"We are people, not receptors", fracking inquiry told
"Our community is suffering"
Fighting back tears, Heather Speak, a parish councillor in Wharles for 40 years, told the inquiry inspector:
“The fracking application had split the community, ruined friendships and caused stress and depression”.
“It has affected my health. Our community is suffering."
After six days of hearing evidence about decibel levels, six-axle HGVs, national policy and receptors (planning speak for something affected by a development), the inquiry held its first session for members of the public.
In a packed function room at Blackpool Football Club, people sniffed and wiped their cheeks as Mrs Spark described how opponents of fracking had been intimidated. She said manure had been dumped behind her house, anti-fracking signs had disappeared after dark and trip wires had been put across field gates. She said:
“Our beautiful parish is under attack. Our homes are under threat.”
Barristers, planning officers and Cuadrilla’s senior executives listened as other people lined up to give their views on the plans to develop four shale gas wells over six years at Roseacre Wood. Four businessmen described the potential benefits to the local economy. 20 people, mostly from villages surrounding the proposed site, described their fears and frustrations.
Jacqueline Sylvester, whose house would be 300m away, has lived in Roseacre since 1968. She said of the shale gas plans:
“This has fractured our community, ruined friendships, and turned people against each other”.
Barbara Richardson, whose house is 600m from the Roseacre Wood, said: “It is a truly wonderful place to live. All I can hear is birds and an odd tractor”.
But her voice broke as she said:
“We face a huge industrial complex, surrounded by a 4m security fence.”
She said she spent a lot of time in her garden but if the scheme went ahead she faced 24 hours of noise and lighting. And if gas exploration were successful, the site would go to production.
“We know this will last many more than six years. It will probably be for the rest of my life. This was not my dream”.
“I am not prepared to be a guinea pig”
24-year-old Lucy Barnes, brought up and still living in Wharles, said she remembered the parish as “full of caring people”. But since the applications, “our community has lost its shine”.
“People had been working themselves into the ground to oppose the plans”.
“I quite often ask myself what is the point. Then I think of my daughter.”
“I am sick of feeling that anyone who wishes to speak against fracking is being ignored.”
“I am not prepared to be a guinea pig. This is a massive scale project that should not be allowed until it is proved to be safe”.
“We are people not receptors”.
To applause, she asked the inspector:
“Please do not forget us. Please do not dismiss us. It will affect future generations.”
“Biggest gas field in Europe”
17 year old, Lucy Cookson, from Treales, said people were not just worried about Roseacre.
“Mr Egan [chief executive of Cuadrilla] wants to make the Fylde the biggest gas field in Europe.”
She said the area would be doomed and she urged the inspector:
“You have to get it right or we will all suffer. I have a right to be listened to.”
Ben Wallace, the Conservative MP for Wyre and Preston, said, through a colleague that heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) going to and from the site would have an unacceptable impact on rural roads. Christopher Pound, who has lived in Roseacre for 46 years, said the proposed HGV route would turn country roads into “industrial conduits”.
“Shale gas deposits could be accessed by wellsites kilometres away from the deposits so there is no need to drill from Roseacre”.
Lid to Pandora’s box
Roseacre resident, Keith Hulme, described the exploration plans as “the lid to Pandora’s box”.
“We have been told the effects are temporary, short term and will affect a few people. It will only be temporary and short-term if the project fails to deliver”.
“If exploration was successful there would be continuous drilling and fracking for 20 years on one well pad.”
“We didn’t ask for this”
Craig Hughes, who lives half a mile across fields from Roseacre Wood, and is the only commercial bee keeper in Lancashire, described how his business may suffer.
“I may be blacklisted by people who do not want to take my honey”.
Richard Moore, who comes from a long-line of Fylde farmers, said:
“If people won’t buy our products we are lost. This isn’t fair. We didn’t ask for this.”
Referring to the ruling by the Local Government Secretary that he would make the final decision on the appeal, Mr Moor said:
“It should be local people making these decisions. It shouldn’t be people in Westminster deciding this. If we don’t want, we shouldn’t have this forced on us.”
To applause from the audience, he said:
“It scares me to death what we could be facing”.
Refusal led to redundancies
Paul Matich, of the drilling services company, PR Marriott, gave evidence to the inquiry that his company had made 36 people redundant when Lancashire County Council turned down Cuadrilla’s planning applications in June last year.
“As a consequence, jobs, income, spending and training of considerable benefit to the local economy has been lost.”
“We put a lot of investment into training the crew. That will be difficult to get back.”
He added that his company had spent £2.5m in the area when it worked for Cuadrilla from 2010-2012.
“Put Blackpool on the map”
Tim Freshney, the managing director of a local drilling support company in Blackpool, told the inquiry there was no future for “ambitious kids” in the region.
“I strongly believe we can get back into work through this route. My business can achieve big things. The time is right now to put Blackpool on the map.”
Oil engineer, John Standing, said shale gas could create a “mini Aberdeen effect” in Lancashire.
“I hope we can see past the minor inconveniences caused by shale gas exploration and see the potential benefits.”
And Paul Hennessey, who works for a company treating fracking waste water, said no other industry offered the same opportunity to expand as shale gas. His firm had invested £150,000 in new water treatment technology.
“We hope this will not be in vain. We rely on these projects to survive and prosper."
“This industry will create jobs”
Babs Murphy, the chief executive of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said: “There is a clear reasoned assumption that this industry will create jobs.
But she acknowledged:
“At this moment in time we have no idea how many but we do believe it will be significant.”
She said there was no evidence that tourism or farming would be affected by a Lancashire shale gas industry. But under questions from Estelle Dehon, the barrister for Friends of the Earth, Ms Murphy said only 3% of chamber members worked in tourism and 1% in farming.
More inquiry news
“Minor impact on landscape” or “urbanising effect” Cuadrilla argued that shale gas extraction at Preston New Road (site pictured above) would have a minor impact on landscape character even though there were significant visual changes. Lancashire County Council’s witness, Steve Maslem, told the inquiry the proposed fracking site would have an “urbanising effect on the landscape and would introduced an “incongruous” element, resulting in “notable reduction in landscape quality”.
Value of landscape Cuadrilla argued the landscape around Preston New Road had no particular scenic quality, and had no conservation interest or protections. The company said the M55 motorway had a “significant impact" on tranquillity in the area. Lancashire County Council argued that the area offered “tranquil elements” and was a buffer to the urban fringe around Blackpool. The council told the inquiry the undulating landscape, lands and fishing ponds were examples of scenic quality that were used by cyclists, walkers and anglers. The area was a good example of Fylde farmland.
Colour of screens and rig. Cuadrilla said it would accept a planning condition on the colour of acoustic fencing, designed to reduce noise from the proposed shale gas sites. But it would not accept a condition on the colour of the rig. The inquiry heard Cuadrilla might need to hire a rig and this would be painted in the owner’s colour. The County Council’s landscape witness, Steve Maslem, said a green rig would blend into the landscape better than the bright blue used on Cuadrilla’s equipment.
Lighting Cuadrilla argued that lighting at the Preston New Road site would have little impact on landscape character, particularly because car lights on the M55 were “very eye-catching”. Lancashire County Council said lighting should have been taken into account in assessing the impact of the site on landscape. The area at night was substantially dark, the council said.
Rigs Cuadrilla argued that a 53m drilling rig would have no greater impact on the landscape than a 36m one. Lancashire County Council argued that the difference would be of “medium magnitude” and if the schemes were approved the rig heights should be restricted to 36m.
Tree planting Cuadrilla proposes to plant whips (very young trees) around the sites to lessen their impact on the landscape. Lancashire County Council says this would do little to camouflage the site and the use of mature trees would make the site look even more incongruous.
Inevitable and unavoidable Cuadrilla’s barrister, Nathalie Lieven, told the inquiry that hydraulic fracturing in the UK would inevitably be in rural areas. It was impossible to hide a 36m rig behind a fence so impact on the landscape was inevitable.
Traffic no reason to refuse Roseace Wood Cuadrilla’s traffic witness, Johnny Ojeil, told the inquiry the impact of traffic on the Roseacre Wood site did not justify refusal. The increase in HGVs would not lead to road safety problems. Opponents said the level of traffic would have an unacceptable impact on roads and highway safety.
Lorry route Cuadrilla confirmed it would not use a route to Roseace Wood through the Inskp defence site for the whole of the proposed project because it was too expensive. The company’s barrister, Nathalie Lieven, told the inquiry the cost of the route, which avoided Wharles, was not justified during the extended well test phase because lorry traffic to and from the site would be low. She would not reveal the cost because it was “commercially confidential”. The inquiry heard that Cuadrilla was no longer proposing to install passing places in Wharles.
Unsuitable road. Lancashire County Council argued that part of the HGV route was unsuitable because it measured 4.3m-5.1m wide in places. Cuadrilla said this could be mitigated by creating passing places and because visibility on the road was good.
Increase in lorry traffic. The inquiry heard that the number of HGV movements would increase on one section of road near Roseacre Wood from two a day to up to 50 a day. Cuadrilla said the peak would happen on 12 weeks of the six year project.
Alternative route dropped. Cuadrilla also confirmed it had abandoned plans to use a route to Roseacre Wood through Broughton.
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