The decision to refuse fracking companies permission to drill in areas of Lancashire has been described by the council as “democracy in action” but by a major drilling company as the result of misinformation.
The drilling company, Cuadrilla, claimed that the decision, made amid vocal anti-fracking protests in the county, as not based on the “rights and wrongs” of the controversial technology, and that the reasons cited for the refusal were inconsequential.
The inquiry that resulted in the refusal was held in Blackpool, where tremors that followed Cuadrilla’s last attempt at fracking in 2011 led to a suspension of the use of the technology in the UK.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves pumping water, sand and chemicals into underground shale rock that contains stores of natural gas. Fissures in the rock then release the gas which is then captured and stored and used to provide energy.
Shale gas has a much smaller carbon footprint than other fossil fuels like oil and coal, but critics say the acquisition of it through fracking brings with it problems beyond the simple burning of the resulting fuel.
Jasber Singh, a member of the anti-fracking group Frack Free Lancashire argued: “we are not going to gain anything from fracking apart from air, noise, land and water pollution that’s bad for our health and the health of the climate.”
While protesters with Frack Free Lancashire were vocal and present in large numbers, they were not alone. One group, Backing Fracking, who believe that fracking in Lancashire will be good for the county and the country as a whole,
At the inquiry, Cuadrilla were refused permission to drill in the Lancashire towns of Roseacre Wood and Little Plumpton in a move that council representative Alan Evans described as “democracy in action.”
A lawyer representing Cuadrilla though, Nathalie Lieven, said that complaints about the noise impact on the areas around where fracking would take place were, ultimately, unfounded, since the noise would only affect “perhaps three properties for a limited period, where the condition being proposed to mitigate that noise itself accords with national policy.”
She went on: “the short term nature of the impact is a factor which all of the objectors and witnesses singly fail to acknowledge or properly take into account in the planning balance.”
Lieven described the council’s refusal to allow fracking as “little short of astonishing” on the grounds that “ultimately these are proposed developments where the government has stated that there is a ntional need, and where the planning impacts are very limited.”
Cuadrilla also criticised Friends of the Earth, claiming that the charitable organisation had misled the Charity Commission and abused their charitable status by lobbying against fracking.
The drilling company’s chief executive, Francis Egan, said: “we have long been concerned about the myth-peddling and scaremongering by Friends of the Earth on shale gas and fracking.”
Last year, Friends of the Earth issued a press release that praised the Labour party for their call for a fracking moratorium, before retracting it after it was revealed that the release, that had come from the charitable arm of FoE, was in conflict with regulations that prevent charitable organisations from lobbying on any political issues. FoE has another wing which, as a limited company, is perfectly able to lobby.
After the mistake was realised, Friends of the Earth apologised and re-attributed the press release to make it clear that it did not come from the charitable wing.
Mr Egan criticised what he described as FoE misleading the charity regulator.
FoE’s head of policy, Mike Childs, responded to the accusations, saying “these repeated attempts to silence and discredit those opposed to fracking is a ploy to distract from the well-documented risks of fracking to our beautiful countryside, to the health of local people and to our climate.
“The real issue,” he said, “is about fracking in Lancashire and the wishes of the local people, who have already rejected fracking, getting to decide the fate of their community.”
He went on: “fracking poses a major threat to people and the environment. Local communities and businesses in Lancashire have already rejected fracking and we are campaigning alongside them to prevent their local democratic decisions from being overturned.”