The construction of a fracking well-pad will result in noise, dust, vibration, extra lighting around the surface of the site, and considerable extra local traffic on local roads. These factors will continue during the subsequent drilling and fracking of a well, exacerbated by the frequent burning of flare off gases overnight.
Once the gas harvest begins, some will escape directly into the air surrounding the well pad. The flowback of toxic fracking fluid will need to be stored on the well-pad (often in open ponds) before it is taken away from the site. Concerns exist regarding the prospect of fugitive emissions and unrecovered flowback finding its way to the surface (land and waterways) after a well is closed and capped, through deterioration of the cap or through the vertical faults in the rock.
The main concern in PEDL 164 regarding habitat is in relation to Martin Mere, an internationally important wildfowl refuge with Ramsar wetland status. It has a large and diverse wintering, passage and breeding bird community and is considered of international importance for the Pink-footed Goose, Teal, and Pintail and of national importance with respect of Bewick’s Swan, Whooper Swan, Ruff, and others.
There is considerable movement of wintering birds between this site and the nearby Ribble and Alt Estuaries Special Protection Areas. It needs to be recognised that the wildfowl are not contained solely within the designated SPA’s, and that they are equally to be found foraging on the surrounding mosslands.
To do so on ponds of fracking flowback, or on potentially contaminated land, ponds, drains, brooks, and rivers, could be lethal to the birds – and the affects could be spread by them across a much wider area.
It is ironic that local farmers are forbidden to use some pesticides on their land due to the prospect that they might wash or drain into local watercourses. Yet the toxic chemicals used in fracking, or brought up from the shale seam by the fracking process, might migrate into these watercourses – and ultimately out through river estuaries into Liverpool Bay.
The main concern in PEDL 261 stems from its status as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and as a Special Area of Conservation. It is also a Special Protection Area for the endangered wildlife which inhabits the pine woods and sand hills – specifically the native red squirrels, sand newts, sand lizards, and natterjack toads. These creatures simply could not survive in a different or changed habitat e.g. no construction work is permitted in the area during the breeding season of the amphibians.
Before the licence was issued the area was subject to a Habitat Regulations Assessment. The resulting maps show that about 85% of the PEDL area is within both a Special Area of Conservation, a Special Protection Area, and a RAMSAR area (wetlands of international importance). A further 10% is in a surrounding 1km wide buffer zone landward. Incidentally, the maps also show a “potential zone of influence” for 10km outside the PEDL area boundary which, for example, covers much of the Ribble estuary.
Aurora claim that “given the considerable depth at which any future lateral production wells would be located beneath any protected area, it is not expected that there would be any surface impact on people, infrastructure, wildlife, or sensitive habitats”. The issues referred to above show that this is a complacent, if not irresponsible, attitude.