The company that wants to frack for shale gas near Formby in Lancashire is pressing ahead with its planning application, despite the government’s recent moratorium.
But Aurora Resources has been advised to update its estimate of the risk of fracking-induced earth tremors.
The company said in its application that the geology of its proposed site at Great Altcar was “very similar” to Preston New Road, where in August Cuadrilla caused the UK’s largest fracking-induced tremor, measuring 2.9ML.
Aurora said the size of tremors caused by its operation would be limited to 1.5ML. But this statement was made before the August tremors at Preston New Road and the moratorium.
On 2 November, the government said it was withdrawing its support for shale gas because it was not possible to predict accurately whether fracking would cause tremors and what size they would be.
Now Lancashire County Council has formally asked the company for new data. A letter from the council’s development plan leader, Jonathan Haine, published online, said fracking at Altcar Moss might be expected to induce similar seismic activity to Preston New Road.
“The risk assessment within the ES [Environmental Statement] should therefore be updated as they are based upon an assumption that the embedded mitigation will limit the size of seismic events to 1.5Ml. Events at PNR appear to demonstrate that seismic events well above this level are possible.”
Mr Haine said the county council had been advised that Aurora’s geological setting was “too generic” and a “more site-specific study” would help to justify the 1.5ML conclusion.
Aurora had said none of the faults within the carboniferous rock formation reached the surface. But Mr Haine said:
“The County Council’s advice is that this is unlikely to be the case and that more detail should be presented within the ES to justify the conclusions.”
DrillOrDrop understands that the campaign network, The Moss Alliance, has been advised that because of the geology of Altcar Moss, fracking would be likely to result in worse induced seismic events than those caused by Cuadrilla at Preston New Road.
Mr Haine also formally asked Aurora for more information on a wide range of issues, including the local ecology, noise, air and water pollution, traffic and site plans.
On site design, he asked why Aurora was proposing to use a 60m rig when Cuadrilla had been limited to 36m at Preston New Road. He also asked where water would come from for fracking and whether proposed fencing had any noise-reducing properties.
Known as a section 25 request, this is likely to delay a decision on the application.
The proposal will now not be considered by the next meeting of the county council’s planning committee on 27 November 2019.
There is no meeting scheduled for December so the first available meeting would be 22 January 2020. But whether the proposal is considered at this meeting will depend on how quickly Aurora provides the information and whether there is a further public consultation.
The Moss Alliance, which has been campaigning against Aurora’s application, met last night.
DrillOrDrop understands that its report commissioned from planning consultants is due this week. A spokesperson for the network said:
“Nothing has changed for us. We will be using the report to object in the strongest terms and we are encouraging residents to continue to lodge their objections with Lancashire County Council.
We are actively raising awareness through the press and social media that the “moratorium” is not a ban and we will be continuing our work opposing Aurora’s application.”
Disputed impact on birds
Aurora has said its proposals would have no “significant effect” on wildlife sites of European importance, including the Sefton coast, Ribble and Alt Estuaries, Martin Mere and Liverpool Bay.
Mr Haine said Natural England, the government’s adviser on nature conservation, said there was “currently insufficient information” in Aurora’s application to justify this conclusion.
Natural England, a statutory consultee on the application, said Aurora’s bird surveys were incomplete and did not follow agreed methodology. They should have been produced in December, February, March, April and May.
But Mr Haine told Aurora:
“Unless you have additional bird survey data for the above months that has not been submitted with the Environmental Assessment, I therefore consider that you need to be undertaking some additional bird surveys in winter 2019/2020.”
Natural England also said Aurora should reassess the impacts of noise from site construction, operation and restoration on the European wildlife sites.
The organisation said Aurora had wrongly calculated the significance of bird species present around the site.
This is important because if 1% of particular bird species from the European wildlife sites are using the proposed development site then the two areas are said to be functionally linked. Any impact must therefore be assessed appropriately and protection measures proposed.
Natural England said Aurora’s data showed that 1% of the pink footed geese and lapwing populations from the European sites used the proposed fracking site or land within 500m of it.
Figures for the development’s estimated contribution of greenhouse gases were inconsistent in the application, Mr Haine said.
The predicted increase in ambient noise at Sutton’s Farm suggested there would be an adverse impact, Mr Haine said.
“I, therefore, consider that further mitigation needs to be incorporated into the development and a demonstration included of the level of noise mitigation that would be provided.”
Mr Haine added:
“The night time noise impacts are not greatly discussed in the summary section at the end of the noise assessment except to say that night time noise will not affect resident because they will be indoors or asleep. This conclusion seems to disregard the point that during the summer residents may sleep with windows open and that they could be subject to sleep disturbance if woken by site noise.”
Air and water
Aurora has not submitted an application for an environmental permit at the same time as the planning permission. Mr Haines said this meant there was less information provided on air or ground and surface water quality.
He said the planning application had no details of water monitoring – so there was no reassurance that the issue had been addressed or that mitigation measures could be implemented.
There were no details of baseline or operational monitoring for air pollutants, Mr Haine said. The application also did not include estimates of hydrogen sulphide emissions or volatile organic compounds from flaring. Details on radon and naturally-occurring radioactive materials were also missing.
Mr Haine said Aurora’s application had missing documents and inadequate information on how local roads would cope with additional heavy or large vehicles.
He suggested that all lorries should use the A565 to avoid the B5195 east of the site. This would “remove any flexibility”, Mr Haine said, if there were protests between the site at the A565.
The Altcar site is in the green belt and Mr Haine suggested that Aurora had not correctly interpreted planning policy.
The planning statement said that the proposal was for temporary minerals operations and was therefore appropriate development in the green belt.
But Mr Haine said the proposal would be of a significant scale and Aurora should demonstrate there were very special circumstances to justify it.
“I consider that you need to submit additional evidence in relation to Green Belt impacts.”