Fracking inquiry drills down into detailed evidence on applications

Fracking public enquiry at Blackpool Fottball Club.  Pictured is Wendy McKay.
Fracking public enquiry at Blackpool Fottball Club. Pictured is Wendy McKay.
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Experts on both sides of the fracking debate locked horns over planning issues on the second day of a public inquiry.

Day two of the five-week inquiry at Blackpool FC, started with a cross examination of energy firm Cuadrilla’s planning witness Mark Smith, centred on greenhouse gas emissions, but also debating which issues could be considered relevant to the overall planning decision.

The inquiry follows an appeal by Cuadrilla over two bids to drill and test frack for natural gas at sites at Roseacre and off Preston New Road at Little Plumpton.

Its planning applications has been refused by Lancashire County Council’s development control committee in June last year on grounds that the developments would have an adverse impact on the areas and residents due to noise and visual impact at Preston New Road and traffic at Roseacre.

Cuadrilla appealed and in the first day of the subsequent public inquiry under Inspector Wendy McKay, its representatives argued that the appeal decision should rest solely on narrow planning grounds as per national guidelines.

However, opponents of the application also want the inspector to consider aspects of the proposed developments such as impact on health, environment, disposal of waste and the impact of greenhouse gases.

On day two, few protesters remained outside Blackpool Football Club, while inside the Friends of the Earth counsel, Estelle Dehon, argued that the amount of greenhouse gas emissions was relevant too as national and local planning guidelines required that these should be considered in planning applications of this kind.

Mr Smith argued recent ministerial statements suggested that need not be the case.

She said planning plays a key role in helping shape places to minimise greenhouse gas emissions which it was argued is central to the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.

Mark Smith, giving evidence for Cuadrilla on planning law, countered that the guideline she referred to went on to say how it can deliver renewable and low carbon energy.

He argued that shale gas could be regarded as a low carbon energy as it generated lower volumes of greenhouse gas carbon dioxide than coal .

But Ms Dehon pointed out that national and local policy dictated that greenhouse gas emissions from exploration sites can be taken into account and therefore the planning inspector was able to use that in her determination of the fracking appeal.

Ms Dehon cited the case of the Chat Moss Peat appeal in 2012 where the Secretary of State Eric Pickles rejected the appeal because extending peat extraction would produce too much carbon dioxide and therefore impact on the UK’s climate change targets.

She said Chat Moss would have generated 181,500 tonnes of CO2 but Cuadrilla’s two exploration sites would generate 236,000 tonnes so would be worse.

Mr Smith said: “I still think it is important in terms of supporting a lower form of carbon generating source of energy as a replacement for a higher source, ie coal.”

Ms Dehon went on to say that a planning decision maker, such as the Development Control Commmittee was required to be satisfied under the County Mineral and Waste plan DM2 as to the disposal of waste water from a development.

Mr Smith said where other regulatory regimes exist, such as the Environment Agency DECC and the Health and Safety authority, then guidelines state that a planning decision maker should assume they will operate effectively and shoul d not influence the inspector’s decision.

Ms Dehon said: “In this case it is accepted there will be a significant adverse effect arising for the fact that 68 per cent of the UK’s available water waste capacity will be used up by both sites operating together.

“Is your view that the planners should ignore that?”

Mr Smith said the fact the Environment Agency granted Cuadrilla a waste water permit should be enough for the inspector to assume they would deal with that aspect of the application.

Ms Dehon went on to argue that health implications of the two fracking sites should also be taken into account by the inspector as the County Councils Director of Public Health had taken the view the residents close to the developments health would be affected by the perceived threat of the fracking sites.