Fracking is coming to the Fylde coast.
The debate goes on about how safe it is and the possible consequences of something going wrong.
So what are the main arguments on both sides? How is fracking monitored and by whom? DAVE NOWELL reports.
The monitoring process
The Government has spent years working with other agencies to come up with a framework that will allow shale gas exploration to go ahead safely.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change has been at the forefront of planning. In April 2015 certain functions passed from DECC to the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) a newly created executive agency of DECC that works with partners to make sure any exploration and development activity associated with the development of new energy resources is safe and sustainable.
The process of obtaining consent to drill a well is the same whether the well targets conventional or unconventional gas. Operators bid for exclusive rights to an area in competitive licence rounds. They then need the landowner’s and planning permission, which may require an environmental impact assessment. They also need environmental permits from the relevant environment regulator – the Environment Agency, in England . The Environment Agency ensures that any shale gas operations are conducted in a way that protects people and the environment.
The Environment Agency’s environmental permitting regulations cover:
l Protecting water resources, including groundwater (aquifers) as well as assessing and approving the use of chemicals which form part of the hydraulic fracturing fluid
l Appropriate treatment and disposal of mining waste produced during the borehole drilling and hydraulic fracturing process
l Suitable treatment and management of any naturally occurring radioactive materials
l Disposal of waste gases through flaring.
The Environment Agency is also a statutory consultee in the planning process and provides local mineral planning authorities – normally the county or unitary local authority – with advice on the potential risks to the environment from individual gas exploration and extraction sites.
The operator must notify the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) of the well design and operation plans at least 21 days before drilling is due to start.
The HSE inspects the well design to ensure that measures are in place to control major hazards to people from well-related activities and accidents.
The HSE and Environment Agency meet all new or first time shale gas operators and advise them of their legal duties under the relevant legislation and conduct a joint inspection of the key operations at site. The operator then seeks final consent from the OGA.
One of the key parts of regulation is the so-called “traffic light” system, where operators will have to scale back or stop hydraulic fracturing in the event of any seismic activity. DECC’s Regulatory Roadmap publication provides detailed information on the process operators must follow when seeking to drill for any form of onshore oil and gas in the UK.
Statement from Francis Egan, CEO of Cuadrilla
At the beginning of December at a packed event at AFC Fylde’s Mill Farm stadium, Cuadrilla launched a new initiative called Putting Lancashire First.
This represents our commitment, as a company based in Lancashire, to putting the county first when it comes to generating new jobs, economic growth and community benefits, promoting prosperity for current and future generations of Lancastrians.
To back this up we announced a series of six Cuadrilla Commitments, or promises, about how we will conduct our business as we re-commence exploration and how we can start to bring real benefits to Lancashire from the shale gas deep beneath our feet.
I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you a little about each of these Commitments to Lancashire:
We will carry out our operations to the highest safety and environmental standards and communicate openly. We will monitor all aspects of our operations to protect the local environment and publish the data in an easy to access online Environmental Portal so everyone will be able to satisfy themselves that our operations are safe.
We will increase energy security for Lancashire and Britain as we become operational. As this New Year commences I don’t think any of us need reminding that energy security is critical for Lancashire as it is across Britain in an increasingly unpredictable world. We urgently need to reduce our ever growing dependency on gas imported from the Middle East and other foreign sources. As our exploration progresses we will start to put natural gas into the grid and contribute to UK energy security.
We will work with local partners to promote Lancashire as a hub for the UK shale gas industry with new jobs and economic growth. Just as Aberdeen made itself the centre of operations and of excellence in North Sea oil and gas, we believe Lancashire has the capacity to do this for the emerging UK shale gas industry and we will prioritise local recruitment and encourage apprenticeship opportunities in our industry.
We will prioritise Lancashire suppliers and publish the amount we are spending. Although we were only in the planning stages for exploration site at Preston New Road in 2016 we invested nearly £700,000 in the Lancashire economy and this is just the start as we continue to develop a local supply chain. We will support local training opportunities for young people including with the National Onshore Oil and Gas College based at Blackpool and The Fylde College.
We will share the benefits of shale gas by sponsoring educational and sporting projects and through a local community benefit scheme, and further announcements are scheduled on these initiatives early in the New Year.
Babs Murphy, chief executive of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce
The Chamber is delighted that Cuadrilla has publicly announced its wish to put Lancashire first. This is because putting Lancashire first is exactly what the Chamber has done since its inception just over one hundred years ago. It runs through the Chamber’s DNA and we’re both pleased that Cuadrilla has chosen to follow in our footsteps.
The brilliant thing we all see within the local business community is a resolute desire to transform uncertainty into opportunity. Business opportunities afforded by the development of an onshore gas industry in Lancashire are substantial and we absolutely believe that this potential resource can be exploited safely and responsibly with no long-term adverse effects on local communities and the environment.
And to this end, one of the first steps that we sought to take with Cuadrilla was to create a supply chain portal for Lancastrian businesses seeking to get involved in a future local shale gas industry. In early 2015 both county Chambers, working alongside Cuadrilla, launched a basic local supply chain portal in anticipation of exploration getting under way again later that year. We were delighted with the response at the time as several hundred local businesses signed up. Following the Secretary of State’s decision to grant planning permission for Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site this October, interest has spiked again, with the total number of businesses registered on the portal now standing at over nine hundred with over 80 per cent of those businesses coming from Lancashire.
So in preparation for the start of work at the Preston New Road site, we are in early January relaunching an updated local supply chain portal with more information for local businesses. Our message to local businesses who may have an interest in future work with Lancashire’s shale gas industry, is to register at www.shalegaslancashire.co.uk Cuadrilla has already demonstrated their commitment to Lancashire Businesses by selecting and appointing local suppliers.
AFC Fylde supremo David Haythornthwaite has also spoken in support of the shale gas industry
He said recently: “I am a passionate supporter of shale gas. I am standing here at what is the epicentre of the shale gas industry of Britain and the whole of Europe. It is important that we take this opportunity with both hands.
“Blackpool is just down the road with areas of high deprivation and a low wage economy.”
He added that it was not just economic and energy supply benefits, money from the industry could support community projects such as AFC Fylde’s Community Foundation where up to 300 children from deprived areas next summer were expected to take part in football related activities thanks to extra sponsorship.
Barbara Richardson of the Roseacre Awareness Group
I, like many other residents on the Fylde, am extremely worried by the news that Cuadrilla will soon be starting work at the Preston New Road site just outside Blackpool, where they intend drilling, and hydraulically fracturing, up to four exploratory wells for shale gas.
The impacts of ‘unconventional’ fossil fuel extraction are far greater than those of ‘conventional’ fracking which the industry keep referring to in effort to make it seem more acceptable. This type of fracking has only ever been done once before in the UK and that was at Preese Hall, which resulted in two earthquakes.
The process involves 24/7, 365 days a year drilling and even more invasive (high volume, high intensity) fracking and flaring of methane gas for over two years – possibly a lot longer should it move to full production.
This will have significant impacts on those communities living near the well sites including thousands of HGV movements (bringing in equipment, sand, chemicals), 24/7 noise and light pollution, using 5-8m gallons of water per well and the creation of tonnes of hazardous waste which has to be disposed of at special treatment centres elsewhere in the UK.
I do not believe many people in Lancashire realise that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Preston New Road is just the first site but it certainly will not be the last. Literally hundreds of well pads and thousands of wells would be needed right across our precious countryside if this industry is to be economically viable.
They are not pretty. These are industrial complexes each surrounded by a four-metre high security fence topped by razor wire resembling prison camps.
Is this our vision for the Fylde? Do we want to be known as the ‘largest gas field in Western Europe?’ These are Cuadrilla’s words not mine.
I am proud of the Fylde, of being a born and bred Lancashire lass. I love living here and enjoy the peace and tranquility the countryside affords. I admire the scenery and fantastic wildlife. I get pleasure from walking and cycling along our country lanes.
I do not want our countryside littered with hundreds of industrial well sites, with all the resultant noise and traffic let alone the risks to our health, our air and our water. Just imagine huge HGV’s trundling up and down our quiet country lanes posing a real danger to other road users especially those most vulnerable such as walkers, cyclists and horse riders. This is a relatively short-lived industry. Once a well has been fracked they just move onto the next well. The jobs are few, just 11 at each of the proposed sites, and mainly temporary.
The industry quotes figures, but these are for the whole life of the industry across the whole of the UK. Cuadrilla has even scored an own goal – the first jobs for site construction going to a firm in Greater Manchester not Lancashire as they promised.
I just do not understand why the Government is forcing this industry upon us when it has been rejected at every level from the residents to our County Council.
It is clearly not wanted and definitely not needed.”
Hannah Martin, energy campaigner at Greenpeace UK
Fracking doesn’t make environmental or economic sense, and the Government has a duty to represent the thousands of people across Lancashire who oppose it.
They should consider why this technology is so unpopular with local communities, and be far more rigorous in scrutinising the negative impacts of fracking like air, noise and light pollution, and harm to our climate.
With public support for fracking at an all time low, and hundreds of campaign groups like Frack Free Lancashire all across the UK, the government and fracking companies shouldn’t underestimate the strength of feeling on this issue.
The people of Lancashire have been fighting for their communities for more than five years, and it’s clear that their calls for local democracy and prioritisation of clean energy will continue in 2017.
Lancashire needs innovation and job creation, not noise, air and light pollution.
We will campaign until all levels of government show support for renewable technologies and stop prioritising fracking.”