Decision on fracking in UK deferred another eight weeks

Shale gas drilling rig
Source: Fotolia, Nightman1965

The drilling of the first shale wells in the UK will be further delayed after Lancashire County Council accepted the exploration company’s request for a deferral in the determination of its planning applications.

The firm Cuadrilla Resources asked for a deferral after the county planning officers rejected its application to extract shale gas at two sites, in Little Plumpton and Roseacre Wood, near Blackpool, on the grounds of increased traffic and noise pollution. The planning officers ruled that heavy truck movements at Roseacre would involve a “severe” increase in traffic, particularly HGVs, creating an “impact on existing road users, particularly vulnerable road users and overall highway safety”.

In response to the planning officers’ recommendation, Cuadrilla issued the following statement outlining proposed measures to address the planning officers’ concerns:

“In our planning application, we committed to achieving a night time noise limit of 42dB at the nearest residential property. During six months of consultation the Planning Officers never advised this would not be an acceptable limit. We are aware that 42dB is the limit that Lancashire – and other County Councils – have previously typically set for night-time onshore drilling operations.

In a report sent to the DCC Chairman we have committed to the additional noise mitigation measures of a further sound barrier around the major parts of the drilling rig along with other measures such as additional shielding around individual components of the drilling rig. These additional measures will reduce the night-time noise levels at the nearest residential property to no higher than 39 dB (less than the sound of a refrigerator humming from 2m).

Night-time noise was also cited as a potential issue at Roseacre Wood and whilst we believe that our commitment to achieving a night time limit of no greater than 40dB at the nearest residential property fully complies with National Planning Policy Framework, we have proposed additional noise mitigation measures that will now reduce the levels to no greater than 37dB.

We have from the outset recognised the importance of traffic to communities local to the Roseacre Wood site. It is for this reason that we have agreed in principle with the Ministry of Defence to route all HGV traffic during operations through the RAF Inskip site, ensuring that HGV traffic does not pass through the local villages of Wharles or Roseacre during site construction, drilling or fracturing operations.

We have already shared with the Planning Officers extra information regarding traffic routes which we believe addresses all the new issues which have recently been raised.

We remain committed to a maximum of 25 HGVs per day for the relatively short peak periods (approx. 12 weeks in aggregate over a 6 year period) with the average number of HGVs over the drilling and fracturing operational period being just 5 HGVs per day.”

The company stated that since “further mitigation measures on noise and traffic concerns” require proper consultation, it asked for a deferral for another consultation to take place.

In response to Cuadrilla’s request, the council’s chief legal adviser Ian Young said it would be “unlawful” for the planning development control committee to vote against a deferral.

He told the BBC: “If the committee were not to accept my advice, then in my view the applicant would have clear grounds for a legal challenge.

“The legal challenge would inevitably be successful, leading to both further delay and cost consequences.”

On the above grounds the deferral was accepted although there seemed to be little support for Cuadrilla’s case among the Councillors:

“I [do] this with the heaviest of hearts,” Marcus Johnstone told The Guardian. “I have deep concern that the uncertainty for the communities will continue.”

“I am downright angry,” another Councillor, Steven Holgate, said. “There are too many people digging their fingers into affairs that are not theirs,” he added referring to Chancellor George Osborne’s letter to the Cabinet, that was leaked to the press on Monday. “Cuadrilla applications” he said “should be for us to decide”.

Helen Rimmer, from Friends of the Earth said she was disappointed with the deferral. “Cuadrilla have had several months to present their case,” she said. “While a further delay is another setback for Cuadrilla, its manipulation of the planning system has created more uncertainty for communities whose health and environment are at risk from controversial fracking.”

Greenpeace’s Simon Clydesdale said: “Allowing more time for Cuadrilla to tinker with their application is not going to change the fundamental fact that fracking is a massive gamble with low returns for the people of Lancashire.”

The council will now open additional proposals for public consultation for at least 8 weeks.

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