Regulation

Decision date for first fracking plan since moratorium

190906 Altcar Moss site

Notices marking boundary of proposed fracking site, Altcar Moss, September 2019. Photo: DrillOrDrop

A provisional date has been set for the decision on fracking plans in Lancashire – the first to be considered since the government announced a moratorium last year.

Lancashire County Council has earmarked 27 March 2020 for a special meeting on the application by Aurora Energy Resources at Altcar Moss near Formby.

The company wants to drill and frack up to two wells on farmland near the village of Great Altcar and close to protected wildlife sites. Link to planning application

This will be the first planning application for fracking to be decided in England since the moratorium was imposed in November 2019 because of concerns about earth tremors.

Altcar Moss planning application Aurora Resources 3

Location of wellsite and access track (in red). Source: planning application

More time for comments

Lancashire County Council has extended a public consultation on extra information provided by Aurora about the scheme.

The information, formally requested by the county council last year, was submitted by the company on 9 December 2019.

But it was not published online by the council until 15 January 2020. A spokesman for Lancashire County Council told DrillOrDrop:

“Due to a technical issue the further information relating to the Aurora Energy application was published on our website five days later than stated in the advertised consultation.

“As a result we are due to extend the consultation period by ten days until 24 February and will be advertising this shortly.”

Friends of the Earth regional campaigner, Estelle Worthington, had called for an extension to the public consultation:

“Lancashire County Council’s delay in getting important additional information about Aurora’s application to frack at Great Altcar shared with the public effectively means local people are in the dark about the impact of these proposals.

“Lancashire County Council has a statutory duty to make sure local residents are fully aware of all aspects of the application and have enough time to make their views known. As such, we think they should re-start the clock and extend the consultation deadline.”

The new information covered issues including rig height, wildlife, earth tremors, noise and air and water quality.

The Moss Alliance, a coalition of groups against Aurora’s scheme, said:

“All the local groups opposed to the planning application are now busily digesting the new information with a view to submitting further objections to the application in due course.

“The local groups are also considering holding further public meetings during the early part of February to brief their supporters and seek their further support in opposing the planning application by responding to Aurora’s newly submitted responses.”

The Moss Alliance has also organised a petition against the development So far, there are about 6,000 paper and online signatures. It is due to be handed in at the decision meeting in March.

DrillOrDrop understands that more than 700 formal objections have been made to the Aurora application.

At the time of writing, the Moss Alliance submission had not been published online. But there are published objections from West Lancashire Borough Council and Sefton Councils, as well as opposition from parish councils at Lydiate, Lathom South, Burscough and Great Altcar.

Link to planning application

190906 Altcar Moss meeting DoD

Meeting in Haskayne about Aurora Energy Resources’ application for fracking near Great Altcar, 6 September 2019. Photo: DrillOrDrop

Aurora’s response

The extra information from Aurora is a 22-page response to a request from the county’s council planning department for more detail.

Earth tremors

Aurora had said the geology of Altcar Moss was similar to Cuadrilla’s sites at Preston New Road and Preese Hall. It said proposed measures would limit earth tremors induced by fracking to 1.5ML.

Fracking at both Preston New Road and Preese Hall had induced earth tremors higher than 1.5ML. A tremor on 26 August 2019 at Preston New Road, measuring 2.9ML, was the largest induced by fracking in the UK and led to suspension of pumping at the site.

Lancashire County Council asked Aurora to update its seismicity risk assessment. Aurora conceded that fracking at Altcar Moss could induce events up to 3.1ML but the assumptions in its risk assessment remained valid. It said the Oil & Gas Authority (OGA) was responsible for regulating seismicity and additional information would be provided to the OGA if necessary.

Aurora also said fracking was not envisaged to have any impact on abandoned historic wells in the area. Responsibility for this was with the Health and Safety Executive, it said.

Rig height

Altcar Moss planning application Aurora Resources 5

Photomontage of the proposed rig from Great Altcar Village Hall. Source: planning application

The council had said the proposed rig height of 60m was significantly higher than the 36m rig used at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road fracking site near Blackpool.

Aurora said a 60m rig would save about 10% of drilling time. It said a restriction to a 36m rig would “compromise” its ability to “secure a contract with a drilling rig provider on reasonable terms” and could increase costs, representing “an unreasonable” and “disproportionate burden”. Aurora also said a 60m rig would not “have a significant adverse impact on visual amenity or the landscape”.

Green belt

Aurora had argued in its application that the fracking plans were “appropriate development” in the green belt. The council questioned this interpretation.

Aurora responded that apart from towns and villages, the whole of its exploration licence, PEDL164, was green belt. The company said:

“There is no suitable location for exploration beyond the green belt boundary.

“In order to carry out the obligations and entitlements under PEDL164, the short-term harm caused to the openness and to a single purpose of the green belt must clearly be outweighed by the very special circumstances.”

Wildlife

Aurora had argued in its application that the fracking site would not have a significant effect on neighbouring wildlife sites.

The government’s wildlife adviser, Natural England, said there was insufficient information in the application to come to this conclusion. It also said ecological surveys were incomplete. The key is whether the site is “functionally linked” to the nearby protected Ribble and Alt Estuaries. This is tested by the number of pink footed geese from the estuaries that use the proposed site and surrounding fields.

Aurora accepted that the site was “functionally linked” to the estuaries. But it argued that disturbance of geese by the fracking site would not have a significant effect on either the population of the geese. This meant, Aurora said, there was no need for further ecological investigation.

Natural England had also called for a reassessment of noise from construction, operation and restoration of the fracking site. It argued that a 3db increase in noise could disturb birds and measures may be needed to control noise levels.

Aurora rejected Natural England’s argument as “arbitrary”, “not supported by evidence”, “generic and inappropriate”.

190906 Altcar Moss access

Current access to proposed fracking site, Altcar Moss, September 2019. Photo: DrillOrDrop

Noise

The council said more controls would be needed to reduce night time noise. It said the company’s noise assessment did not seem to consider that during the summer residents may sleep with windows open and would be disturbed by site noise.

Aurora said:

“mitigation measures will be finalised once the equipment has been chosen and a noise management plan will be prepared detailing the specific mitigation measures to be installed and their effect on ambient noise levels in the vicinity”.

Air and water quality

On concerns about the impact of the scheme on air and water quality, Aurora said these issues were regulated by the Environment Agency. The company has not yet submitted an application for an environmental permit so there is no detailed information on these issues.

Link to planning application

Government guidance on fracking applications

The government confirmed last week that it had made no additional guidance on dealing with fracking planning applications.

The Labour MP, Clive Betts, asked what advice had been issued to local authorities on fracking applications since the moratorium.

The local government minister, Esther McVey, replied:

“Planning authorities should continue to take national planning policy and guidance into account in considering any relevant applications. No additional guidance has been issued.”

She also said that there was no change to the status of planning permissions that had been granted for fracking before the moratorium.

The government had no plans to revoke the moratorium, an energy minister in the House of Lords said.

Lord Duncan of Springbank responded to a question by the Liberal Democrat Lord Greaves:

“The Government has always been clear that we will take a precautionary approach and only support shale gas exploration if it can be done in a safe and sustainable way, and that we will be led by the science on whether this is indeed possible.

“It remains our policy to be guided by the evidence and to minimise disturbance to those living and working nearby to shale gas exploration sites, and to prevent the risk of any damage.

“The moratorium will be maintained unless compelling new evidence is provided which addresses the concerns around the prediction and management of induced seismicity.”

13 replies »

  1. So the ground conditions are similar to Preston New Road with the additional complication of abandoned wells scattered throughout the vicinity. Cuadrilla have caused several hundred Hydrofrac earthquakes around the Fylde in 2018/2019, one of which on August Bank Holiday Monday, 2019, resulted in over 2500 complaints and over 200 reports of property damage being lodged with the British Geological Survey! The traffic light system of siesmic monitoring reports what’s already happened, it does not prevent siesmic events happening!

    MAKE SURE THE FRACKING COMPANY HAVE TO HAVE SUBSTANTIAL THIRD PARTY LIABILITY INSURANCE COVER IN PLACE AND MUST PUBLICALLY DISCLOSE ALL DETAILS ABOUT THIS THIRD PARTY INSURANCE COVER BEFORE ANY PLANNING PERMISSIONS ARE GRANTED.

    If you live within 10 miles or so of the site, before any drilling and fracking activities commence, photograph your home, inside and out RIGHT NOW, Around window frames, rooflines, walls, brickwork. RETAKE THESE PHOTOGRAPHS JUST BEFORE FRACKING COMMENCES! Make sure you have insurance cover for earthquake damage in place. Do this last thing NOW before earthquake cover is withdrawn or made ridiculously expensive!

    My home 4.4 road miles away from PNR was damaged by the August Bank Holiday Monday 2.9 Richter Scale, Intensity Level 6 Hydrofrac Earthquake. On the totally biased advice of their Loss Adjuster my insurance company are refusing to honour my Earthquake Damage insurance cover, despite me taking the above precautions! My insurance claim is now with the Ombudsman. My complaint direct to Cuadrilla themselves is ongoing, again being handled by a totally biased Loss Adjuster, although I was sent a £500 goodwill cheque, no obligation to be implied!
    Neither my local Parish Council nor Lancashire County Council have taken any interest in the earthquake damage inflicted by the fracking operators so far! Both are obviously Conservative controlled!

  2. The moratorium is on issuing consents to hydraulic fracturing not planning permission to drill wells to be hydraulically fractured. The planning process and all consenting continues as before (except for the fracture consent from OGA). So planning permission can be granted if the application confirms to planning law, the well can be drilled and tested subject to OGA and HSE and EA drilling consents. The only consent being withheld by the moratorium is for a hydraulic fracturing permit. The million dollar question is why would an operator drill a well if it needed a consent currently blocked by the moratorium? Several reasons – to gain geological information, to collect cores and mechanical stress data, to flow test with a smaller hydraulic fracture than covered by the moratorium, or they believe they can get an exemption to the moratorium.

    • Operating the moratorium strictly on the government’s definition of fracking wouldn’t prevent earthquakes as has been proved by Cuadrilla.

      • Pauline Jones

        But operating the moratorium strictly to its meaning in the Andrea Leadsome
        statement will prevent induced seismic activity, as has been demonstrated by Cuadrilla.

        • hewes62. The moratorium is full of weasel words. It depends whether the government will allow frackers to get round the moratorium by saying that anything other than what is strictly defined as fracking, i.e. the amount of fluid used, is exempt from the moratorium. The work done by Cuadrilla which caused the earthquakes would not qualify as fracking under this definition.

          • Pauline Jones

            The Andrea Leadsom statement is clear.

            1. It applies to shale gas activity
            2. The gov agencies will not approve fracking consents or frack plans untill
            2.1 Further compelling evidence is provided.

            Therefore, amount of fluid injected or not, the statement is clearly designed to prevent shale gas fracking untill that evidence or information turns up.

            Aurora energy have not provided such information, so it would seem that they are happy to progress the planning application while awaiting further information. Paul Tresco addresses that issue above.

            by the bye, the moratorium has no meaning in law ( similar to the declaration of a climate emergency ) so its intent is delivered by witholding frack consents and plans for shale gas.

            [Typo corrected at poster’s request]

          • Pauline Jones

            Outwith the issue of the wording of the statement you raise an interesting point.

            Will the government allow companies fracking for shale gas ( I know you say frackers, but the moratorium is about shale gas ) to get around the moratorium by planning to frack with volumes of fluid that do not meet the legal definitions in law (ie associated fracking ).

            This issue has been raised before on DoD comments, but not taken up I believe.

            The issues would be, in my opinion,

            1. are there any companies that wish to proceed with fracking by utilising a low volume high pressure method of shale gas fracking that will lead to the commercial recovery of gas, and the establishing of a UK industry on that basis?

            I think not. The global industry relies on both high volume stages and high volume in total (allied to high pressure) to be successful.
            It would require Cuadarilla to have found shale gas deposits that can be low volume fracked both in stage and total volumes.
            I do not think they, or anyone globally have discovered how to do that.
            Hence I think that there is no reason to believe this is a possibility.

            2. are there any companies which wish to test frack shale gas deposits using low volume ( both per stage and / or totally ) in order to test the strata?

            I consider that this is a more reasonable concern, as the fracking could be in a horizontal well or more vertical existing well and about collecting data rather than going into commercial development at that stage.

            However, one would then need to go back to the wording of the statement to see how this would pan out. But i see that parts of the statement would preclude such a move because ……

            Statement

            The Oil and Gas Authority intends to commission further research to incorporate new data from Cuadrilla’s more recent operations. The Oil and Gas Authority has made clear that it cannot evaluate with confidence whether a proposal to resume hydraulic fracturing in the Fylde, or to start operations elsewhere, will not cause unacceptable levels of seismicity. The OGA are therefore unlikely to approve future Hydraulic Fracture Plans unless new evidence is presented……

            My comment

            I am not sure if anything has been commissioned, but certainly nothing has been presented, so any thought of shale gas fracking would fail on that test, and fail to get any fracture plans, outwith obtaining fracture consents.

            Statement

            On the basis of the current scientific evidence, Government is confirming today that it will take a presumption against issuing any further Hydraulic Fracturing Consents. This position, an effective moratorium, will be maintained until compelling new evidence is provided which addresses the concerns around the prediction and management of induced seismicity. While future applications for Hydraulic Fracturing Consent will be considered on their own merits by the Secretary of State, in accordance with the law, the shale gas industry should take the Government’s position into account when considering new developments.

            My comment

            Whether or not the shale gas fracking is above or below levels mentioned in law is immaterial to the intent of the statement. Industry would have to argue that new and compelling evidence was available and had been assessed by the relevant authorities. If the authorities do not think that the information is compelling, then frack consents and permits will not be issued ( the effective moratorium mentioned above ).

            Hence, in my opinion, if there is a concern, it would be that such information turns up, and that the relevant authorities consider that it is suitable and sufficient to allow shale gas fracking for either case above ( although the second case may be a lower hurdle than the first )

            We shall see, but so far there has been no more fracking in the fylde, and the Aurora application seems to tell the council planners that seismicity is an issue dealt with by other regulators, who will take a decision in due course.

            Maybe they expect the compelling information to turn up while the planning application winds its weary way through the system, ie in the next two to three years maybe.

            I would note that for those who are against all forms of oil and gas development, and those against any oil or gas stimulation that involves fracking ( in any shape or form ) the moratorium does not address their concerns outwith shale gas ( as I read it ).

  3. To be honest I think that all the would be frackers in the UK believe that the pause in fracking will be lifted shortly wherever ground conditions could possibly permit earthquake free fracking!
    However we’re such a small, overpopulated island with mostly naturally unstable or historically mined out landmasses I’m not sure if this would be economically or logistically viable!
    Then of course you’ve got the issues of limited supplies of drinking water and shortages of processors of contaminated radioactive fracking byproducts to consider!

    • Roz Beaumont

      Good point. But that means no farming, roads, houses, man made structutes etc etc. And how does nature view tidal energy lagoons or large hydropower dams?

  4. The Business Minister has stated in the Commons today:

    “What I would like to say about fracking is that the moratorium is what it says, we are stopping it.

    “The only way that it can be resumed is by compelling evidence which so far is not forthcoming. So the moratorium stays and fracking, for the time being, is over.”

  5. Having said that, yes, Aurora are still pressing ahead with their planning application. Their response to the Regulation 25 request for further information is dismissive of pretty well all the requests as being irrelevant, someone else’s responsibility other than the planning authority or can be dealt with later! So, in effect what they appear to be saying is grant the application and we will deal with those silly details later! We shall have to see how that goes down with the Officers and the Devcon Committee.

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