A campaigner will hear tomorrow whether the court injunction against fracking at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site near Blackpool will continue.
Retired businessman, Bob Dennett, secured a temporary block last week (5 October 2018) on the start of fracking. He had submitted concerns to the court that local people would not be protected in an emergency.
This evening, a judge at the High Court in London delayed his ruling until noon tomorrow. Mr Justice Supperstone is also expected to rule on whether Mr Dennett can pursue a judicial review of emergency planning procedures by Lancashire County Council.
The packed court room heard that Cuadrilla had expected to start fracking tomorrow. Nathalie Lieven QC for the company said any delay would cost £94,000 a day. She said Cuadrilla needed to know by midday on Friday where it stood on fracking at Preston New Road.
But Marc Willers QC, for Mr Dennett, said:
“It is imperative that those operations should not commence until there are adequate and effective environmental and health and safety planning and emergency procedures in place.”
He called for the injunction to be kept in place for two weeks while the court considered the case.
Mr Dennett’s argument is that Lancashire County Council had failed to take into account key concerns when it did the risk assessment for Preston New Road. These included the connection of the site to the gas grid and whether there would be enough water to fight any fires.
He argued that the council had failed to inform local people about evacuation plans, as required by legislation. It had also failed, he said, to take a precautionary approach, given that Preston New Road would see the first high volume hydraulic fracturing in the UK since 2011.
Mr Willers told the court:
“[There is] a serious issue as to whether or not there is a proper safety regime in place that would cope with and ensure the safety of the local residents in the event of an emergency, in the event of a well blowout or in the event of a major gas leak.
“Cuadrilla as a responsible operator would no doubt not wish to operate in circumstances where it was aware that the risk assessment of the Preston New Road site was inadequate.”
He said attempts to “assuage concerns” of local councillors and local community representatives had not been successful. The community liaison group (CLG) for Preston New Road had been raising issues about emergency planning for a year, he said.
“CLG members expressed concerns that they were not aware of what would happen in the event on an incident at the Cuadrilla site.
“Residents are living in fear. There has been no disclosure to the local community about evacuation plans because of security concerns.”
He said the county council had duty under the Civil Contingencies Act and Cabinet Office guidance to provide residents with information so that they could make informed decisions. The current lack of information had exacerbated genuine concerns, he said.
“The more information the public have the more prepared they are likely to be.”
The court heard that Lancashire County Council had assessed the site risk as medium. This meant it was covered by generic emergency planning, rather than a multi-agency site-specific plan.
Cuadrilla and Lancashire County Council argued that Mr Dennett’s case was not backed up by the evidence.
Ms Lieven, for Cuadrilla, said:
“The case is wholly without merit and is merely a device brought at the last possible moment to try to stop work at Preston New Road.”
She said Preston New Road had been under “long and extremely detailed regulatory scrutiny”.
Lancashire County Council had relied heavily on other agencies, such as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), she said. The medium risk assessment was based on work carried out by the HSE.
It did not require individual evacuation plans, Ms Lieven said, which she described as “disproportionate” and “potentially give rise to wholly unnecessary public concern”.
“Any reason for gas leaks from the well, leading to potential fires, have been fully considered and controlled by the HSE.
“Any challenge to the HSE’s judgement is going to be difficult”.
Ms Lieven said the Environment Agency had visited the site on 16 occasions since 2017. The HSE and the EA had visited most recently on 3-4 October.
She said the risk assessment did not need to take into account the gas pipeline because that would not be connected to the grid until 2019.
A recent report by Costain, commissioned by Cuadrilla, concluded that any incident at Preston New Road would have “negligible consequences” beyond 380m from the well, Ms Lieven said.
She also argued that the injunction was “legally misconstrued” and should not be granted.
Cuadrilla could still frack at Preston New Road even if the judicial review was successful because hydraulic fracking consent had been granted by the Secretary of State, rather than Lancashire County Council.
Alan Evans, for Lancashire County Council, said the risk assessment was “based on robust specialist technical expertise”. He said
“There is not any evidence at all that this document is in any way irrational”.
He said Mr Dennett’s grounds for judicial review were “so weak that they do not disclose any serious issue to be tried”, which is necessary for the granting of an interim injunction.
He said the county council was required by the Civil Contingencies Act to maintain arrangements for dealing with emergencies but it was not required to publish them unless an emergency was likely.
“There is clearly embodied in the Act a large element of discretion.”
He said the council had published a summary of the risk in Lancashire, even though it had not published the generic risk assessment.
“This is not a ‘no publication’ case”.
Asked by the judge to define “sensitive receptors”, Mr Evans said they could include schools, which had been sent a briefing note about fracking and operations at Preston New Road.
Mr Evans said he thought the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy should also be represented in the case.
Reporting from this hearing was made possible by individual donations from DrillOrDrop readers