We write in response to The Times interview with Francis Egan, CEO of fracking company Cuadrilla, on 13 January 2019.
We are three Town and Parish Councillors from Lancashire and we too are angry. Mr Egan may be riled at claims made by some within the anti-fracking campaign. He may be confused about the government’s changing enthusiasm for an industry they once considered to be a panacea, but we are angry that three tiers of local democracy have been overturned and that the genuine fears and concerns of our communities are repeatedly disregarded.
Our government, paralysed by Brexit, blinkered to life beyond Westminster and disconnected from communities is conflicted. Ministers issue statements about a desire to see shale gas become part of the energy mix, whilst trying to claim “green” credentials in others. This not reassuring to residents living in proximity to developing fracking sites.
Championed by former Prime Minster David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne, enthralled by the seemingly economic boosts in the USA, UK fracking failed to demonstrate its viability or its competency even then. Public awareness has since grown and fracking is proving unpopular with residents and politicians alike. The most recent Wave Tracker of public opinion showed only 18% supported shale gas.
For years, local government in Lancashire has analysed and debated fracking and come to the conclusion that on the whole it is not desirable. Any potential benefits are outweighed by risks to public health and the environment. Studies on long term health impacts in the USA, which now has decades of data relating to fracking activity, suggest increased risk of cancer, miscarriage, low birthweights, respiratory disease and mental health complications.
Scientific studies around air quality, ground water contamination, earth quakes and road traffic also conclude that shale gas is best left in the ground. These conclusions have prompted decisive statements from Labour and The Green Party. Fracking is effectively banned in Wales, Scotland and Ireland and the growing resistance to it from councils across England has lead a number of Conservative MPs to also declare they will not support any changes to planning policy that would make fracking consent easier.
The complex geology of the North of England, which is heavily faulted, has along with daily around the clock protests and blockades, been a significant factor in the delays and problems encountered by drillers. Cuadrilla have previously abandoned four sites in Lancashire. The Preston New Road Site, near Blackpool is the largest to date, with permission to drill and explore fou wells before the end of 2019. Cuadrilla have recently demobilised most of the fracking equipment and have decided to concentrate efforts on one well. It appears to those of us watching, monitoring and pondering the future that the industry itself is not as confident as it likes to suggest.
The earth quake in 2011 at the now abandoned Preese Hall site has not been forgotten by those who felt it and whose homes were damaged. Predictably, in October and November of last year, within hours of the fracking process commencing at Cuadrilla’s flagship site at Little Plumpton, there were 57 tremors. Cuadrilla were quick to decry local fears, denying the quakes could damage well casings or even be a problem upon the surface. They even went so far as to commission Liverpool University to find a visual analogy for the impact. The resulting description of the impact being compared to melons dropping to the floor did little to reassure sceptics, in fact it galvanised opposition and ridicule.
Mr Egan may be convinced fracking has merit and can be done safely: we don’t share that view. Despite reassurances that regulation in the UK is tight, we have already experienced breaches in environmental permits, revisions to traffic management plans and fear that pressure will be applied to relax the necessarily tight limits upon seismic activity. Ironically, Cuadrilla themselves agreed to the Oil and Gas Authority’s Traffic Light System and were confident, before fracking commenced, that they could inject fluid at high pressure without triggering an event. After 57 tremors they now complain they cannot operate under these conditions.
Fracking has an image problem. Government, aware of this have appointed a Shale Gas Commissioner to liaise with communities in order to make them more receptive. However, whilst a few landowners may reap short term financial benefit, this is not comparable to a shale gas gold rush. Those living in proximity to the fracking site experience daily the cumulative impacts upon road traffic, noise and light pollution and policing. These impacts will exponentially increase should the Preston New Road site enter full production or Cuadrilla’s vision for hundreds of wells across Lancashire come to fruition. The damage being done to the police’s community relationships is staggering. Costing over £7m to date, leaving towns and parishes under-resourced and attracting censure from many quarters, many now question the long-term expediency of using our police in such a way.
We were interested to note that 30% of Francis Egan’s working life is spent meeting Ministers. Natascha Engel, the newly-appointed government Shale Gas Commissioner, complained on BBC Radio Lancashire last week, that the industry is unable to get its message heard amid the vocal and organised anti-fracking campaign.
We are certain that Mr Egan’s direct access to the ears of those in power sets him and the fracking industry at a distinct advantage against ordinary citizens campaigning with every last ounce of energy to secure a cleaner and healthier future for their communities.
Cllr Miranda Cox Kirkham Town Council
Cllr Julie Brickles Westby Parish Council
Cllr Dawn Ansell, Weeton Parish Council