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Fracking refusal at two sites in Fylde

Friday, 26 June 2015 08:58

Shale gas extraction rig Shale gas extraction rig Photo: © Brian Jones

Relief at decisions.

Applications had been submitted to Lancashire County Council by the shale gas exploration company Cuadrilla to drill test wells at two sites in Fylde: Roseacre Wood and Preston New Road. CPRE Lancashire had submitted objections to both applications.

Roseacre Wood site:

On 25 June, Lancashire County Council, in its capacity of Minerals Planning Authority, unanimously refused planning permission to Cuadrilla Elswick Ltd. to carry out exploratory fracking at its intended drilling site at Roseacre Wood.

The grounds for refusal are the local road network of narrow country lanes is totally inadequate to carry the large tankers and other HGVs that would be necessary for the development and operation of the site. The decision is in accord with officer advice.

Preston New Road site:

On 29th June, Cuadrilla Bowland Limited had its application to carry out exploratory fracking at its Preston New Road site refused by Lancashire County Council, acting as the Minerals Planning Authority, on the grounds of significant landscape impacts and unacceptable noise impact on local residents. In contrast to the Roseacre Wood case, the refusal was made against officer advice.

Jackie Copley, Planning Manager for CPRE Lancashire, commenting on both cases said:

“The representations of the public to the Committee and the debate within the Committee reflected the very great anxiety about these two applications and the very conscientious consideration devoted to them.

Quite apart from the specific reasons for the refusals, we are particularly relieved that consent has not been given to Cuadrilla to develop shale gas operations at these sites.

This is because the Council had not accepted our representation to impose a condition in the event of approval of the applications with the effect of requiring a fracking procedure which would have ensured that fracking would be confined to the very deep target rock formations specified in the planning application; Cuadrilla had agreed to be bound by the condition. Both the Environment Agency and the Oil and Gas Authority accept the possibility that fracking could occur above the target formations; we regard that as unacceptable.

CPRE Lancashire has negotiated with Cuadrilla, gaining agreement from its CEO to operate voluntarily according to the terms of this condition; the agreement has been notified to the Oil and Gas Authority which is responsible for approving the Hydraulic Fracture Plan for each well. However, we believe it is far more appropriate and enforceable for the condition to be part of the land-use planning regime. The condition specifies:

Following the first hydraulic fracture stage of a given well, each subsequent stage shall not be executed until the signals from the entire deep 80-borehole seismometer array have been analysed to determine the penetration of the hydraulic fracturing fluid, and the injection volume of the first stage shall not exceed 400 m3.

The condition is precise in its meaning, limited in purpose to the proposals as specified in the planning applications and readily enforceable as a planning condition in that it requires only that a planning officer inspects, at times of their own choosing, the records of the hydraulic fracturing plan as actually executed (the relevant documents are required by the EA to be available on site).

Although the Environment Agency in its Permit accepts that the Millstone Grit, which overlays the uppermost of the Bowland Shale formations, should not be fracked, the Permit paradoxically contains the contradictory statement: “The Permit takes account of the possibility of fracture fluid indirectly discharging into the Millstone Grit so this would not constitute a breach of the Permit”. In justification, there follows a claim that the fluid in the Millstone Grit is chemically similar to that in the Bowland Shale, a claim contested by CPRE Lancashire in its detailed comments submitted to Environment Agency in response to the Agency’s consultation on the draft Permit.

In identifying a positive way forward, CPRE Lancashire seeks to ensure the use of the maximum amount of information available to ascertain the location of the fluid injected by the fracking process. This more precise knowledge would keep fracking operations confined to the specified very deep target formations, and out of shallower formations for which we believe the risks of fracking would be significantly greater; this very desirable outcome would be secured by the condition we seek to have imposed.

Future campaigning

Apart from this particular aspect, there are wider aspects of the regulatory process which we regard as not fit for purpose; in the event of future fracking applications, we will continue to press for the development of shale gas to be subject to exemplary practice and sound, transparent, regulation.

 

Update 

Cuadrilla has announced it intends to appeal to the Secretary of State for the Department of Communities and Local government against Lancashire County Council’s (LCC’s) decisions to refuse consent for two planning applications for temporary shale gas exploration sites, one at Preston New Road (against officer advice), the other at Roseacre Wood (in accordance with officer advice). Cuadrilla also intends to appeal against the LCC’s refusal of their planning application to install seismic and ground water monitoring stations around the proposed Preston New Road exploration site, and against certain conditions imposed on the corresponding Roseacre Wood planning application which was approved.

Once the appeals have been made, the Secretary of State will appoint a planning inspector who will conduct a Public Inquiry under the aegis of the Planning Inspectorate at which the principals and third parties will present evidence and argument in support of their claims. There are then two possibilities, viz. the inspector determines the appeals or the Secretary of State recovers the appeals for his determination, in which case the inspector will make recommendations to the minister who may, or may not, accept them.

 

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