The shale gas company, Cuadrilla, has applied to change the rules on working hours at its Preston New Road site near Blackpool.

An application to Lancashire County Council, dated 13 October 2017, seeks to allow deliveries to the site outside the hours set in the conditions of the original planning permission.

According to figures from the company, it could mean more than 1,000 vehicles delivering at night or on Sundays.

Cuadrilla said the change would “actively reduce the possibility” of harm to the environment and local amenity. Preston New Road Action Group, which has campaigned against Cuadrilla’s operations, said local residents should not be subjected to further night-time disturbance.

The company has described the change as a non-material amendment and has not been advertised in the local media.

Avoid breaches by changing the rules

The application comes after an accepted breach of the planning permission on 27 July 2017 when the company brought in the drilling rig at about 4.45am. This broke condition 19, which sets the hours during which deliveries can be made. DrillOrDrop report

Lancashire County Council wrote to Cuadrilla requiring the company to put in place measures to prevent further breaches.

In the reply, obtained by DeSmog UK through a freedom of Information request, Cuadrilla said it aimed to avoid breaching planning conditions in future by applying to change the rules.

The company said:

“With regard to the measures that Cuadrilla plans to put in place in respect to adherence of planning condition 19 … we plan to seek a variation of this condition that will allow for a limited number of deliveries outside of normal working hours”.

The campaign group, Frack Free Lancashire, told DeSmog UK

“Robust regulations are translating to mean weak and feeble: they are not worth the paper they are printed on and any further applications to alter planning conditions should be refused.”

Last week, some members of the council’s development control committee criticised Cuadrilla for failing to comply with planning conditions at another shale gas site in Lancashire. DrillOrDrop report

“Targeted by activists”
In the new application, Cuadrilla has justified the request to change the delivery hours by saying:

“deliveries to the Cuadrilla shale gas exploration site off Preston New Road have been regularly targeted by anti-fracking activists.”

In July, the anti-fracking group, Reclaim the Power, coordinated a month of actions outside the site. Cuadrilla listed in the application documents 20 days of disruption on Preston New Road.

The company said there were “a number of occasions” on when emergency ambulances were unable to get to their destination by the fastest possible route. On other occasions, the company said, patient transport vehicles had to take alternative routes to avoid protester activity.

Cuadrilla said:

“Whilst the typical level of disturbance along Preston New Road varies from month to month, it is reasonable to assume that the targeting of deliveries to the Cuadrilla shale gas exploration site off Preston New Road by antifracking activists will be an ongoing occurrence for the foreseeable future.”

A spokesperson for Preston New Road Action Group told DrillOrDrop:

“When the conditions were defined by the inspector after the public inquiry they were done so after much consideration.

“If requests to change those conditions are granted, then it calls into question the ability of the operator to work within the rules laid out for them.

“It should be noted that the root cause for the disruptions to a major highway is due to Cuadrilla choosing this location for a site and massively underestimating the strength of opposition that they would face.

“Local residents should not be subjected to any additional night time noise disturbance.”

Overnight and Sunday deliveries
Delivery times are set out in the Preston New Road Traffic Management Plan, which is now in at least it’s eleventh version.

Cuadrilla proposes another version with a new sub-section that would allow delivery or removal of material outside the previously agreed working hours of 7.30am-6.30pm Monday to Friday and 8.30am-12 noon on Saturdays.

Cuadrilla said deliveries should be allowed at other times if they were connected to four operations: drilling, fracking, flaring and installing a gas pipe and connection to the national grid.

The application seeks a maximum of nine single convoy deliveries or removals.

A spokesperson for the company said this would mean be nine two-way trips over the period of a phase of work, such as drilling or flow testing. There would be no limit on the number of vehicles in a single convoy. But the spokesperson said it was not expected to be more than 30.

The total number of vehicles could be more than 1,000 if the company were to make the maximum number of convoy deliveries, each with 30 vehicles, for the four operations.

The company said the deliveries would be made “in exceptional circumstances and following discussion with Lancashire Police”.

‘Exceptional circumstances’ are defined by Cuadrilla as:

“the scheduled delivery or removal of materials which are considered by Cuadrilla to be at high risk of direction action from protesters. This risk could be to the nature of the delivery or removal (for example the drilling rig), the scheduled timing of the delivery or removal coinciding with known increased protestor activity, or the combination of the two.”

Cuadrilla said the proposed amendment would not result in any “significant adverse effects” on the environment or on local amenity. This was because of “the infrequent nature of such deliveries (or removals) and the short duration of such of such deliveries (or removals) together with the associated temporary, short-term (if any) impacts.”

The company did not expect noise limits, also set by a planning condition, would be exceeded.

The application also seeks to add activities that can be carried out 24 hours a day/seven days a week.

The application lists the operations that have restrictions on working hours as: site construction, installation of the connections to the gas and water grids and the delivery and removal of equipment for drilling and extended flow testing. These operations are limited to 7.30am-6.30pm Monday-Friday and 8.30am-12 noon on Saturday.

Pumping for hydraulic fracturing is limited to 8am-6pm Monday-Friday and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

The application notes that 24/7 working is allowed for:

Drilling boreholes
Operational management of drilling and extended flow testing
Well operations
Flowback and testing (but not hydraulic fracturing)
Essential repairs to site plant and equipment
Cuadrilla is now seeking to add to the 24/7 working:

“Any other activity hereby permitted which is not otherwise specified”.

DrillOrDrop asked Cuadrilla whether its would include extended well testing, well or site decommissioning and restoration. We’ll update this post with the company’s response.

“Only the most minor amendments”
Cuadrilla has described the changes as a “non-material amendment”.

There is no planning definition of a “non-material amendment”. However, in another shale gas case in Lancashire, the county’s principal planning officer explained in correspondence seen by DrillOrDrop that non-material amendments were used only

“for the most minor of amendment to the wording of conditions.”

A planning officer would normally decide whether the change proposed was a “non-material amendment”. Applications of this sort don’t usually require press advertisements or publicity, or public consultation.

DrillOrDrop asked Lancashire County Council whether Cuadrilla’s proposal would be regarded as a non-material amendment and whether the application would be advertised locally and be subject to a public consultation. This post will updated with any response.

Lancashire County Council has informed neighbouring parish councils, Fylde Borough Council, the local county councillors, police and highways. They have until 14 November 2017 to respond.

The application appears to be scheduled for discussion at a planning committee meeting on 13 December 2017