Protesters await key decision on fracking
Residents and businesses across Lancashire are bracing themselves for fracking D-day.
The government has earmarked October 6 as the day when it will announce the decision of whether to allow two bids to test frack for natural gas from deep-lying shale rocks on the Fylde.
The Conservatives are currently holding their annual party conference in Birmingham, but it is due to end on today allowing room in the political schedule for the important announcement.
Although fracking applications have been lodged elsewhere in the country, Lancashire is seen as a test case.
As a result, the battle has been hard fought, being seen as a significant test of democracy, a clash between the environment and industry, a David and Goliath battle between big business and local communities, a struggle for the future of a new technology for this country and a chance to create jobs and wealth in the local economy.
However, if the decision comes as expected tomorrow it will not bring a closure to this controversial issue.
Residents who have lived with the worries of what they believe will be a noisy, smelly potentially health-affecting industry next door, have said they are likely to apply for a judicial review.
But that would not necessarily stop any drilling.
If the Government rules against these two applications, it does not stop Cuadrilla from looking for other sites in Lancashire and submitting new applications.
Gas exploration company Cuadrilla applied for planning permission to drill and test the flow of gas from sites on land at Roseacre Wood and Preston New Road at Little Plumpton.
But in June 2015 Lancashire County Council went against council official’s recommendations and threw out the applications along with an application to install monitoring equipment at the Preston New Road site.
An earlier application to install monitoring arrays at Roseacre Wood were passed with strict conditions.
Cuadrilla appealed against the decisions and a six week public planning inquiry was held at Blackpool Football Club’s Bloomfield Road stadium in spring this year with evidence being put forward at great length by both sides of the argument.
The government appointed inspector, Wendy McKay, then complied her report which was then sent to the Secretary of State for communities Sajid Javid who will make the decision.
That move is controversial since Fylde Council, the local parish councils and the county council have all rejected the applications and anti-fracking campaigners say that overruling local government would be anti-democractic.
The Government, however, has backed the shale gas industry saying they would go “all out for shale” as it would provide much-needed home-produced gas for the country and would create jobs and cash for the economy.
Pro-shale groups say the process can be done safely and relatively unobtrusively and the land later returned to pre-fracking conditions.
But anti-fracking campaigners say that fracking, which involves the injection of high pressure water, sand and chemicals into the shale rock to force open the strata and release the gas, could cause earth tremors, damage the environment and change the Fylde from a rural agricultural and tourism based economy to industrial.
Problems began for the fracking industry after exploratory drilling started on the Fylde in 2011.
In April 2011 the first earth tremor was noticed, followed by a second in May. In April 2012 a report linked the tremors to hydraulic fracturing operations at the Preese Hall drill site and the Government called a temporary halt to further fracking.
The moratorium was ended in December 2012 when the then Energy Secretary Ed Davey said it could go – ahead with strict monitoring and safety regulations.
Today Fylde MP Mark Menzies, in whose constituency the fracking exploration has taken place said the appeal process had been exhaustive.
He said: “I, along with a large number of people around the country, have been awaiting the outcome of the Planning Inspector’s inquiry for some time now.
“I have said all along that Lancashire County Council made a decision on these applications following a thorough and detailed examination of the evidence and those decisions should be upheld. However, the ability to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate is part of the planning process and it was perhaps unsurprising Cuadrilla Resources chose to follow that route.
“I think the length of time the public inquiry has taken shows the Planning Inspectorate takes its role in this process extremely seriously.
“Although I had hoped it would be handled quickly for the sake of those residents who have been left in an uncertain position, it was important it was examined in close detail.
“I had always been somewhat nervous by claims applications may be ‘fast-tracked’ as it did little to quell people’s concerns, so I am glad the inspector has taken all the time at her disposal to weigh up all the arguments before making her recommendation to the Minister.”
Francis Egan, chief executive officer of gas exploration firm Cuadrilla said the company had put forward a strong case at the inquiry and was now awaiting the minister’s decision.
He said:“We remain confident in our appeals case and know that shale gas exploration will bring much needed investment and job opportunities to Lancashire.
“We also know that our proposed operations will be safe.”