A Fracking Good Move: Lancashire Tells Shale Gas Extractors To…

Preston New Road and Roseacre drilling operations kyboshed

  • Traffic and health concerns key to rejection;
  • But Government still sees potential for fracking elsewhere in the UK.

Lancashire County Council voted 9 to 3 against the hydraulic fracturing of a proposed site of Preston New Road. Having already voted against fracking in Roseacre, today’s news was a relief for anti-fracking protestors and local residents.

The news was met with celebration outside County Hall in Preston. Friends of the Earth member Jamie Peters said the decision “shows people power has worked,” and that “the councillors have listened to what people want.” In addition to the three votes in favour, there was three abstentions.

Fylde Deputy Mayor Karen Speak said she “felt like she had won the lottery”. Councillor Marcus Johnstone said it was “one of the biggest planning decisions ever” for Lancashire County Council. From Greenpeace UK, Daisy Sands regarded the decision as “a Waterloo for the fracking industry”.

Not everyone shared the same opinions of Messrs Peters and Johnstone nor Ms. Speak or Ms. Sands. Dr Adam Marshall from the British Chambers of Commerces thought the decision was “perverse, short-sighted and timid”. Babs Murphy, North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive claimed “the councillors appear to have ruled with their hearts, rather than their heads” and that it was “bad news for local businesses”. Similarly displeased was Claire Smith, the president of Stay Blackpool regarding the decision as “a missed opportunity”, in relation to regenerating the resort.

After Lancashire County Council’s rejection, Cuadrilla may be likely to appeal. Lancashire or not, the government is still interested in making the UK a European centre for shale gas extraction. In the previous parliament, tax breaks had had been handed to shale gas prospectors – consistently diverting resources from wind farms or subsidised solar energy. The Lancashire County Council decision could be overturned by central government.

If plans went ahead, Cuadrilla would have began operations at any of the two sites. The Preston New Road site was close to Little Plumpton, a picturesque village whose residents could have woken up to drills as loud as Jumbo Jets. Roseacre, where plans were turned down due to traffic concerns, would have had a great affect on dairy farming. The width of the roads and effects on traffic coming in to Blackpool and Fleetwood could have piled on more misery for its residents.

The Little Plumpton site was close to Weeton, scene of Cuadrilla’s 2011 test drills which led to earthquakes.

How Fracking Works

For the benefit of those who have missed the diagram last time:

The Fracking Process. Source: Wiklmedia Commons
How Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking) works. Source: Wikimedia Commons
  1. Fracking demands thousands upon thousands of gallons of water per well. Supposing we use the Fylde Coast as an example, that’s 200 trucks along the M55 per well. A staggering 800 trucks for the quartet of wells if the Little Plumpton site went ahead!
  2. Fracturing fluid (a mix of water, sand and chemicals) is pumped into the well.
  3. With the well injected, intense pressure causes the rock surrounding the pipe to crack. Natural gas flows from fissures into the well.
  4. The fracturing fluid is pumped into Flowback ponds, with a gas range from 15 – 20% to 30 – 70%.
  5. The used fracturing fluid is sent to a wastewater treatment and waste disposal plant. Sometimes it can be recycled, though this process is often time consuming and expensive. Whatever happens, another 800 lorries along the M55 from Little Plumpton.

East of the M60 Comment:

The Right Move at the Right Time

This morning wasn’t only a seminal moment for the people of Lancashire. It was a good one for spaceship Earth. With fossil fuels ever more a finite resource, the last thing our planet needs is another excuse to pollute Earth. Investment in renewable energy sources should come first and foremost.

Since 2011, the words ‘hydraulic fracturing’ or ‘fracking’ was on the lips of many a northerner. The storyline goes way beyond the fact we found another fossil fuel to go for from behind our sofas. It is the social cost. Not only the noise, inflammable tap water but also the cost to the Fylde peninsula’s agricultural industries. Your Blackpool tomatoes: tainted; your cows milk, probably contaminated.

That’s before we mention the earthquakes and air pollution from burning off the gases. Here’s where we look at the mental and physical health of our people from Stalmine to Warton. Not only the Fylde: the rest of Northern England, ultimately the rest of Britain.

Mentally the added noise pollution, dust, or the fear of inflammable water would have taken one hell of a hit to its residents. People wishing to move out to less polluted clines would have struggled to sell their house. Blackpool already has high death rates from heart disease and cancers – all of which could have been exacerbated by a short term pursuit for shale gas.

In spite of the cries from Stay Blackpool, fracking could have a negative effect on tourism. A trip to the seaside could be marred by throat infections and nose bleeds or worse. Hoteliers exposed to chemicals from boarding contractors could suffer ill health in spite of taking money from their digs.

Not only that, one of the joys of a run to Blackpool – let alone promenading along the Golden Mile would have marred significantly. Coaches could be stuck behind Cuadrilla’s flotilla of tankers. The beautiful rural aspect of a drive or bus trip to Lytham, Pilling or Fleetwood could be marred by tall drills and barren landscapes. The villages which make for idyllic wedding venues, shadows of their former selves.

Fight Against Fracking Must Continue

As one story ends, another one begins. The people of Lancashire and associated bodies, such as Frack Free Lancashire, should continue their fight to stop fracking for good. With hydraulic fracturing banned by the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament, the fight to keep England frack free continues. A number of North West MPs and MEPs, including Denton and Reddish Labour MP Andrew Gwynne, has called for a moratorium on fracking.

The use of Northern England as a guinea pig for the Conservatives’ pro-fracking policies could well be an own goal. A substantial number of objectors may well have voted Tory this year. Owing to its population of Labour voters and continued investment of London and South East England, you could be forgiven for thinking that Northern English citizens were expendable.  You could be forgiven for thinking they were fair game for Victorian levels of pollution and longevity.

The fight against hydraulic fracturing isn’t only about our need for alternative energy. It is about our health, our part in the stewardship of our home. That of Spaceship Earth. That of leaving a liveable world for future generations. In spite of today’s victory we cannot sit still. Expect more tax cuts in the budget next week for shale gas prospectors.

On hearing the news this lunchtime, we were most elated. Well done not only to the people of Lancashire but also the tireless campaigners against this dirty form of energy from further afield. As of now, their work is far from complete.

S.V., 29 June 2015.

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