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.
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.
“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, 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”
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.”
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.
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