By Jon Mainwaring
Cuadrilla Resources is a company that finds it difficult to stay out of the news in the UK due to its involvement in trying to get an onshore shale gas industry going in the country. Often the focal point of environmental and anti-fracking activists, mid-January has seen the firm hit the headlines again – although this time its plans have been held up by bureaucrats rather than anarchists.
Just as it was getting set to finally drill, frac and test four wells at its Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood sites in Lancashire, northwest England, Cuadrilla has been dealt a blow by planning officers from the local county council. They recommend that Lancashire County Council’s Development Control Committee refuse planning consent for the applications made by Cuadrilla for both sites.
The reason? Well, not because of the fears of earthquakes, water pollution, gas emissions and other environmental disasters often cited by the anti-fracking brigade. No, Cuadrilla’s operations have been deemed too noisy and traffic-causing.
Not surprisingly, the company and its supporters are not impressed by this development, particularly after getting the “all clear” for drilling at the sites by the Environment Agency only a week or so ago. But Cuadrilla was gratified that the planning officers agreed with the company in their conclusion that properly-regulated hydraulic fracturing is very low risk.
Cuadrilla is hoping that the county councillors on the Development Control Committee will still go the way of the company, but it seems that the issue that was always most likely to prove a stumbling block in the way of shale gas development in the UK has now emerged: Nimbyism. It’s not necessarily the perceived environmental threat that comes with fracking that many people in the densely-populated UK will object to but the increased noise, congestion and general hassle that can be involved. A convoy of trucks trundling back and forth might not be a problem out in the American wilderness but it most certainly would cause concern among the residents of Lancashire’s towns and villages.
Perhaps the UK government – which has made it very clear that it wants to see a shale gas industry established in the country – needs to step in to find a way of offering direct incentives to local residents who might be affected by this increased noise and congestion. HM Treasury has already put measures in place that will see “local communities” receive revenues from shale gas exploration but surely residents would better appreciate the need to develop shale gas resources if some cash was coming directly into their hands?
With the North Sea oil and gas sector under pressure due to the fall in the price of oil, now is not the time to put the brakes on companies like Cuadrilla, which is taking its first steps toward establishing an onshore industry that might end up employing tens of thousands of people in the UK.