Aurora Resource’s scoping request to Lancashire County Council

“Not sufficiently robust”

Lancashire County Council’s planning ecologist, Dr Sarah Manchester, was also consulted on the scoping request. She said:

“the conclusions of the Scoping Report are not adequately evidenced and are not sufficiently robust”.

She said there was no evidence presented to support the conclusion that significant effects were unlikely.

She also questioned Aurora’s implication that there had not been what are called “significant ecological constraints” on similar projects in the area. This is where planners impose conditions on a development to protect wildlife.

Dr Manchester said a windfarm proposal and gas exploration sites at Anna’s Road and Becconsall had all been required to take account of wintering birds.

On the company’s ecological survey proposals, she said they were “unlikely to be adequate to inform” a decision on a future planning application. She said Aurora should carry out more detailed habitat and species surveys than it proposed.

And she said the company should look at the possible impacts if the site were approved and then retained for production after fracking had been carried out.

“Lacking in detail”

The Moss Alliance

The Moss Alliance, a coalition of groups opposed to fracking in the area, told DrillOrDrop:

“We have studied Aurora’s scoping request and the Consultees’ comments so far submitted. It is clear from the Consultees’ comments that there are many chapters that are lacking in detail and/or inadequately addressed by Aurora’s proposals.

“We are particularly concerned at this point about their lack of attention to addressing many of the obvious ecological issues for the site they have chosen.

“However, these have been well covered so far by the Consultees’ comments and we look to Lancashire County Council’s planning officers to ensure that any scoping opinion covers the inadequacy of Aurora’s proposals.”

The group added:

“Following on from Aurora’s “Public Information Day” a picture is emerging of a company unprepared for the level of knowledge that our communities have about the industry they propose to inflict upon us.

“We have already met with Planning Consultants experienced in minerals applications for preliminary advice.

“Should Aurora submit a planning application it is likely that we will be engaging those Consultants to advise us further and guide us through all the material planning considerations for minerals development.”

“Resistance from well-organised communities”


Cuadrilla’s drilling compound at Becconsall in an area used by wintering ducks and geese

Aurora’s Great Altcar proposal is about 15 miles away from another shale gas site at Becconsall. There, the operator, Cuadrilla, is waiting for the end of the wintering bird season to comply with planning conditions to restore the site.

The campaign group, Ribble Estuary Against Fracking, which monitors Cuadrilla’s activity at Becconsall, said:

“Wherever this industry tries to establish itself there is always resistance from well-organised communities. There are many emerging groups that now have access to the numerous reports and research papers which prove the dangers associated with the fracking industry.

“The experience and knowledge that has been gained by those who have studied and been involved with the permitting and planning process has become a valuable tool which is being shared with other groups across the country.

“REAF will be working closely with The Moss Alliance in their fight to stop Aurora’s proposed developments in the Formby area.”

Other issues

The Environment Agency was also consulted on the Aurora scoping request. It said the proposed size of the well site, at 1ha, may not be big enough. Suggesting a minimum of 1.7ha, it said:

“We would request that you consider the dimension in relation to the most crowded aspect of the development and reconsider the area of the pad.”

It called for a geotechnical assessment to ensure that construction of the well pad was “sufficiently robust”. It also called for the well pad construction to take account of the amount of rainwater collecting on it. This had been a problem at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site near Blackpool.

The Environment Agency advised against Aurora’s proposal to place geophones in one well to monitor fracking in the other:

“The first hole fractured will produce a fractured zone that will be a very poor transmitter of seismic signals.

“The location of the geophones following the first HF [hydraulic fracture] session should be considered to maximise the reception for data quality and for the picking of micro-seismic events for the second and subsequent HF sessions.”

Groundwater in the Singleton mudstones may contain pollutants, including chlorides, sulphides and hydrocarbons, the Environment Agency also said. These pollutants had the potential to contaminate the Permo-Triassic aquifer. The agency said any borehole must be permanently sealed on abandonment to stop transmission of fluids.

The National Trust also called for information on how Aurora would assess impact of site traffic on its land on the Formby Coast. It requested details about the routes of waste disposal lorries to and from Great Altcar to demonstrate the wider impacts of waste on the area. There should also be information on where naturally-occurring radioactive material would be disposed, it said.

Natural England, another consultee, said Aurora should do a full assessment of the potential impact of the fracking site on local landscape character.

  • DrillOrDrop has updated its information on planning decisions and current applications. Click here to keep up-to-date with what has been approved and what has been refused this year.

29 replies »

  1. This is when they know that they’re under immense scrutiny.

    This is when they’re trying their best.


    • The international sites on the Sefton Coast are part of the Natura 2000 network which gives the highest level of protection to nature under UK law.

      Marek Madeja, Cuadrilla resources,

      ” Not only does Natura 2000 make obtaining a concession a longer process,but there are conditions you need to live up to once you have it”

      The EU identifies some major activities that need to be carried out should a project have an impact on a Natura 2000 site.

      Creation – creating new habitat on a new or enlarged site

      Enhancement – improving additional habitat in lieu of what’s lost

      Preservation – maintaining a coherent Natura 2000 network

      Compensatory measures must be,

      appropriate to the site and the loss caused by the project

      have the ability to maintain and enhance the overall coherence of Natura 2000

      feasible and operational by the time the damage to the site is effected

      If Auroras present or future plans have any impact or functional links to any Natura 2000 network they have to conform to the above.

  2. It is a Scoping Request for an Environmental Impact Assessment!!

    OMG there might be dialogue to establish whether there is fine tuning required. Shows the Gold Standards are working well that each site needs individual consideration and consultation, and that will be conducted.

    Obviously not much of consequence to excite the antis currently.

    • Thought you had plans ? Newbury wasn’t it, or was it Poole? Never quite certain? All a bit confusing?
      Happy days?
      Have a great weekend?

    • I thought you were keen on planning decisions being removed from NIMBY local authorities Martin, that local authorities aren’t sufficiently knowledgable to make such technical decisions and that National interest out weighs local concerns. But now you seem to be implying this is Gold Standards working as it should. Can you make you mind up please?

      And as Phil C states weren’t you supposed to be leaving us in peace for the weekend?

    • Somehow Ruth left out important quotes from the “Mosquito Alliance” whose sole purpose is to save mosquitoes from fracking. Apparently their leader was overheard saying, “This site is within 4km of an important mosquito breeding ground. This breeding ground has helped to spread the Zika virus, Malaria, and Yellow Fever all over the world. It is a shame that fracking might take place nearby, not because it would harm the mosquitoes, but because mosquitoes are known to become highly aggressive near fracking sites. Dr. Ian Crane wrote a peer reviewed paper on the subject several years ago and John Hobson reviewed it, so we know the science is unquestionably strong. Mosquitoes do not react this way around conventional wells, nor around wells that are fracked with less than 10k m3 of fluid per stage. HVHF definitely triggers a harmful emotional response in the mosquito population and it must be stopped!”

      You’re welcome, Ruth.

  3. The ultimate irony is that its part of our deranged dash for gas when we’ve got just a handful of years to globally transition off dirty energy or coastlines like this go under.

    The idiocy won’t be lost on future generations even if it is on the current moronic exponents of this sheer lunacy.

  4. Dog was ill, hence change of plans.

    Yes, we will see plans removed from local authorities at some time, and that will suit most local authorities and those exploration companies who want to progress. Meanwhile, the system is what it is, so a Scoping Request goes in under the existing system.

    And guess what, it gives the opportunity for the final requirements to be finalised! (I see suggestions are already being offered, only with the best of motives I’m sure.) Similarly, house plans submitted may be modified to include a different coloured cat flap, or alternative roof tiles. OMG, the excitement is just too much.

    But then, some of us are not so intelligent as those who patronise-or, maybe we are, and don’t need to.

    • Why do you think removal from the process will suit LA’s Martin? This doesn’t stack with the statements being made as part of the Communities and Local Gov committee inquiry.

      Here’s LCCs reply “The Council believes that local authorities should retain the powers to approve or reject fracking planning applications. Decisions should be made by the County Council, having due regard to current planning policy as set out in the development plan, Government guidance on the National Planning Policy Framework and material planning considerations.

      Council therefore resolves to instruct the Interim Chief Executive and Director of Resources to respond to the select committee inquiry with a statement that supports retaining local government powers in this area. The response should also address the other questions about planning policy and guidance posed by the Committee, drawing on the County Council’s unique experience in this area.”

    • UK shale will never be a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project.

      Looking at what happened in Poland you can see why

      Six years ago, Poland was seen as the industry’s best hope for a fracking bonanza within the European Union.

      The US Energy Information Administration had estimated Poland could have gas reserves of up to 5.3 trillion cubic metres, and the Polish government was enthusiastic about developing a shale gas industry.

      Sounds familiar.

      But those hopes evaporated in the face of disappointing drilling results, falling oil prices, regulatory hassles, and environmental protests.

      The oil super majors like Chevron and Exxon Mobil that had piled into the country pulled back again, and by late 2016 even the state-owned Polish firms effectively gave up on shale gas.

      No Government would want to have control of something which was as problematic as UK shale.

  5. I think it’s safe to say with the latest string of ‘news’ from our anti oil/gas/plastic/cars/trucks/planes/trains/nuclear/construction (barring expensive, unslightly and inefficient wind turbines)/farming (I assume they would support a complete ban on any activity that vastly increases level of methane?)/possibly breathing in general? That we (general population/left of centre/centre/right of centre/right) have come to the conclusion that their inability to be reasonable and negotiate and instead demand outright bans with no plans (taken a leaf from [edited by moderator] Phil there!) will result in us simply changing laws to remove this minority that have a far larger voice thanks to the fake world of social media.
    There will be absolutely zero possibility of the UK taking a genuine tough stance on Russia (over recent events) due to the EU calling them up and reminding them they’re reliant on their energy supplies and without our neighbours support we will have to continue bending over for Putin and letting him literally get away with murder on our streets.
    The antis are always one of two groups – NIMBYs or London style Liberals (rich parents or simply don’t agree with the ‘system’ ie rules) that don’t really understand the nastier side of what goes on around the world and that a vast majority of people are ‘competitive’!
    I for one have seen a lot of sights that these types of people haven’t and I fully understand the need to have energy security and no that doesn’t mean the unicorn 🦄 world of renewables…. Yes maybe in the future when technology and infrastructure keeps pace with dreamland but in short to medium term it’s just not going to happen.
    I am actually quite a reasonable guy in the real world, I own three companies and employ roughly 25ppl between them, and amongst those employees are varying personalities and levels of intelligence but our management style always gets a near perfect rating and I would consider myself friends with them all. What I can’t stand though are people that aren’t open to genuine debate or when proven wrong simply walk away from the debate without allowing their minds to be open to change.
    No one on my side wants earthquakes or poisoned rivers etc we simply want the opportunity to prove it can be safe.
    Could you imagine the risk adversity of the antis being applied across the ages? We would literally live in the dark ages.
    Their reliance on YT and Google for ‘facts’ is a new phenomenon and thus we need to also change our tactics to keep our country in the position it’s in.
    Could you imagine a country where Corbyn (Momentum) & McCluskey are our leaders and the psychological profiles of the ‘antis’ are the norm? I guarantee we’d be Venezuela on steroids.
    And on that nightmare of a thought I’m away to enjoy a lovely dinner cooked on my gas hob…

  6. I see GBKs foray into anthropology has made quite an impression. I do feel a bit left out though as I don’t know how I belong to either to the Nimby or Londoner categories. And try as I might (please don’t try this at home) however close i get to a naked flame, I don’t appear to be breathing out methane.

  7. crembrule-a sensible question. My opinion is that looking at recent applications LAs are treading a very fine line, and are running the risk of heavy financial penalties. They have got away with it so far because they have been dealing with small companies who have not used the full legal options because of expense and being reliant on LAs working with them. It is pretty apparent INEOS will operate differently and will seek compensation for incorrect decisions and disruptions, and then others will have a precedent to follow (eg. injunctions.)

    LAs will get very little sympathy from anyone if they are constraining services whinging about funding but are paying out large amounts of tax payers money in penalties. So, I think they would like to be removed from having to make such decisions. It will probably take one significant cost against one LA for that to become apparent.

    • ‘They have got away with it so far because they have been dealing with small companies who have not used the full legal options because of expense and being reliant on LAs working with them. It is pretty apparent INEOS will operate differently’

      Cuadrilla were using ARUP as their consultants. They are a huge global company.

      It is unlikely Ineos could do better.

    • ah OK its only your opinion, fair enough. I gave you a direct quote from an affected LA to the contrary and you provided speculation and conjecture as a rebuttal.

  8. Ah, but the difference between you and I crembrule, is that I make it clear when it is my opinion, it is your good self who speaks for all humanity.

    Just a little clue-it will not be up to the LA, if it is removed from their responsibility. You can get a “direct quote” from a football manager saying how they will attack against Barcelona and watch what unfolds. Direct quotes and what happens, or is intended to follow, are not necessarily that connected. But, we will see in the next few months.

    • Whoops there you go putting words in my mouth again. I never said it was upto the LAs to make the decision, I said they were making representation to the C&LG Select committee inquiry to object against the proposals and that this disproved your assertion that LAs would be happy to be removed from the process. Slow down Martin, read what is typed, digest it and then comment. You keep going off half cocked matey.

      [Word inserted at poster’s request]

  9. And your point is? There are many situations where objections are raised to proposals when those objecting are doing so for other purposes than really being that against the proposals. As I stated, the next few months will clarify the situation.

    • My point, quite clearly is your original statement regarding LAs being happy to not be involved in the decision making process with regards to shale gas applications within their areas is inaccurate. Yes the findings of the C&LG Select inquiry and the proposed amendments to the NPPF will affect how much involvement LAs have going forward, that is a given. Perhaps if you stated exactly that in the first place without the hyperbole I wouldn’t have need to flag up the errors in your original and subsequent posts.

  10. Surely LA’s are following statutory guidelines and exercising decision-making powers according their remit. How can they be penalized for that? I don’t think it helps anyone to suggest they just being unprofessional or self-serving (as implied by the pro-fracking activists). It seems quite sinister to suggest that wealth and corporate clout will win the day when it comes down to legal contests – even if that’s the sad reality.

    • Thing is Philip P the companies do not like the answers they are being given, even where these are compliant with the planning officers recommendations and the NPPF and they want to remove those pesky LAs from the process all together. They already have a method of appeal via the SoS but that’s not good enough for them as they just want to get on fracking.

      It will be interesting to see what occurs with the 2nd Roseacre Wood appeal, whether this will be rubber stamped or there will be a thorough analysis of the application on its merits in relation to NPPF etc. If that goes against the appellant that will see the LAs and the 1st Planning Inspectors original decision being justified. However if as Martin is no doubt hoping the inquiry finds for the appellant it will be seen as strengthening the case for removing the LA’s from the process.

      Personally I think significant responsibility for the delays lie with the applicants themselves, due to them putting in poorly judged and poorly evidenced / mitigated applications. But that is entirely personal opinion. They clearly miss the good old days when it was just a nod and a wink at the Planning officer who then approved the application on Delegated powers.

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