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July 2014: Fracking Update

Fracking Update: July 2014It's only a month since the last fracking update article and we already have another seventeen headings - which means a long new article on fracking.

There have been lots of developments, and we expect the pace to increase until the autumn, when the decision on the two planning applications will have been taken.

And even that that won't b the end of it.

So without further ado, we have for you....

  1. LCC Grant Extra Time
  2. West Sussex Refuse Permission
  3. FBC Call For Moratorium
  4. Fracking Questions
  5. Prosecution Threat
  6. Carnival Fracking Ban
  7. Germany Bans Fracking
  8. House Of Commons Note
  9. New Shale Gas Report
  10. North West Energy Task Force
  11. Planning Consultation Responses
  12. Well Numbers
  13. Frack Free Food
  14. Trip To Elswick
  15. Development Plan Document
  16. More MP'S Questions
  17. Being Less Than Helpful

 1). LCC GRANT EXTRA TIME  
Lancashire County Council have sensibly and properly extended the time that people will have to study the thousands of pages that make up Cuadrilla's planning applications, and to make representations about the content.

We also understand the Environment Agency has done the same.

We're grateful to both because we want to make representation but simply would not have had time to read all the stuff without the extended time.

The closing date for representations on the planning applications for the Preston New Road site will now run until Friday 5 September and the Roseacre Wood consultation until Friday 19 September.

We understand responses to the Environment Agency's Environmental Permit (which we regard as more probably important than the planning permission) has a similar closing date.

We hear the County Council Planning Department is overwhelmed by the number of objections they are receiving. They normally publish letters of representation on the website. This helps people gauge the scale of opposition to a development, and it also helps those wishing to make representations to see what others are saying and that often sparks an angle you may not have thought of before.

But we understand LCC stopped doing this a while back and when they were phoned to ask why it had stopped (we assume it was a quite junior person who responded) because they reportedly said: (and at this point, readers might get the best understanding if you mentally use a fairly broad Lancashire accent) "her that does them is away"

Whether she's back or not yet we don't know, but they do now appear to be online up to 16 July at which time 927 representation letters had been received for just one of the sites


 2). WEST SUSSEX REFUSE PERMISSION 
'Business Green' has just reported that West Sussex County Council has unanimously rejected plans by Celtique Energie for an exploratory shale oil and gas well near Wisborough Green.

A planning committee meeting threw out Celtique's application to test drill at Northup Copse, after concerns were raised over the impact of heavy goods vehicles on the local area during the three-year licence period.

Councillor Heidi Brunsdon, Chairman of West Sussex County Council's Planning Committee, told 'Business Green' that the application raised "simply too many highways issues and other issues of concern for any decision other than refusal in this instance".

"We have noted the objections of the local community and I felt that the debate today was a full and robust one," she added.


 3). FBC CALL FOR MORATORIUM 
Fylde Council meets on Monday 28th July in the United Reformed Church Hall on St George's Road in St Annes at 7pm and there are several items of fracking interest on the agenda. We expect quite a big turnout in the public gallery, so if you want to hear what goes on, early attendance is advised.

The main fracking feature is a call for a moratorium on fracking until such time that all regulatory, health and community impacts are resolved.

This call comes from Queen Elizabeth Oades of Kirkham and we've no doubt she'll give a good account of herself.

It's not the first time a FBC Cllrs has called for a moratorium, we seem to remember Cllr Ken Hopwood saying something similar a while back when he was part of the 'task and finish' group looking into shale gas exploration.

It's unlikely that the majority party will support the call for a moratorium, but Queen Elizabeth is doing exactly the right thing by highlighting the matter. We imagine the debate will end in a recorded vote where each person has to say 'for' or 'against' or 'abstain' and the way they vote is recorded in the minutes.

That is, unless the are a lot of 'Declarations of Interest' and folk leaving the room (see the next item).

With an election approaching next May, a recorded vote  will give concerned electors an opportunity to vote for those candidates who support their view.


 4). FRACKING QUESTIONS 

Green Completion
Staying with FBC for a moment there are also four questions about fracking on the agenda for Monday's Council meeting. One from Cllr Mrs Oades and three from members of the public.

The first public question asks whether Fylde would ask LCC (the Planning Authority for minerals) to make 'Green Completion' mandatory for all phases of fracking, and for Fylde to press the Government to introduce regulation specific to on-shore, high volume fracking with regular and independent monitoring of fracking operations.

Readers may not have heard of 'Green Completion' before.

It involves introducing systems to reduce emissions, and especially methane losses during well completions.

After a new well is drilled and fracked the well bore and formation must be cleaned of debris and fracture fluid.

Usually, this involves emptying the well into pit or tank to collect waste material for disposal.

It also means collecting and storing methane rather than venting or flaring,

In effect, 'green completion' seeks to contain and control all emissions from the operation.

This seems like a sensible idea to us.

Support for Residents
The second question is submitted jointly by the Chairs of Roseacre and Preston New Road action groups, and asks, in the light of huge public concern, what actions Fylde has taken to seek independent and impartial advice (other than from the operators and government agencies who have a vested interest) to help support their constituents and to address the potentially damaging impact on our environment and protect our tourism and agriculture sectors.

Declaring Interests
There are also two questions on the topic of payments or benefits received by councillors from Cuadrilla or its agents.

One question is from the lady who chairs the Preston New Road Group, and another is from Queen Elizabeth. They both address the same topic but approach it differently.

The public question states that an extra-ordinary Westby Parish Council meeting was called to solicit feedback from residents about their concerns in relation to fracking. Almost 60 people from the sparsely populated parish attended, and all were vehemently opposed to having fracking there. The issue of payments to encourage community approval was raised (such as donations to Lowther Gardens, Fylde rugby club etc), and the questioner asked if the Parish Council or Councillors in attendance could confirm that they had not taken any money or benefit from Cuadrilla.

Her question to FBC went on to say "It was confirmed in front of this audience that 2 of our representatives had, either through their business or personally benefited in some way and therefore would have to declare an interest. This was a surprise to a large number in the audience."

So she is asking the same question of Fylde's full Council of 51 members. She asks "I would like to ask for the record have any of our local Councillors taken money or benefit from Cuadrilla?"

We expect Cllr Eaves to respond initially.

Cllr Mrs Oades is asking a similar question.

Her question asks "Can the Portfolio Holder, in consultation with the Monitoring Officer, give assurance that all councillors holding office within the area of Fylde Borough, have declared the interests they should have declared with regard to payments or benefits made to them by Cuadrilla or its agents?"

We're not altogether surprised at these questions.

For months we've been hearing unsubstantiated stories about named councillors who have allegedly received money from Cuadrilla, some are members of parish councils and others are borough councillors, and in the last few weeks this has intensified and increased in scope.

We would not usually report such matters unless we were sure of the facts - and we have only heard allegations at present, so we have not felt able to report them.

This is a very tricky area, and it has several facets.

For example, at the 'weaker' end of what some might see as concern, consider the position of a Councillor who acts as a local prominent person to receive a cheque on behalf of, say, an open and very public donation to a Village Hall Committee made by Cuadrilla or one of its agents.

Some would see this as Cuadrilla being generous to local community affected by their work. Others might see it as a way of Cuadrilla generating a 'warm fuzzy feeling' in Councillors that will subsequently be considering their requests.

At the 'harder' end might be a payment or benefit made to a Councillor who is also a landowner, and who has perhaps allowed their land to be used for say, seismic monitoring - and has received what amount to payments in compensation for the disturbance or inconvenience of the use.

The declaration of interests regulations would require a personal payment gifted to a councillor to be declared if it was over £25, but it's much less clear whether, say, a payment for the use of a farmer's land - which could effectively be considered a business to business payment - requires to be treated as an 'interest' and whether such payments should be declared or not.

It might also depend on whether the councillor was, or was not, a director of the business, for example.

See what we mean about it being a tricky business.

It's even more complicated, because - as we pointed out in "Standard Deviation" - the rules about declaring interests change dramatically in 2012 and, for example, we know of a case where it is alleged that a councillors spouse received a payment.

Under the old regulations, that would not have had to have been declared as an interest by the Councillor, but under the new regulations it would. The payment is alleged to have been made when the old regulations applied, so what is the current position?

It's a minefield for councillors to negotiate.

Readers might think - 'well the only safe way is to declare everything'.

But if that was done, we can see the potential for significant numbers of councillors to be excluded from discussing matters of great importance because - for example, they have formally received a cheque on behalf of their community.

And with regard to business to business payments, whilst some might see this as a way of avoiding making a declaration of interests, others will see it as a perfectly legitimate and completely separate business transaction - especially if the business was a separate legal entity from the councillor - like a limited company for example.

The good thing about it being on the agenda is that, with this matter being discussed (although not debated) on Monday, it provides an opportunity for an open airing of the issues, and for those who may be concerned to make their personal positions clear if they wish to do so.

Some councillors think there will be wholesale declarations of interest before Cllr Mrs Oades Motion for a moratorium on fracking is debated.

With one exception, we suspect that for the most part, that won't happen.

The exception is that where a person or group wants to vote neither for nor against the motion, and doesn't want to be seen to abstain either. Councillors in such a position could declare an interest, and leave the room whilst it is discussed.

Of course, if enough people left, the meeting might not be quorate and thus it could be unable to come to a resolution anyway.

But that's not what we expect.

We think we will hear Cllr Eaves devolve the question to a Cabinet member who has no risk of being challenged for receiving payments, (at a guess we'd not be surprised to see it passed to Princess Karen Buckley) who, using her best 'sweetness and light' manner will no doubt explain what the regulations are, then say it's up to individuals to decide whether it's necessary to declare an interest or not (which is what the regulations say of course).

It sort of answers the question. But it's not what the questioner asked.

As with most of what happens in the Cabinet system, these decisions are usually choreographed before they are announced.  Information management and control is the aim, in order to minimise opportunity for challenge and change.

Perhaps we'll be surprised on this one. We could be. We'll have to see on the night.


 5). PROSECUTION THREAT 
We hear that Fylde have moved on the issue of the anti-fracking signs at Maple Farm that we reported in 'Fracking Squatters'

Signs at Maple Farm Nurseries on the A 583

We understand they have sent a letter to the owner claiming breach of advertising consent for the signs.

They claim there is no consent for the signs and, as such, they must be removed, or the case may be referred to a Magistrates court with the threat of a fine of up to £2,500.

We understand that the letter also had a preface suggesting that the signs had made their point and ought now to be removed.

Assuming this statement is correct, we are quite amazed.

It sounds as though the requirement to remove the signs is based on - or at least linked to - the message conveyed by the signs, and there's is no legal justification for this requirement in relation to their removal.

There is no power that gives Fylde the right to require signs to be removed because they seek to censor what the signs say.

There are only two reasons for a breach of advertising consent: that the signs are detrimental to the amenity of the area; or that they endanger highway safety.

Of course, whether permission exists or not is a matter for the owner to establish if he has proof of permission being granted.

But even if he does not have, we imagine it will be difficult for Fylde to successfully claim that signs in those positions are detriment to the amenity of the area, or they are a danger to the highway when they are only a few of the plethora of signs along that stretch of the A583 with Garden Centres other than Maple Farm Nurseries leading the display. And indeed there are signs all along the A583.

We have not heard howls of indignation from other A583 businesses who have received such letters, and we don't recall reading about instances of prosecutions for this offence in Fylde in our living memory.

So to us, it looks very much as though this man is being singled out because of the content of the messages he has displayed.

We regard that as both legally and morally wrong, and if it proves to be the case, we think Fylde needs to be very careful about how it proceeds. We've no doubt there are organisations who would financially support the existence of the signs, and perhaps even help argue a claim for reputational damage against Fylde if it can be shown it *is* trying to censor what he has displayed.

In our view the argument about censorship is given even more credence by the fact that we can remember the signs being there for (probably) about 15 years and maybe longer. We recall the big ones used to say something like 'The North West's Premier Grower of Large Shrubs and Trees' or that sort of thing. And if we recall correctly, the smaller ones on the grass at the back of the footpath said things like 'Shrubs'; 'Trees'; Conifers'; 'Specimen Plants' and such like. We can't be certain, but we think they were cream and green, and they had a fancy border around them.

When we heard about Fylde's threat to the owner, we went back to the Maple Farm site to look at the signs, and whilst the ones on the roadside look to have replacement posts and signs from the original ones, the two larger ones very much appear to have been fixed over the sign that was there before to advertise the nursery business. Readers can see that for themselves from the photos below.

Sign on old trailer
It's evident this is old construction

Sign on old framework
as is this, with some recent reinforcing

Close up of sign

Now, if *we* can remember signs being there for maybe 15 years or so (which we can), we think Fylde is going to have the devil's own job of justifying why, after 15 years, they suddenly want to launch a prosecution for loss of amenity or highway safety issues because of the changed content of the signs - even if the signs didn't have a formal permission.

Letting them stand there for 15 years or so without criticism more or less defeats the argument about amenity and safety we would have thought.

Maybe some of our readers can recall seeing signs there in the past, and if so, we'd be happy to pass your contact details on to Maple Farm's owner via a mutual friend in case he needs a few folk to help him establish how long they've been there.

We think Fylde needs to be careful with their approach to fracking generally.

They risk alienating lots of residents with what appears to be turning into insolent dumbness or passive dissociation from residents concerns.

You get the impression they're doing whatever they feel they can get away with by way of not supporting the residents that elect them.

We wonder if this is just incompetence and arrogance, or whether it's part of a move to put the wishes of a political party and the prospect of income from fracking, ahead of the wishes of Fylde's residents

We saw an example of this sort of thing happen with the failure to provide the Environmental Scoping Document to Development Management Committee members who were considering it - a move which was widely condemned by all political shades on DMC.

We suspect we see it again now with this rapid-response, but ill-conceived threat of censorship of the signs, and we also illustrate what some see as yet another example of insolent dumbness at the end of this article.


 6). CARNIVAL FRACKING BAN 
We saw an email from Resident's Action on Fylde Fracking recently, joyfully urging their supporters to visit them at Ashton Gardens where they were to have a stand with other community groups as part of the Carnival celebrations. We got the impression RAFF members were going to walk in the procession and collect money for the Carnival funds, then have a stall in the gardens where they would help explain to people how they might make representations on the planning applications and to explain the issue of fracking as they saw it.

But then, only a day or so before the event, we had another urgent email from RAFF telling us it was all off, because the lady who runs the Carnival Committee had decided, after ringing round her colleagues, that it was inappropriate for an anti fracking group to have a stall in the gardens.

The logic as to why there had been a change of mind seemed to be that the Carnival Committee would not be willing to take money from Cuadrilla if it were to be offered, so in a measure of perceived fairness RAFF were being denied the ability to take part in the Carnival and to collect money for its charities as well as promoting its cause.

These situations do cause complications for Carnival organisers.

We seem to recall Defend Lytham taking part in one (we think at the height of the 'Lytham Quays' issue) and it was later said they should not have been allowed to take part in the procession and distribute 'propaganda' against the development.

This was followed by a flurry of letters to the paper supporting what they had done.

In the end we think it was decided that they would not be allowed to participate in the carnival / club day in subsequent years.

So it seems to be 'emerging policy' that if you are community group without a campaign you can join in, but not if you have a campaign going at the time.

We can see it's a tricky issue, and we wondered how an aggrieved party (were there to be one) might go about seeking a change.

For example, if it were a council run event, one might imagine there would be a complaints or appeals procedure to be followed, or one might expect to be able to approach a councillor representing your ward and ask them to take up the case on your behalf.

But the Carnival isn't the Council, and that got us wondering just what sort of entity it was, and what governance model it used.

We've seen it described and referred to by it's Chairman as 'St Annes Charity Carnival', so our first stop was the Charity Commission, to see the governing document. But the Charity Commission doesn't seem to include St Annes Carnival in its list of registered charities, so it doesn't look like a charity (albeit that it gives its surplus takings to charitable causes).

The carnival brochure doesn't cite limited liability company status nor plc, which suggests it is a plain unincorporated association and as such, not open to change except by the decision of its committee.

The Committee already seem to have opted not to allow RAFF - as a campaigning community group - to participate in the carnival and that's about that.


 7). GERMANY BANS FRACKING 
We know that France was the first country to ban fracking on its land.

We also know that the French nation is, in general, culturally more 'emotional' than most European nations. So people might say we should make allowance for that, and not place too much store on the fact that one or two European countries have imposed a ban.

But that all changed when the hard-headed, highly organised, efficient, no-nonsense German nation has also decided to shelve shale-gas drilling for the next seven years.

Their planned regulations come amid a political standoff with Russia, which is Germany's main gas supplier. But we understand that the halt was agreed in Germany because of concerns that exploration techniques could pollute groundwater.

German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks told the Wall Street Journal "There won't be [shale-gas] fracking in Germany for the foreseeable future."


 8). HOUSE OF COMMONS NOTE 
Whilst looking for something else, we came across this recent note about fracking from the House of Commons Library.

MP's get regular update briefings like this on all sorts of hot topics to keep them in the loop as to what's going on. We thought it had quite a lot of useful and clear (if not technical) information, so we're making a copy available. Readers can follow this link for the Shale Gas and Fracking House of Commons Note


 9). NEW SHALE GAS REPORT 
There's another report based on information from the 'Scientists for Global Responsibility' and the 'Chartered Institute of Environmental Health' called 'Shale Gas And Fracking: Examining The Evidence'

This briefing summarises key evidence concerning the environmental, health and wellbeing, and socio-economic aspects of fracking for shale gas in the UK.

In particular, it critically examines some of the most common industry and government claims, drawing extensively on independent academic and expert
literature. It finds several areas of concern, and will be interesting reading for those involved.


 10). NORTH WEST ENERGY TASK FORCE 
We've mentioned this body before (in 'Fracking Applications') where we said they "...now claims over 400 members and says it is 'charged with understanding how the responsible extraction of natural gas from Lancashire’s shale can be used to create jobs, generate economic growth and boost local revenues'

Their website also says 'We are supported by Centrica Energy and Cuadrilla Resources, however our activities and views are independent of our financial supporters.'

We think it was assisted into life by midwife and Minister Michael Fallon when he promised £2m for businesses that had a product that would help the fracking industry. That fund comprises 75% public money (for which, you can read 'tax we have paid') and is provided by the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Technology Strategy Board. Awards will be focused at schemes aimed at reducing the environmental impact of fracking.

The public profile of this group is growing.

Stay Blackpool is now a prominent advocate - we believe in the hope of filling its vacant bedrooms after discussions with Cuadrilla, and we understand other local accommodation providers are being approached with a view to offering accommodation or housing rentals, that sort of thing.

So the Task Force is starting to attract attention. Readers can follow this link to their website.

The proud panel members are shown on the "Task Force" page and comprise

  • Marcus Addison, Managing Director, Addison Group
  • Claire Smith, President of StayBlackpool
  • Martin Long, Chair of Blackpool Leadership Group
  • Gary Lovatt, Regional Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses
  • Steve Pye, Chairman of Lancashire TV (Former Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses Blackpool and Wyre branch)
  • Frank Mclaughlin, Retired Commercial Director
  • Michael Damms, CEO, East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce
  • Babs Murphy, Chief Executive, North & Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce
  • Bernard Whittle, Former Lancashire County Council member and Local Strategic Partnership Chairman
  • John Kersey, Chairman of the Lancashire branch of the Institute of Directors
  • Lee Petts, Managing Director, Remsol
  • Rob Green, Head of Enterprise and Investment, Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Economic Development Company
  • Sean Lord, Director, Lytham Technology
  • Nick Campbell, Risk Manager, Inspired Energy PLC.

The group claims over 400 members but these are spaced throughout the UK, not just in the North West and not just in Fylde.

The website currently (July 2014) lists the following businesses as being North West Energy Task Force Supporters within Fylde Borough

  • Fylde Homes Search, St Annes
  • Delta Imperial Credit, St Annes
  • Mr Robert Marchant, Lytham
  • Helical Technology, Lytham
  • Charlotte Traynor, Westby
  • Frank McLaughlin NWETF Panel Member, Lytham
  • The Birley Arms Hotel, Warton
  • Nick Campbell NWETF Panel Member, Kirkham
  • Walton Coach Hire, Freckleton
  • Bernard Whittle NWETF Panellist, Freckleton
  • Premier Hose Technologies, Clifton Business Park
  • Bonds Of Elswick, Elswick
  • Primrose Bank Caravan Park, Weeton

So a far as Fylde is concerned, it maybe isn't as big as it appears from the headline number.

But they're on a recruitment drive at present, and have written to local businesspeople to invite them to an event this evening. The invitation says

"Have you ever considered how shale gas extraction in the region will affect the local area, you or your business?

Join the North West Energy Task Force for our drinks reception to find out more about the potential local benefits from shale gas extraction, as well
as the launch of our policy paper on the topic. The event will also feature a short panel discussion and Q&A. 

Representatives of Cuadrilla, the local operator, will be in attendance as well as local business leaders and experts. 

The details of the event are as follows: 

Date: 24th July 2014
Location: Paradise Room, Blackpool Pleasure Beach, 525 Ocean Boulevard,
Blackpool, FY4 1EZ
Time: 17.00-19.00

Drinks and canapes will be provided. 

We hope you will be able to join us!"

We haven't had an invitation, and don't plan to go ourselves, but if any of our readers are going we'd welcome an email with your views of the event.


 11). PLANNING CONSULTATION RESPONSES 
We said earlier in this article that there were 927 representations on one of the Planning applications from members of the public.

In addition to those, LCC have consulted a number of statutory and other bodies for their view.

Some of these offer the usual claptrap which - in effect - says 'We're not exactly ecstatic, it's probably possible to do what's being asked, but not enough information has been provided to us, and it will involve a lot of work to agree it. We don't want to be seen to be difficult if we object on this basis now, so please insert a condition that says the applicant has to sort it out later with us"

In effect this puts all the decision-taking on that matter out of sight of members of the Council taking the decision.

We regard conditions such as this as an abuse of process.

You could almost treat the whole application this way if you were minded to do so and avoid the democratic input altogether.

The point of the planning application is so that all the matters of concern can be addressed by those taking the decision.

The practice of inserting conditions is growing in intensity. Conditions used to be about things like making sure the hedge was kept, or agreeing the colours of the bricks to be used and so on, but these days, great swathes of decision-making in hugely important matters like drainage an flooding are often dealt with 'by conditions.'

Awful.

But some consultees are more open and honest, and amongst them, it seems, are the Airport and air safety folk.

We've seen their responses to the LCC request for comments.

The National Air Traffic Services (NATS) responded to the Preston New Road application to say "The proximity, physical size and relative orientation of the development, is sufficient to reduce the probability of detection of real aircraft at low elevations as well as the generation of false tracks on the RSS St Annes SSR."

So NATS has just (24 July) made a formal objection to the application.

Blackpool Airport says it is "minded to object" and they have communicated that to Cuadrilla before they officially put in the objection.

Their concern centres around potential for birdstrike. They say "any land under or close to the runway 28 approach which is made attractive to geese will almost certainly increase the risk of bird strike."

Privately, we heard it alleged that this concern was not exactly as set out, but it was to do with methane flaring might that might be disturbing the flight path of the migratory geese, or at least making other parts of the area more attractive to them.

And Blackpool Airport have suggested to Cuadrilla that they should produce a bird strike risk assessment and mitigation plan as soon as possible in order that the information can be reviewed and discussed.

The Bird Strike mitigation plan sounds harmless, but those interested might like to take a look at the fiendishly complicated plan agreed between the Airport and Kensington as part of the Queensway Appeal Inquiry.

Overall the Planning Inspector recommended agreeing the appeal, but as we said in our report of the lnquiry, "The inspector noted the matter and said he had looked at the Bird Control plan, but going through it the thing that struck him was that it all seemed very complicated, and that suggests something is fundamentally wrong. He asked about netting to be put on ponds to stop ducks and so on using them, and he heard about spikes being fitted to lamp posts to stop gulls landing and "loafing" on them, and it seemed to us that he remained concerned, but Kensington's barrister told him everyone was satisfied with this process."

The key problem on Queensway was the contradictory needs of the RSPB and Natural England who want to attract birds and protect them, and Blackpool Airport who (for what we consider to be entirely understandable reasons) don't want their jet engines turned into impromptu goose ovens.

For the detail on what was said about bird control at the Queensway Inquiry, readers should refer to our article 'Queensway Inquiry Diary'


In essence, the objection from the RSPB and Natural England was eventually neutralised by the offer of a large 'Farmland Conservation Area' away from the flightpath which would be landscaped and farmed exclusively for the benefit of the wild birds.

Readers can follow this link for a copy of the Queensway Bird Control Plan,  and this link for a copy of the Blackpool Airport Risk Assessment relating to birds produced for the Queensway Inquiry.

Readers can also see the formal report of the Inspector to St Eric Pickles (who took the actual decision). This also deals with the 'bird problems' and is available by clicking this Planning Inspector's Report link.

Briefly the Bird Control Plan included

  • setting up a pre-development "Queensway Bird Control Unit" unit to scare away the birds. This would be funded by Kensington for 3.5 days a week before and during the development. This would be in addition to Blackpool Airport Bird Control Unit who operate at present.
  • using bioacoustics, and bird-scaring rockets and cartridges
  • using falcons - which are probably the most acceptable method for most folk, but....
  • If these fail, it moved to culling, and there are detailed proposals for shooting even the highly valued Pink Footed Geese and other birds.
  • The report even goes on to suggest what sort of weapon should be used and which fields would be the best to shoot from.
  • In several places the report says the development won't attract more birds. That's probably right, but the farmland conservation area - which is designed specifically to attract them and the use of tons of potatoes each year specifically thrown on the fields for food in the Farmland Conservation Area pretty certainly will attract them.
  • We recommend that readers don't miss para 9.4 on page 22 where it says "Provision has been made in the proposed Bird Hazard Management Plan for the use of all currently accepted methods of active control to be used in the development area and the FCA (Farmland Conservation Area) Some methods of control may, however, be unsuitable for use around residential areas either because of noise nuisance or a perceived danger (bird scaring cartridges, rockets and bioacoustics)" That, of course, just leaves the options of falcons and shooting!

We never believed this 2009 bird control plan was a satisfactory arrangement, we thought it was little short of a fudge to overcome the Airport's objections on paper, and we recall wondering at the time what the impact of marksman-shot geese falling into the playground of the proposed school might be on the children playing there.

The Airport's current consultation response to LCC also says "Cuadrilla for obvious reasons would prefer to address the concerns we have prior to the airport putting in an official objection and have advised us that they have agreed a 12 week consultation extension period with yourselves."

The Airport have asked LCC that before they "'stand down' the safeguarding team can you confirm that this is indeed the case. Of course it still may be that the airport has no choice but to continue with the objection but we would prefer to have all the necessary information to hand before proceeding"

So it looks as though the airport and Cuadrilla will be meeting behind closed doors over the next few weeks to see what they can sort out together.

Public Health England's response say they have "....no significant concerns in relation to the potential emissions from the site adversely impacting the health of the local population from this proposed activity, providing that the applicant takes all appropriate measures to prevent or control pollution, in accordance with the relevant sector technical guidance or industry best practice."

What a lily-livered response that is.

If its done properly it will all be OK.

We could have written that for them for heaven's sake!

They do go on to say, however, that they have "....highlighted areas where the planning authority may wish to request additional information to support the conclusions presented by the applicant."

We can't exactly decipher the meaning of this, but it looks to us to be saying some of the assertions made by the applicant don't have the facts to back them up.

Readers can see all the consultation responses by going to http://planningregister.lancashire.gov.uk/planappsearch.aspx  and entering the relevant application number.....

 CORRECTION 25.07.14 
We're grateful to the reader who pointed out that there are TWO planning applications for each site

LCC/2014/0096  and
LCC/2014/0097   (for the Little Plumpton / Preston New Road application), and

LCC/2014/0101
LCC/2014/0102  (for the Roseacre one)

in the Application Number search box at the top of that form, then press the 'submit' button

Our reader advised that it is important that if people want to object they are directed to both applications on each site. We aplogise to readers for our inaccuracy in this instance.


 12). WELL NUMBERS 
There's a lot of debate going on about how many wells will be drilled in Fylde if production goes ahead.

That might seem like a long time off, but readers should remember that the present application is for both testing AND production, so with a few tweaks, an approval granted now is an approval for full production capacity on these sites as well.

That's why those in the know are making (and we expect they will continue to make) such a fuss at the present time.

We've seen all sorts of estimates for the eventual number of wells in Fylde - ranging from about 40 to about 120,000.

That's a big range.

Part of the trouble is about what constitutes 'a well.'

We start off with a wellpad - a carpet of hard surface compacted to give an area suitable for working in all weathers and able to support heavy vehicles.

In size, this might be between the previous (say Singleton) site size of around half a football pitch, to the proposed Roseacre and Preston New Road sites which we believe are to be just a bit bigger than a football pitch.

Each of these will start with one well being drilled and, at the appropriate depth, the drill will turn through a slow right angle to enable horizontal drilling for considerable distances.

Furthermore, each vertical drill might have several lateral pipes coming off it in various directions - a bit like the rays of a flower.

And each of these radii of laterals can be stacked one above the other in the deep shale rock layer.

Some people describe this as the 'Christmas Tree' effect

Adding to the complication of 'what is a well', each lateral might be fracked several times, and over several years, to tease out as much of the gas as possible, and each football pitched sized wellpad might support 6 to 10 separate vertical wells.

So deciding how many 'wells' there will be in Fylde is a very complicated matter.

We saw a 2012 letter from Cuadrilla to the Energy Minister, in which Mr Egan said there could be 10 vertical drills, each with 8 horizontal drills per vertical one.

That would put 80 subsurface wells per football pitch sized area of land.

At that time Cuadrilla envisaged 10 wellpads over the whole of its licence area within 10 years, giving something like 800 'wells'

Since then, the estimate of gas available has increased to 25% of the UK's needs (3 trillion cubic feet). Some believe this to be an absurd amount, but with whatever the increased expectation is, there is a corresponding increase in the number of wells.

We heard one person we know say that quite early on, they had agreed some assumptions with Cuadrilla's Marc Miller and had jointly estimated approximately 3,500 to 4,000 wells on the Fylde Coast over a period of 10 to 15 years.

But even then, it all depends on the rate at which gas flow diminishes over time. There is also debate about how many years the gas could flow, and some believe it will be 20 years, not 10 or 15.

Durham University has said they think 500 wells over 20 years is probably a high number, but we know very able people who vehemently contest this, and are challenging their suggested number.

One in particular who knows his stuff tells us that Cuadrilla have repeatedly indicated an ambition to drill 4,000 wells in the PEDL165 licence area alone. So they cannot see how the Durham University report can possibly say 500 wells is a very high estimate over twenty years.

And that 500 is made all the more unlikely because we understand that Durham's Professor Andy Aplin had told a conference that it would take 33,000 wells to drain part of the Upper Bowland shale alone.

So at present, there is no unanimity about how wells should be counted and how many there will be.

The numbers are important because the materials numbers in the production process are simply enormous. They affect the overall volume of water that will be taken, and the amount of contaminated flowback water that will have to be (probably) be tankered away to be treated. All this is quite apart from the impact of noise and pollution from the gas flaring if that continued - and so on.

So the number of wells is very important.

It's something Cuadrilla are reluctant to discuss - understandably so, because they cannot predict the future and what the drop-off rate will be, and what UK taxation policy might be and so on.

We expect this to be a topic that rumbles on for a while longer.


 13). FRACK FREE FOOD 
We mentioned in our last update  June 14: Fracking Update that we'd heard about moves to explore the extent of concerns within Fylde's farmers and the food supply chain.

We now understand there is a campaign to show how farmers and growers are fearful of their produce being downgraded or blacklisted if it can from an area where fracking took place.

We see the early stages of this now under the banner of the 'Lancashire Frack Free Food Alliance' whose aim is to 'protect our local food economy from oil and gas industrialisation'.

Food related businesses are being urged to make contact and provide a quotation as to why they oppose fracking in the UK, and to download one a Frack Free Food posters to display on their premises.

We reproduce a small one below so readers have an idea what they are like.

Frack Free Food


 14). TRIP TO ELSWICK 
Together with a friend, we took a trip to Elswick Village Hall (always a pleasant experience) to meet the folk from the Environment Agency who were having what was billed as an informal information session (although it was actually a formal consultation on Cuadrilla's application for an environmental permit).

Tables were set out with different experts at each - one dealing with health and safety, one with the impact and radiation content of gas flaring, another with flowback and pollution etc.

We hoped they met regularly to talk to each other (though some folk have told us they don't think they do it enough).

We chose the 'flowback table' and sat down.

Initially we had a talk with a very pleasant young lady, but it was soon evident we really needed to speak with her colleague who, she said, was the main expert in this matter and would be, or at least would have a hand in, deciding the licence application.

We began by saying we understood the water and sand and various chemicals would be pumped down, then, whilst it was down there it would pick up other chemicals and elements that were present in the shale and that these included low levels of radiation called 'Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material' (NORM).

We also understood that because of the NORM in this material, all the flowback water had to be taken to a specialist processing plant where (as we described in some detail in Fracking Treatment) a whole shedload of other chemicals would be used to make sure all the solids and dangerous elements were flocculated out and settled, together with the NORM, in a cake of sludge at the bottom of the treatment tank.

This cake would then be dried and skipped away to a landfill site.

We first asked where it would go to. The answer was it was not yet known. (The EA seem very reluctant to let people know where the waste will be disposed of. We imagine this is because not many folk would like to think that radioactive material (however low level) was being dumped near to them)

We asked if it might be taken to Freckleton Marsh tip because that has a low level radioactive capability (as we showed in Glowing in The Dark?). The answer was again, it's not yet known where it will be taken, but after some pressing the nice man form the EA was able to confirm that Freckleton Marsh was a site that would be capable of taking it.

We also asked whether the Environment Agency tested the flowback water to see the levels of chemicals and radiation in it.

The answer was that they didn't.

They relied on Cuadrilla submitting truthful reports about the test results they have done.

The EA did add that the receiving waste processing centre could, if it wished, undertake tests to confirm that the material they were about to accept was as described by Cuadrilla.

We asked if the EA would get a copy of this, and they said not usually, and there was no requirement to test incoming waste anyway, the receiving station could rely on the analysis provided by Cuadrilla.

We weren't much impressed with this approach. We - and most of the other people we heard asking during the evening - thought it was really self-regulation by Cuadrilla and that didn't seem to be appropriate.

We then asked the main question that was troubling us.

Given that quite a lot of fuss was being made of treating the flowback water - which was only in contact with the shale rock for a comparatively short time - we couldn't understand why the waste product from the actual drilling didn't also warrant the same concern and treatment.

We were told it was 'out of scope'

There are, apparently, three levels of EA Permitting

'Out of scope' in effect means its not even worth considering

'Exempt' applies to certain classes that are automatically exempted from needing a permit - for example a simply storage on site whilst awaiting transport off site.

'Permit Required' means what it says on the tin.

The bit we couldn't understand is that the drill goes down through the various strata into the shale and cuts the drill hole.

To make the drill-bit work efficiently a lubricant is needed at the drill-head and this produces a waste product  known as 'drilling muds' back at the surface.

Given that the mud comprised the lubricant and the ground up rock and shale which has been there for a very long time - maybe millions of years - over which, it has had time to accumulate all manner of elements (and, we presume the  radiation that it imparts to the fracking fluid) and so on, we simply couldn't see that it could be classed as 'out of scope' when the flowback water - a comparatively 'Johnny Come Lately' medium was treated much more seriously.

We also know of other concerns (as we set out in Fracking Applications) about this flowback material which we suspect is being excluded from proper treatment under existing regulations by a particular (and in our view, improper - classification that the EA is giving to it).

So we're sorry to say that the Elswick trip didn't inspire confidence, nor did it convince us that all was good (let alone 'well') with the regulatory process and - we suspect in common with many - we will be making our views known as a consultation response.

We got the impression that this message had been received by the EA - the pressure of public opinion had made its mark, and they had noted it. Whether they do anything about it we'll have to wait and see.

Another aspect of this that worries us is that the Government has said that Local Planning Authorities (in this case LCC) may not take into account those aspects of shale gas extraction that are the province of other regulators such as the Environment Agency or the Health and Safety Executive.

LCC as the Planning Authority may only consider the land use aspects of planning and must trust that other regulatory agencies have done a proper job.

This means that County Councillors will have a very limited palette of matters to consider, and again, it feels like the Government is rigging the table in favour of permission before the debate is had.


 15). DEVELOPMENT PLAN DOCUMENT 
We hear that Lancashire County Council has decided to produce a Development Plan Document (DPD) for Shale Gas as part of the (we think awful) short term, loose-leaf planning system introduced by Mr Blair when he was in Government.

A DPD looks at a specific aspect of planning (either a topic like this, or a geographic area or whatever) and examines all the aspects of it, but it does so with a cool head, outside of and separate from any individual application.

The idea is that decisions taken in the abstract will be better decisions.

We know a few folk who would disagree with that.

But the point most of our friends who know about these things are making is that, there's not much point trying to produce something in the abstract when you're up to your armpits in applications, and secondly, by allowing (or even refusing) Cuadrilla's request for planning permission, they will be setting a precedent for a policy that should be borne of neutrality and abstract principle.

We also believe that the DPD won't be completed until AFTER the current applications have been determined, so the two applications - at Preston New Road and Roseacre will, by then, have set a precedent which will carry enormous weight.

Perhaps predictably, those opposed to fracking want LCC to call a halt to the current application until the DPD, or indeed the revised Minerals Plan is completed.

We can absolutely see the logic of that, but we suspect it's not going to happen.


 16). MORE MP'S QUESTIONS 
Our MP Mark Menzies has been asking more questions. The first sounded like a warning shot about flooding. He asked the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change "what steps he is taking to ensure that the risk of flooding is taken into account in any potential shale gas sites."

The Minister (at the time Michael Fallon) replied in suitably formal terms that "Any development (including a shale gas site) that is planned near a main river or a flood defence (including a sea defence) will require a flood defence consent from the Environment Agency. The Environment Agency is a statutory consultee in the planning process and can object to any development that they consider to be at high risk of flooding." adding that "The Environment Agency will continue to assess each site on a case by case basis and work with operators and local planning to ensure sites are protected from flood risk."

The second was also to Minister Fallon and it asked "what steps he is taking to ensure that the views of homeowners are taken into account before any change in existing trespass legislation to allow for horizontal shale gas drilling."

Michael Fallon replied "We are currently running a 12-week consultation on proposals for underground drilling access for shale gas, oil and geothermal energy. Home owners are invited to take part in this consultation, and can respond by post, e-mail or by using our online portal. The Government will not make a decision on this issue until we have analysed the consultation responses. This feedback may help to refine the existing proposal, develop an alternative proposal or convince the Government that the existing system is fit for purpose.

In addition to the consultation, we have engaged with groups or organisations that represent home owners. We held workshops in February and March this year, which were attended by representative groups such as the Country Landowner’s Association, the National Farmers Union and a number of local authorities and elected representatives."

Responses to that consultation have to be made by: 15 August 2014 and readers wishing to respond (as we have already done), can find information about doing so by following this link to the Government's "Underground Drilling Access" consultation page


 17). BEING LESS THAN HELPFUL 

We said earlier in the article that we thought Fylde needed to be careful with their approach to fracking generally.

We said "They risk alienating lots of residents with what appears to be turning into insolent dumbness or passive dissociation from residents concerns. You get the impression they're doing whatever they feel they can get away with by way of not supporting the residents that elect them. "

Another example came to us this week as well.

As with the previous Environmental Scoping Document, Lancashire County Council has again consulted FBC - but this time on Cuadrilla's planning application (which LCC will determine).

It's possible that Fylde's officers might try to use their delegated powers to respond to this consultation themselves.

But if they learned from the last escapade, they will ask the Development Management Committee to decide what response to make.

Que Sera, Sera.

But either way, members of the public affected by the application are entitled to make representations and observations to influence what FBC (either officers or members) has to say.

We also imagine Parish Councils in Fylde might like to be consulted in case they have any observations to send to LCC. (especially those directly affected by the application)

It's not clear to us at present whether LCC will do that directly with the parishes (we think probably not) or via the Borough Council (which we think more likely)

So what did Fylde do to encourage people to provide representation?

Did they email or write to the local groups telling them of the opportunity.

Did they add it into a notice they were publishing in the Gazette or the Express?

Did they highlight the opportunity to comment on possibly the most important planning application in our lifetime on the front page of their website?

See what you think.

We reproduce below a letter sent to FBC expressing concern about the lack of publicity for consultation, and delivering a formal complaint.

Just to be clear, this letter did not come to us from the author, it came via a trusted third party and we believe it to be genuine.

Even so, readers will understand why we have removed the author's identity.


"Dear Mr Hoyle

I have close family and friends living within 250 metres of one of Cuadrilla's proposed drilling and fracking sites on Preston New Road.

I have registered objections with Lancashire County Council but learnt that Fylde was a statutory consultant on the matter; I learnt this with a degree of surprise as this fact has not been in the public domain until very recently. As a statutory consultant, Fylde Borough Council's opinion matters. I was told you were taking consultative views on this and tried to search your website in order to object, but to no avail.

I have just spent a long time on the phone to a Customers Services adviser named Angie. She is a very helpful person and did her best to find what to do, taking advice from her senior colleagues. Initially, she told me that the objections only went to Lancashire, but when I insisted she was wrong, she discovered that you are indeed consulting. She did not know this!

I then asked her to give me the pathway to object to the Preston New Road planning application. Angie was then given the wrong pathway by someone in the Planning Department, despite my being quite precise in what I asked for, sending me to the Roseacre plans not Preston New Road plans.

Eventually, she got the correct information and I have lodged my objection.


MY COMPLAINT:

For a planning application which is so controversial, the procedure for commenting should be easy to find - it is not.

Additionally, all Customer Service people should be aware of the existence of this process and should most definitely not misinform people who enquire, wrongly directing them to Lancashire County Council.

Finally, when a specific plan is requested, the details coming back from Planning should be accurate.

This obfuscation could simply be due to inefficiency or human error; neither is an attractive conclusion to reach, however, an even less savoury conclusion is that objections are not welcome and one way to discourage people is to make the process difficult to access.

Lastly, after submitting my objection, I received an email saying my comments had been "truncated". Nothing in the process prior to submission said that my objection was over-long. In case my objection has been truncated, I attach it in full and ask you to send it to the relevant person.

You will detect more than a whiff of suspicion about the planning process for this application. Please read my objections to gather my reasons for feeling that democratic transparency is being compromised to smooth the pathway for Cuadrilla.

I look forward to your reply."


You can see why we say Fylde needs to be careful with Fracking.

The customer service in this matter is truly appalling, and that from a Council with one of the best customer service officers we have ever met as its current Chief Executive.

We hope he will take this matter in hand and sort out the processes that allowed it to happen.

That being the case, the latest sign to go up at Maple Farm may not have as much resonance.

Sign at Maple Farm Nurseries on the A 583

 


 

 ~~~~~~~~ DAVE'LL FIX IT ~~~~~~~~

Three articles ago, we introduced this panel so show how, in his enthusiasm to support fracking, David Cameron took the first small steps on a slippery slope. He began with saying how important he thinks fracking is, but he's now changing UK law to make it easier for frackers to operate. We expect to record and publish each of his steps as we publish future fracking articles.

However, the list has already grown too big to include it in the web page, so it's now downloadable as a PDF file. So if you want to see some of the legal and financial sidesteps Government had made to help and encourage fracking in the UK - follow this link to 'Dave'll Fix It'

Dated:     24 July 2014


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