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What would a 53m drilling rig look like?

Ruth Hayhurst photo
Ruth HayhurstUK
In this week’s fracking newsletter: Anti-fracking campaigners show a planning inspector what impact a 53m drill rig would have on the surrounding landscape. Plus Cuadrilla faces questions at the ongoing planning inquiry about waste, climate change, traffic and noise.

Opponents of Cuadrilla's plans to frack at a site in Lancashire launched a blimp balloon this week to mark the height of a 53 meter drilling rig. 

They said they wanted to illustrate the impact of the rig on homes and the surrounding landscape at Preston New Road, near Blackpool.

The stunt was planned for a day of site visits by the inspector hearing Cuadrilla's appeals against refusal of planning permission at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood. 

Waste treatment centres may not cope with fracking waste, inquiry hears

Fracking waste from Cuadrilla’s two proposed sites in Lancashire may be too contaminated for the earmarked treatment centres to deal with, the public inquiry into the projects heard this week.

The company said it had found two water treatment facilities to take flowback fluid from Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood. It had not named them because it said the information was commercially confidential.

But Alan Watson, an environmental consultant and engineer, told the inquiry in Blackpool he had identified the facilities from a parliamentary answer and information published by Cuadrilla. They were, he said, the Castle Environmental facility in Stoke-on-Trent and the FCC Environment site at Knostrop in Leeds.

He said the level of radioactivity in the fracking waste from Lancashire was likely to exceed the level permitted at the Stoke facility. The level of lead might exceed the limit at Knostrop in Leeds.

Mr Watson, a witness for Friends of the Earth, added that Cuadrilla had looked only at total capacity. It needed to consider available capacity, which took into account the waste treatment capacity needed by other customers. Taking account of available capacity and the permit constraints, this could mean the centres would not be able to take Cuadrilla’s waste, he said.

Mr Watson said if this happened, waste would build up on the sites, resulting in more lorry movements, greater visual impacts and a higher risk of contamination to surface and ground water.

Cuadrilla has proposed to co-ordinate operations at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood to reduce the impacts of dealing with waste. But Mr Watson said a build-up of waste would also make this more difficult.

“Waste impact greater than suggested”

Cuadrilla estimated waste from the proposed wells at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood would use about 65% of what it called “sub-regional” waste treatment capacity.

But Mr Watson told the inquiry neither treatment works was in north west England and they were not “sub-regional”. He said:

“It is a little worrying that the evidence [from Cuadrilla] is not borne out by the facts.” 

Cuadrilla had suggested that the impact would be significantly lower than it would actually be, he said.

“Flowback not the responsibility of the inquiry”

Cuadrilla told the inquiry that flowback fluid was the responsibility of the Environment Agency (EA), which had granted environmental permits for both Roseacre Wood and Preston New Road. The inquiry inspector should assume the EA would do its job properly, the company said, and should consider only landuse issues, Cuadrilla argued.

But Mr Watson said:

“Even if you were promoting shale gas you would not take up all the treatment capacity with one exploratory rig. You would treat the waste on-site and leave the strategic capacity for other industrial users.”

“To tie up such a high proportion of the strategic infrastructure on one exploratory well has got to be a landuse planning issues. It is unacceptable.”

Cuadrilla’s barrister, Nathalie Lieven, said operations at the proposed sites would have to stop if the company could not dispose of its waste.

But Mr Watson said this would prolong the duration of the projects, currently six years. Leaving flowback water in the wells could increase the risk of seismic activity and could make the fluid more contaminated, he said.

Disputed and missing data

The inquiry heard that Cuadrilla’s planning application had estimated there would be 21,250 cubic meters of flowback for each of the two sites. But the application for the environmental permit estimated 22,000 cubic meters for each of the four wells on the sites, resulting in total waste for each site at 88,000.

Mr Watson described the difference as profound. Cuadrilla’s barrister, Nathalie Lieven, said the figure in the planning application was correct and described the discrepancy as a typing mistake. Even if the higher figure were correct, she said, it would result in only 10 lorry movements a day, rather than the two predicted.

The inspector also heard that Cuadrilla had not explained how it had calculated estimated weekly flowback volumes shown in its environmental permit application. Nathalie Lieven said the Environment Agency had all the information it needed to approve the applications. But Mr Watson said this had prevented the public and environmental groups from participating in the permitting process.

“Foolhardy to develop shale gas for five years”

The inquiry also heard from Professor Kevin Anderson, deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research on the implications of the proposed sites for carbon emissions.

Cuadrilla had estimated a shale gas production industry would not get going until 2025. But Professor Anderson said the UK would have to stop using gas for electricity generation by 2030:

"You would have five years where shale gas would have a role. There would be a five-year window - it would be foolhardy to develop it for that time frame".

“Irresponsible use of carbon budget”

Professor Anderson said the company’s estimate that the projects would generate 118,000-124,000 tonnes of CO2 over their lives was likely to be an under-estimate. But he added:

"Emissions of between 118,000 and 124,000 tonnes for exploration for its own sake is an irresponsible use of the UK carbon constrained budget. 

"It is equivalent to 18 months of car travel in the Fylde." The emissions could be justified only if the project resulted in a full-scale shale gas industry that could operate within the constraints of 2 degrees C of warming.”

Professor Anderson was asked if he would support any shale gas applications in the UK. He replied:

“If you were not to renege on domestic and international climate change agreements then I could not support shale gas because the maths don't add up." 

"If you were to renege on the agreements then a range of new options, including coal, becomes available.”

Shale gas is not low carbon

Professor Anderson also told the inquiry "It is erroneous to regard any fossil fuel as low carbon. Natural gas is almost identical in climate change terms to shale gas. Both are 75% carbon by mass and emit large amounts of CO2 when burned." Low carbon energy is defined as 100g of CO2 per kilowatt hour. Natural gas produces 400-450g of CO2 and coal is even higher.”

He added:

“If we are not to breach the 5th carbon budget or the Paris Agreement, we cannot have any further development of fossil fuel sources within the UK".

Other news from the inquiry

Standing ovation for teenage campaigner

The packed conference room at Blackpool Football Club gave 13-year-old musician Morgan Marshall a standing ovation when he told the inquiry

“Cuadrilla's planning application is the biggest threat in my life time, to my community, health, safety and home”.

Speaking during a session for public comments on the Preston New Road scheme, he said

“I don't want my head full of these worries. I want to concentrate on working towards my concerts and the practice I need to do for my assessments.”

Cuadrilla has described the scheme lasting six years as temporary, but Morgan said “for me it’s the rest of my childhood.”

Sue Marshall, a psychotherapist, specialising in traumatic stress, said the community had experienced “enormous suffering”. People living near the Preston New Road site were feeling stressed, fatigued and depressed. She said the government’s announcement to make the final decision on the appeals had “threatened to remove the cornerstone of our society.

“It will not just be Preston New Road that will be fracked, they will fracture the bedrock kthat democratic society is built on.”

She said if the plans were approved, the community would continue to oppose them because it had nothing to lose.

Chris Henig, one of the Lancashire County Councillors who voted against Cuadrilla’s plans, told the inspector:

“That LCC should have to pay costs to defend a democratic process is in my opinion immoral." 

"It made its decision as a democratically-elected body and it should not be punished. There was no predetermination. We did our best. We listened to the evidence and voted on our judgement. Councillors and council tax payers should not be penalised for this.”

Claire Stephenson said the government had given a “very dangerous signal”. She asked 

“What option to law-abiding people have when the government has already decided? If this is not a n abuse of human rights, I don’t know what is.”

25 people spoke against the scheme and two in favour. Opponents said their community was under attack, the plans were unacceptable and the benefits of fracking exaggerated

Mark Mills told the inspector that seismic testing carried out for Cuadrilla had damaged his property in 2012. Since then, he had been involved in a protracted legal case. Cuadrilla’s arrival in the Fylde had been “expensive, stressful and ruinous to relationships. To cheers from the audience he said “We don’t want fracking at Preston New Road, in the Fylde or in Lancashire.”

Peter Watson, who lives opposite the Preston New Road site said he expected to lose £500,000 on the value of his home. Another speaker, Emma Bird, whose home overlooks the site, said no estate agent would give her a valuation on her property.

National importance

John Kersey, a founder of the Cuadrilla-funded North West Energy Task Force, said the two sites were of national importance and should be allowed to progress. Malcolm McVicar, a former vice-chancellor of the University of Central Lancashire said there was a need to grow a strong and sustainable economy. The development of gas resources in Lancashire would support a long-term future.

Stress and sleep disturbance likely

Photo: David Burr

Dr Andrew McKenzie, the noise witness for Lancashire County Council, told the inquiry stress and sleep disturbance were very likely from the Preston New Road scheme. He said:

“If consent is given it is in the knowledge that it will generate annoyance and that may cause stress.”

The inquiry heard that Cuadrilla had offered to reduce the level of night time noise expected at homes around Preston New Road to 39 decibels by adding screens around the drilling rig. But it has since withdrawn the offer, saying the cost of £1.5m per site would be an “unreasonable burden”.

The upper night time noise limit is now predicted to be 42 decibels, the maximum in planning guidance for mineral developments. But Dr McKenzie said there was a 15% chance that Cuadrilla would breach this. And he said this limit “flew in the face of planning policy” which required operators to reduce noise levels to avoid unacceptable impacts.

The inquiry heard that predicted night time noise from the Preston New Road site would exceed current background noise levels for 92% of core sleep periods.

Traffic measures “not a solution”

Photo: David Burr

Lancashire County Council’s traffic witness told the inquiry said the narrow rural roads around the Roseacre Wood site were not built or maintained for heavy lorries.

Neil Stevens, a highways officer with the council, said the increase in traffic to the Roseacre Wood site would be severe and would have an unacceptable impact on local road users. The measures proposed by Cuadrilla to tackle the traffic problems were not be a solution, he said.

The company has proposed creating five passing places to allow heavy goods vehicles to pass side by side on part of the route to the site. But Mr Stevens said the passing places might make the route more dangerous.

Cuadrilla has accepted a condition setting a maximum of 50 HGV movements at Roseacre Wood each day. But Mr Stevens said any breach of the condition would become known only after it had happened.

He also said it was not in Cuadrilla’s power to control the behaviour of lorry drivers, the height of hedges along the route, needed to improve visibility for drivers, or access to a layby that it proposed to use as a holding area for lorries.

Other news

Cuadrilla won its appeal against the refusal of planning permission for monitoring and site restoration at the Grange Hill exploration site at Singleton in Lancashire. More details 

A report by the UK Energy Research Centre challenges the government’s promotion of shale gas as a bridge to a low carbon future by concluding that gas has only a limited role as a bridging fuel. More details 

IGas plans to explore for shale gas at a cold war missile base at Misson in Bassetlaw, won’t be decided until the end of July. Nottinghamshire County Council has asked the company for more information on surface water run-off, ecology, traffic, unexploded ordnance and landscape impacts. More details

Research by Newcastle University concluded that traffic generated by fracking in the UK would increase air pollution substantially at a local level at the busiest times. More details

A report by researchers in York and Liverpool includes allegations that officers policing the Barton Moss anti-fracking camp used “sexualised violence” to target female protesters. Officers were alleged to have groped and pressed their groins against women as they cleared demonstrations against test drilling. More details

The Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management concludes that new legislation and guidance will reduce risks but it remains concerned about the volumes and nature of waste. More details

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