Fracking boss: ‘We can address fears’

Francis Egan, Cuadrilla's chief executive
Francis Egan, Cuadrilla's chief executive
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The boss of the energy firm which wants to frack for shale gas on the Fylde coast has today branded the decision of officers to recommend refusal of the plans “surprising.”

Cuadrilla Energy’s plans for fracking at two Fylde sites – Little Plumpton and Roseacre – took a blow on Wednesday 
after Lancashire County Council planners recommended both applications be turned down on noise issues as well as traffic concerns at Roseacre.

But Cuadrilla CEO Francis Egan said he believed further discussions with officers could see traffic levels and noise reduced to an acceptable level.

He said: “I’m more surprised than disappointed about the recommendation.

“We felt we had addressed all of the issues officers raised.

“At the Plumpton site especially, we had not been told we would need to be below 42 decibels (dB) at night, the reading we believe we’d have at the nearest property.

“It is a relatively low noise but it is not clear from the 
officer report what level they expect we should get to.

“If we know what the level is, I’m sure we can work out how to get there.

“It’s entirely reasonable that the council be expected to protect properties, but it is also entirely reasonable for us to be told what level (of noise) is acceptable.

“I was pleased with the rest of the report, though, with officers prepared to accept all other areas including air quality, water quality, ecology and lighting.”

According to National Planning Policy Guidance, it is recommended background noise levels should not increase by more 10db during working hours – 7am to 10pm – and be kept to a minimum at night.

But noise from drilling operations is predicted to raise background sound levels by 13.3 dB at night and 14.6 dB by day at Roseacre, and increase by 12.5 dB at night at Preston New Road.

In the report, Cuadrilla said it could meet the requirements, but planners believe noise from the proposed operations would be above the significant observed adverse effect level (SOAEL) as defined in the Noise Policy Statement for England – the level above which significant adverse effects on health and quality of life occur.

Planners also raised concerns for Roseacre about up to 50 daily lorry movements to and from the site having an unacceptable impact on road users, with a “severe” reduction in safety.

Asked whether the applications would now be withdrawn before the planning meeting next week, Mr Egan added: “We are continuing and will look at these issues which we feel we can address.

“It’s difficult because we don’t know the figure they are looking for. We understand they’re trying to protect homes but we need to talk further.

“We have already included a 4m high sound barrier around the site and sound containment around particular pieces of equipment such as the pumps, and there’s also screening. There are a lot of sound mitigations in there already. We just need to know what level is acceptable.

“We will not be pushing on with any other sites until we see a decision on these, one way or another.”

Ken Cronin, chief executive of the UK Onshore Operators Group (UKOOG), said the recommendation by the officers was “disappointing” but welcomed planners supporting fracking in principle.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the technique in which water and chemicals are pumped into shale rock at high pressure to extract gas.

Environmental groups have raised concerns around health, water contamination and earthquakes.

Mr Cronin said: “The grounds for refusal are local planning matters specific to these sites rather than any issues that would have an obvious impact on other shale gas applications.

“I am pleased that the report concluded that the concerns raised by environmental groups have been addressed.”

The county council’s Development Control Committee will meet next Wednesday and Thursday at County Hall, Preston, to consider the plans.