Residents Led Opposition to Shale Gas Development in Formby and West Lancashire
Detailed Objections Against Aurora’s Planning Application
Most of the UK’s gas comes from offshore, mainly from the North Sea, where new finds are being developed; while onshore fracking will require thousands of well pads and tens of thousands of wells across the countryside.
Shale fracking wells leak methane into the atmosphere, which together with combustion of the gas is as harmful to climate change as coal fired power stations. There is huge potential for far more renewable energy, particularly wave and tidal.
Due to its geology, harvesting shale gas in the UK is unlikely to be as cheap as the USA and Australia; and it will present far more environmental threats. UK regulatory controls simply aim to minimise the risks and are untested and suspected to prove ineffective.
Fracking wells require large quantities of clean water, all of which is wasted. The 40% flowback absorbs toxic chemical elements in the shale and needs specialist treatment before disposal. The 60% remaining underground has the potential to contaminate groundwater which provides nearly a third of UK drinking supplies.
Residents near fracking wells face disruption, damage and potential danger to their property, health, and livelihoods. Health risks include impairment of air quality, sleep disturbance, and mental health issues; and baseline environmental monitoring prior to fracking is essential but likely to be neglected.
The community compensation arrangements are restricted to residents living closest to well pads and are only payable if fracking takes place. Acceptance of the payments could invalidate any future claim for compensation in the event of damage to property or health.
The proposed well pad at Great Altcar can initially house up to 4 wells but may be doubled in size in due course, and it has the potential to reach under half the properties in Formby. Aurora’s licence obligations and plans are likely to lead to further well pads right across the Moss.
The potential pathways and conduits for fugitive emissions of gas and fluids are the numerous fault lines under the site, the nearby disused oil boreholes, and the inevitable corrosion of the steel well shafts and their concrete casing over time.
The well pad is located within a number of protection and conservation areas, and houses nesting sites for threatened native birds. It is also on the flight path for over wintering geese and swans, which forage on the surrounding farm lands.
The main access to the well pad will be along the Formby by pass, turning onto the B5195 which runs between a busy supermarket and an extensive retail park and a narrow bridge over the River Alt. The heavy vehicles serving the fracking site may contain toxic loads, and back up and congest a main route to Ormskirk Hospital and the Children’s A&E Department for the area.
Local councils and emergency services have not yet developed plans to deal with the risks posed by fracking well operation at Great Altcar and are ill equipped to do so. The threats include the potential contamination of air by gas discharge and possible explosion, necessitating public evacuation.
Nearly half of Aurora’s PEDL 164 licence area is covered by groundwater protection orders, as the water provides domestic supplies and irrigation of farmland. The orders require monitoring of both groundwater levels and quality, yet the nearest boreholes are about 5km away from the proposed well pad at Great Altcar.
The area surrounding the proposed well pad is potentially at risk from flooding from rivers or the sea, and is reliant on field drains, flood gates and dredging. Funding cuts in local flood defence are a source of concern, and overflowing could flood the well pad and potentially spread toxic chemicals.
The isolated village of Great Altcar is a designated Conservation Area, and development rights are restricted. Night time working on the well pad with associated noise, vibration and lighting is alien to the local landscape.
Any extra jobs created by fracking are likely to prove temporary or menial and need to be set against possible job losses in local agriculture, service industries and tourism. Local agricultural produce may prove difficult to sell if it is thought to be contaminated by fracking activity.
Aurora’s substantial operating losses to date have largely been covered by tax haven funding. There is little evidence that the company has the viability to conclude its licence conditions or compensate residents in the event of damage to the local environment.