A TOP company has demanded answers over fears a controversial gas storage project could trigger “explosions” in Blackpool’s holiday heartland.
United Utilities has raised worrying concerns over gas escaping into a nine-mile underground sewage tunnel which runs from South Shore to Fleetwood.
It says Halite’s plans for a massive gas storage facility in Over Wyre “potentially puts at risk both United Utilities’ assets and properties/hotels in close proximity to the (sewage) tunnel and the coastline.”
United Utilities is now seeking assurances from Halite over the plan to store 900 cubic metres of gas in salt caverns near Preesall – formerly proposed by American company Canatxx.
In a document sent to Halite, United Utilities said: “A key concern of the proposed development would be to ensure our wastewater assets remained well protected from any gas leakage which would occur through the fissured ground strata believed to exist underneath Wyre Estuary.
“The developer would have to satisfy sufficient investigation had been done to assure the development would not increase the risk of future explosions of gas impacting on the treatment facilities.
“This would also apply to the Fylde Coast Interceptor (sewage) Tunnel which runs the whole length of the Fylde coast from Manchester Square headland at the southern end of the Golden Mile, along the front up to Rossall School.
“The risk of gas escaping the caverns and entering the tunnel provides a clear route for passage of leaked gas all the way along the front to south Blackpool.
“Hence the development potentially puts at risk both United Utilities’ assets and properties/hotels in close proximity to the tunnel and the coastline.”
Anti gas storage campaigners have highlighted the potential for disaster for years – but this is the first time United Utilities has officially raised the same fears.
The water company says, since it raised its concerns, it has met with Halite and received further information about the plans which are now being considered by the Government’s Planning Inspectorate.
A spokesman added; “We are reviewing this information and considering the impact on our assets.”
But Ian Mulroy, chairman of Protect Wyre, said United Utilities comments escalated the risk level associated with the project.
He said: “Up until now it has been thought that the risk to 80,000 people living within three miles of the caverns in Fleetwood, Thornton and Over Wyre was bad enough.
“But an easy route for the gas to travel along the tunnel into Cleveleys, Bispham, Blackpool could increase the risk to include an additional population of more than 300,000.
“The Fylde Coast Interceptor Tunnel starts at Fleetwood sewage works which is about half a mile away from the closest of the proposed storage caverns.
“Between the tunnel and the caverns there is porous and potentially faulted sandstone rock through which it is possible escaping gas could travel and enter the tunnel.
“There are connections into the tunnel in Cleveleys, North Blackpool and the centre of Blackpool and this raises the questions of whether escaping gas could find its way into local sewers and into more homes and properties.”
John Donnellon, Blackpool Council’s service director for built environment, said: “Blackpool has every confidence that United Utilities will, through their comments on the application, protect the integrity of the systems they operate and it will be for the applicant, Halite, to convince the planning inquiry and inspector that all such risks have been considered and mitigated.
“Blackpool would along with other interested parties want to be assured that the proposed development was safe and there was no threat to local people or businesses before any consideration is given to approving the project.”
Halite has downsized Canatxx’s plans – which have been turned down three times by local authority and Government planners in the last decade due to safety concerns.
Brian Stanley, safety and risk director at Halite Energy, said: “We spoke to United Utilities in September last year as part of the consultation process. All risks have been considered and are addressed within our application which is now with the Planning Inspectorate for examination.”
n Residents wishing to object to Halite’s proposals should send any correspondence to the Protect Wyre Group at firstname.lastname@example.org by Wednesday, May 16.
Alternatively visit the website www.pwgroup.org.uk to fill in a form. A final decision on the plan is expected to be made by the Secretary of State next April.