To open I would like to focus on the issue surrounding shale gas and coalbed methane. Let me make it quite clear – they are both equally damaging to the environment (we have a short document here which explains this in more detail). There is ample evidence from Australia of the damage done there by CBM extraction, but it seems that because the public generally know less about it, it has less negative connotations than the word “fracking”. Igas are using this fact when applying for planning permission to deliberately confuse the public and councillors. They quite openly described Cheshire sites as SHALE GAS ASSETS in their investors’ report, and in a press release last month, with no mention whatsoever about CBM – and yet the license they have been granted is for CBM. Can the council explain how they came to the conclusion that this is just about CBM when Igas seem to have quite different ideas? And why is it that an Environmental Impact Assessment is not required for CBM given its potential negative impacts on the environment? Shouldn’t this be implemented immediately as a requirement?
Oxford Geologist Kevin Walsh states that there is in the region of 1000 feet of millstone grit beneath the coalbed before you reach the Boland Shale. With a shadow of doubt, IGas are intentionally drilling thousands of feet past their licensed target in order to extract Shale Gas (you don’t drill an extra few thousand feet by accident!). CWAC stated that it was the British Geological Survey’s responsibility to enforce this, whilst the British Geological Survey have confirmed in writing that it would be CWAC’s! – Just one example of the regulatory muddle.
Two earthquakes, magnitude 2.4, were caused by fracking in Lancashire in 2011. Given that the Ellesmere Port’s Igas drilling site is within a stone’s throw of one of Europe’s largest petrochemical industries and a nuclear refinement facility, should residents be worried about the potential apocalyptic consequences of an earthquake in the area? The quake in Lancashire occurred due to the presence of a pre-stressed fault – is it possible to identify all pre-stressed faults?
On March 20th 2014 I reported two breaches of planning permission, relating to lack of chemical bunding, to the environment agency as advised by CWAC. No reply or apparent follow-up was made by either organisation. Is this the gold standard of self-regulation we can look forward to in the future? Why is it permissible for suspected regulatory breeches to be reported and remain un-answered? Who is responsible for monitoring the regulatory bodies and what can be done if these bodies are found not to be doing their job?
The Environment Agency has cut 15% of jobs while putting more resources into flood defences. They say that the industry will have to self-regulate – Do you think that this is can be a robust regulatory system? Isn’t it the case that when profit is at stake corners will always be cut? On top of this there is some confusion over responsibility when things go wrong. There seem to be several different regulatory bodies (each passing the buck from one to the other), but there is no mention of who ultimately takes responsibility in the event of gas leaks, collateral damage, water contamination, an increase in road deaths, or seismic activity etc.
The response often given with regard to regulation is that the oil and gas industry has long been established in the UK and we have all the necessary regulations in place. However, this has largely been off-shore drilling and is quite different to this NEW land-based fracking process – and it IS a new process. Even in the States, modern high-volume fracking techniques have only been used for the past 8 – 10 years, after the Senate exempted the oil and gas industry from having to acknowledge or report any groundwater contamination, also known as the Halliburton Loophole. It is also new to such a densely populated area. Isn’t it the case therefore that the regulations are being made up as we go along?
Given all this and the fact that you simply CANNOT regulate against well-failure, leaks, accidents or spills, we are extremely concerned that the regulatory system will not go anywhere close to providing protection for local communities. We therefore suggest that the Council apply the Precautionary Principle when scrutinising planning applications.