Hundreds of people protested against a proposed fracking site in Lancashire on Tuesday, as the county council considered whether to approve the project.
Over 450 people massed outside the county hall in Preston while Lancashire County Council listened to representations for and against Cuadrilla’s bid to frack at Preston New Road in Little Plumpton, between Preston and Blackpool.
Last week the council’s planning officers advised members to approve Cuadrilla’s bid to start fracking at the site, one of two that would see the UK’s first full-scale fracking if given the green light.
Opponents of fracking argue the technique for extracting shale gas and oil causes earthquakes, can pollute water supplies, and could lead to inappropriate development in the countryside and damage house prices.
Ebony Johnson, co-founder of Frack Free Lancashire, claimed the health of local people was at stake. “If we don’t have a healthy community people won’t be able to work. It’s too dangerous to risk contaminating our water. This should come over any economic considerations.” Johnson said the momentum for the campaign against fracking has been driven by “ordinary local people”.
Concerns about health were echoed by Alistair Mackenzie, 54, a resident in Lytham St Annes near the proposed site. “We have kids who are hoping to have children and we are seriously concerned with what we understand will be poisonous gases produced by fracking.
“What’s not been taken into consideration is the number of health issues it could cause and the strain it could put on the NHS.”
The protest attracted people from other parts of the UK. Dave Cant, 45, from the Isle of Wight said: “Once they start fracking it will make these places an absolute wasteland. They won’t be good for anything.”
Liz Hutchins, a senior political campaigner at Friends of the Earth, which has been working with local groups, said fracking would hinder tackling climate change and the Lancashire decision had national implications. “There are really high stakes for the decision in Lancashire. If we can stop fracking here it really is a strong signal fracking has no economic future in the UK.”
The government backs the development of a shale gas industry in the UK, claiming it would create jobs and growth, reduce energy prices and cut the country’s reliance on gas imports. Several reports by bodies such as the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society, and Public Health England, have concluded fracking would be safe in the UK if properly regulated.
Cuadrilla wants planning permission to explore for shale gas by drilling, fracking and testing the flow of gas. Planning permission would enable exploratory drilling and fracking at the site, but a separate application would be required if Cuadrilla wished to progress to commercial fracking.
Before Cuadrilla’s bid was discussed, councillors voted 12 to three in favour of not deferring a decision until a heavily-redacted government report on fracking impacts is published, as the Information Commissioner’s Office ordered the environment department to do last week.
Lord Chris Smith, chair of an industry-funded taskforce investigating fracking in the UK, admitted that communities are “understandably really terrified” at fracking proposals. The former head of the Environment Agency was speaking at a conference for the shale gas industry in London today, where debates were dominated by anxieties over lack of public support.
Smith blamed the “buccaneering spirit” of the fracking industry in the US, but John Beswick, director of the Marriott Drilling Group, said that the current debate had “been hijacked by a few people who generate fear and hysteria” and the industry must “win back the hearts and minds of the vast majority of the public”.
Smith said: “A lot of the public concern here rests on what happened in the early days in the US when there was something of a buccaneering spirit in the industry in places. There were things happening that shouldn’t have happened. We need to make absolutely clear that if the industry takes off here, we don’t make the same mistakes… The key thing here is generating trust.
“When a proposal for hydraulic fracturing comes through these days, local communities are understandably really terrified at what might happen. Ensuring they have the full information and are part of the process is really important.”
Smith insisted that the taskforce report, which will look at the risks and benefits of fracking in the UK but will not be published until 2016, will be “independent and impartial”, although it is funded by shale gas companies.
John Blaymires, chief operating officer of major oil and gas company iGas Energy, the UK’s biggest shale explorer, said: “The worst thing we can do as an industry is to be evangelical about this. We need a fact-based, evidence-based discussion. I hate the word unconventional – there is nothing unconventional about what we do. The industry has one failing – and that is on how we communicate.”
Members of Lancashire county council’s development control committee are due to make the decision tomorrow on whether to give planning permission to Cuadrilla’s bid.
Committee members will also meet on Thursday and Friday to rule on plans by Cuadrilla for a second site at Roseacre Wood, which planning officials have urged councillors to reject on traffic grounds.
This article is from The Guardian. Find the original here.