Communities in Lancashire will never accept fracking, the government-appointed shale gas commissioner, Natascha Engel, was told during a visit to Lancashire yesterday.
People living near Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road shale gas site said residents were being treated as “guinea pigs in a sacrifice zone”. Any potential benefits would be “far outweighed” by risks to their health and environment and to climate change, they said.
Earlier this week, Ms Engel, a former Labour MP and Ineos consultant, met members of the Ryedale Against Anti-social Protests group, formed to oppose anti-fracking campaigns in North Yorkshir. She has also written to journalists criticising what she called the “highly emotional” reporting of 36 recent earth tremors caused by fracking at Preston New Road.
Her meeting with people in Lancashire is thought to be her first with community representatives opposed to fracking since being appointed last month. It followed a series of unanswered invitations to meet Fylde residents sent to the energy minister, Claire Perry.
In a statement, people who attended yesterday’s meeting said:
“We stressed our opposition to plans to frack here on the Fylde and indeed, anywhere, as the risks, to our health, environment and climate change, far outweigh potential benefits. We told her our communities are being treated as guinea pigs in a sacrifice zone for this nascent industry. This is not acceptable and is detrimental to democratic process.
“We told her in no uncertain terms that communities in Lancashire will never accept shale gas developments in their midst with the potential risks to health, the environment and climate change.”
The meeting involved chairs of two residents’ groups, Preston New Road Action Group and Roseacre Awareness Group, two councillors, a local doctor and two residents.
Some anti-fracking campaigners had opposed the meeting. It had been described as “covert” and some people feared it would be used as propaganda by the government and shale gas industry.
The statement from yesterday’s meeting said participants welcomed the opportunity to express their views after “years of being ignored” by government.
“We did make it very clear that we are rational, well informed, well researched individuals and not a “shouty, traveling circus” as mythologised by [Claire Perry] the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth.
“Everyone in the meeting expressed their opinions passionately and she was left in no doubt about the strength and level of opposition. We felt that prior to the meeting she had underestimated the resolute opposition to fracking.”
Ms Engel agreed to take the comments from the meeting to Ms Perry and the Secretary of State, Greg Clark, the statement said. She also agreed to attend a public meeting.
Tremors, health and climate change
On the Preston New Road earth tremors, Barbara Richardson, who had invited Ms Engel, said:
“I made it clear that truly independent expert scientists in this field should be called in to analyse the earth tremors, not a government or industry-paid representatives with a very limited brief.
“We cannot be reassured until this has happened because we have been very unimpressed with the information provided so far.”
On climate change, Preston New Road Action Group said in a briefing to Ms Engel:
“It is a backward step to be starting up a new fossil fuel industry when we should be moving towards sources of renewable energy. There is no evidence that shale gas will replace other fossil fuels”.
The group said nine homes were within 350m of the Preston New Road site. There was evidence that fracking generated air pollution, it said, and medical studies had linked proximity to shale gas sites with a range of health problems.
The meeting reportedly discussed other issues, including:
- Level and strength of opposition to shale gas developments across the country
- Government proposals to change the planning system for shale gas
- Buffer zones and separation distances between homes and shale gas sites
- Cumulative impacts on communities of commercial-scale fracking
- Costs of policing, road maintenance and loss of revenue from other industries
- Lack of sustainable jobs in the shale gas industry
Ms Engel was shown the lorry routes for Cuadrilla’s proposed second local fracking site at Roseacre Wood. A decision from the local government secretary on this site is expected early in 2019. The commissioner was also given material supporting the case against fracking.
Susan Holliday, chair of the Preston New Road Action Group, said she was pleased to have the opportunity to discuss local concerns with Ms Engel:
”We understood from the outset of the meeting that she is not impartial, however she did listen to our concerns on seismicity, proximity, air quality, climate change and health.
“We trust that we have given her enough information and evidence to understand why we think fracking should not go ahead at Preston New Road or indeed anywhere else.”
Miranda Cox, a Kirkham Town Councillor and member of the Preston New Road community liaison group, said:
“we communicated our absolute opposition to fracking anywhere. We discussed a number of significant issues but the topics are so complex that the meeting today only scratched the surface. It remains to be seen if a follow up meeting will be arranged to explore further.”
Mrs Richardson, chair of Roseacre Awareness Group, said:
“It’s taken a lot of effort to get a meeting with somebody who will listen. We managed to convey a strong message, but I am yet to be convinced they will take our concerns seriously or change their stance on shale gas exploration.”
Parish and borough councillor, Heather Speak, who lives near the Roseacre Wood site, said she was:
“glad to have the opportunity to voice concerns about the devastating impacts this industry will have on all our communities”.
Invited to comment on the meeting with the residents near Preston New Road and with people opposed to anti-fracking campaigns, Ms Engel told DrillOrDrop:
“It was great to meet both groups in North Yorkshire and Lancashire and whilst they have very different points of view, neither group can be faulted for hospitality. There are legitimate concerns in each area and I will make sure that those are fed back to the Minister.
“It’s a pity that the arguments have become so polarised but I certainly got the sense from everyone I spoke to that they wanted to agree to differ and to have a rational debate about these issues.
“These were just the first meetings of many and I am looking forward to meeting with more residents, councillors and the community liaison groups over the next few weeks and months.”
Updated to correct name of group opposed to fracking protests which also met Natascha Engel