In the past three days, there have been three formal calls to halt fracking, scheduled to start soon for the first time in the UK since 2011.
Cuadrilla has applied to the Government for final fracking consent for its shale gas site at Preston New Road in Lancashire. The company has said it expects to frack two horizontal wells at the site in the second half of 2018.
Local concerns about emergency planning
Earlier this week, the Green Party co-leader, Jonathan Bartley, wrote to the Energy Secretary, Greg Clark, urging him to investigate concerns about emergency plans at the site, before granting consent.
DrillOrDrop reported last week on local calls for emergency plans to be published for Preston New Road. Residents, campaigners and a councillor said there should be an investigation into whether an evacuation plan was needed for homes surrounding the site and three nearby schools. Questions to Lancashire police and fire services have failed to establish what procedures would be used in an emergency, they said.
Mr Bartley, who met Cuadrilla last week, said:
“We’re calling on the Secretary of State not to make a decision over whether to grant a licence to frack until the matter has been investigated thoroughly and safety concerns are addressed. The fact that local residents don’t even know if there’s even a proper plan in place for emergencies – let alone evacuation – is deeply concerning.
“It would be completely unacceptable and be playing fast and loose with people’s safety to ignore these issues. The Secretary of State clearly shouldn’t make a decision on whether Cuadrilla should be allowed to frack until these serious questions are answered and the concerns of local people are addressed.”
Challenge over best practice
Yesterday, Mr Bartley’s fellow leader, Caroline Lucas, urged Mr Clark in a parliamentary question to also delay the decision.
She said he should wait until the conclusion of a legal challenge of the decision by the Environment Agency (EA) to grant a permit for fracking at Preston New Road.
DrillOrDrop reported last month that the EA had been accused of failing to take the best course of action to protect the environment from the risks of fracking.
Friends of the Earth, in its application for a judicial review, said the EA had a duty to ensure that best available techniques were used – but it had not carried out a best available technique assessment when considering Cuadrilla’s application.
In a reply to Ms Lucas, the Energy Minister, Claire Perry, said:
“There is no set timeframe for my rt. hon. Friend the Secretary of State to take a decision on an application for Hydraulic Fracturing Consent. The Government has always been clear that shale gas development must be safe and environmentally sound. We are committed to ensuring a rigorous, evidence-based approach is taken to reviewing any applications for hydraulic fracturing.
“Hydraulic Fracturing Consent approval will not be issued unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that the legislative conditions in the Petroleum Act 1998 have been met and that he is otherwise satisfied that it is appropriate to issue consent.”
Fracking evidence review
This afternoon, the anti-fracking umbrella network, Frack Free United, called for an immediate moratorium on fracking in response to news reported by DrillOrDrop this morning that the Royal Society/Royal Academy of Engineering report was to updated.
This landmark review of fracking, issued in 2012, concluded that health, safety and environmental risks could be managed effectively in the UK as long as best practices were implemented and enforced. It has been quoted frequently by ministers in their support for shale gas development.
Frack Free United also called for a halt to government consultations on proposals to take many shale gas projects out of local authority control.
Last month, Written Ministerial Statements announced that fracking applications in England could be classed as Nationally-Significant Infrastructure Projects to be decided by a government-appointed inspector. Non-fracking shale gas proposals in England could become permitted development under the proposals, avoiding the need to go through the full planning system.
The Liberal Democrat spokesperson for energy and climate change, Baroness Lynne Featherstone said today:
“This is serious. The evidence that the Tory government currently relies on for justifying its pro-fracking viewpoint is being reviewed. This means the government could be relying on outdated science to prove that fracking is safe.
“It is not worth taking a chance on this. We no longer need fossil fuels to help us generate our energy. The government should halt its obsession with fracking and instead use the money to invest in more renewable projects instead.”