Fracking on regardless

Cuadrilla Gas site near Singleton.
Cuadrilla Gas site near Singleton.
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There’s a rainbow above the Cuadrilla site at Singleton. Pot of gold at the end of it? No sign as yet.

The drill that dominated the landscape has gone but heavy duty white plant vehicles rolled through the village “like a Panzer division” the other day, says John Ditchfield, internationally acclaimed glass artist, whose business Glasform overlooks Cuadrilla’s site.

Others blow hot and cold about it too. Fylde councillor Maxine Chew says she won’t condemn shale gas exploration if the company abides by so called “traffic light” safety edicts (halting production when a tremor of magnitude 0.5 is felt) and delivers on the gas and jobs bonanza promised.

She says she was elected by some 350 plus residents – and that “only five families” have complained to her direct. “And I live near the so called epicentre of last year’s quakes. I also know just how dangerous gas can be – I lost friends in the Abbeystead disaster. But I’m more worried about two nuclear stations on our doorstep, one recycling the dangerous stuff, BNFL, the other at Heysham. They frighten me more than fracking. Now there’s going to be a Hollywood blockbuster about fracking. Let’s keep a sense of perspective. I have faith the authorities will be diligent enough to keep us safe.”

Visitors to the area pick their way across lengths of wiring running through the village and surrounds as part of the latest seismic survey. I’m on the knock to gauge opinion but get a similar reception to one of those “have you considered switching your energy supplier?” canvassers. Few seem keen to talk.

Some hope for trade-offs, cut price power or community grants. Others reckon it will all get piped away – and the jobs will go elsewhere too. “There’s a dirty great big wind farm not too far away offshore but where’s the bonanza from that,” growls one elderly resident.

I’ve gone walkabout to explore the surrounds of the soon to restart drilling site – if the six week consultation process clears it to go ahead. Singleton is at the epicentre of the UK’s shale gas revolution. Another fracking site is immediately behind nearby Weeton Barracks. The battlelines are drawn for the shape of things to come for Britain.

A Department for Energy and Climate Change report this week deemed it safe to continue shale gas exploration but additional safeguards to mitigate against the risk of further earthquakes. Two tremors, magnitude 2.3 and 1.3, were felt last April and May.

Fracking, the water and chemical compound-powered fracturing process used to release shale gas, at the Weeton site, Preese Hall, behind the barracks, was held responsible.

Two local sites have been drilled, Weeton and Singleton, another long established site is producing at Elswick, and three more require consent at Wharles, Westby and Kirkham.

Mark Miller, Cuadrilla’s chief executive, stresses he remains committed to public consultation and a “safe and sensible way forward to continue fracking.”

He added: “Our experts proposed a system which enabled us to operate way below the level which would cause any damage.”

The process can be controlled says one of the report’s authors Prof Peter Styles. But critics contend there’s “no such thing as a controlled earthquake.”

A heap of raised earth, like a burial mound, occupies the site where one drill stood. Along with plant vehicles which locals say drove past the village school the other day. The site entrance is guarded by a chap in a high visibility jacket in a parked security car outside. No movement on site.

I’m struck by the beauty of the area. Farmland, public woodland, tranquil church grounds. Much birdsong. A rural idyll bar motorists using it as a short cut from Weeton.

Raymond Harwood of Stalmine, parked up on a butty break, says: “It’s a double whammy. We’ve got gas storage at Stalmine and they’ve got fracking here. It’s not fair.”

The lane leads to Glasform’s foundry. Cuadrilla’s blotted the landscape, says John. “It looked like NASA. We have no idea of the scale it could become. What if they put a refinery there?”

He has wells and lakes, well stocked with fish, on his land and fears they could be contaminated by chemicals leeching through.

He has also noticed algae of a type not seen in the 12 years since he relocated his award winning business here. “I can’t begin to calculate how much this development will affect our property value.”

Within the village a newcomer, a mum, with three kids piled in the back of her car, says she’s not “well up” on the issue although the site’s a few hundred yards from her door. “I’ve only been here a few weeks,” she says. “It wouldn’t have stopped me moving here.”

Others fret about the impact on the environment and property. “Just put it somewhere else,” says Wendy Collings, anxious to put an armful of laundry away. “My mother will never forgive me for saying that.”

Neighbour Fiona Small admits: “I think there’s no turning back, not now. I’m not happy about it. I’ve no chance of selling the house. Cracks have appeared in it since the drilling started. I understand fuel issues but it needs to be safe.”

Resident Des Holt adds: “When the drilling was going on you could actually feel the rumble through your pillow. And when it starts again it will be 24/7.”

Civil engineer Mike Hill of St Annes says: “The report completely misses the crucial point of damage to the cement around the borehole so vital to ensuring no methane or fracking liquid migration to the intermediate and upper areas.”

He calls for funding for “seriously robust regulatory regime –random inspections, frequent site visits to a rapidly expanding industry.”

Ron Marshall, chairman of Residents Action on Fylde Fracking, concludes: “We are not totally against fracking. We are more pragmatic than that. There are three sites in the Fylde, potentially there could be 842 wells. We want a full and proper independent assessment of all the risks. Any activity should be closely monitored, controlled and regulated by an independent body,”

n A public meeting, hosted by Residents Action on Fylde Fracking, is at St Cuthbert’s Church, Lytham, on April 29, at 1pm