Councillors in Lancashire in the North West of the UK yesterday unanimously refused one of two planning applications for fracking by the controversial company, Cuadrilla, but deferred a vote on the second application until Monday next week.
The first vote concerned Cuadrilla’s plans at Roseacre Wood, which council planning officers had recommended for refusal.
The second vote, at the Preston New Road site, was postponed after the councillors received what has been dismissed as “flawed” legal advice.
The Councillors, on the council’s development control committee, had looked set to reject fracking at the second site at Preston New Road, which had been recommended for approval by the council’s planning officers, until they were suddenly given legal advice.
The committee’s deputy chairman, councillor Kevin Ellard, had told the chamber, which was packed with anti-fracking campaigners that, “We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to get it right now. We can not afford to gamble with the environment.”
But councillors were forced to think again after receiving the legal advice, which was subsequently dismissed by the UK branch of Friends of the Earth, whose legal advisor, Jake White said: “The legal advice received by the Lancashire councillors is flawed. It fails to address a number of important considerations including health or noise impacts properly.”
He added: “Councillors are elected to make decisions in the best interests of their communities. They should not be bounced in to voting for fracking based on rushed and flawed legal advice or by a policy framework skewed in favour of dirty energy.”
The delay came after an emotional and sometimes confusing week for people on both sides of the debate. Indeed, there is evidence of the pro-frackers using dubious public relations techniques to sway local opinion.
One of the UK’s leading PR companies, Westbourne Communications, whose clients include Cuadrilla and Centrica, and whose strap-line is “Change opinion” was forced to deny allegations it had help set up an astroturf group called “Students for fracking”.
In fact the student group had been launched by the North West Energy Task Force, a business lobby group, again sponsored by Cuadrilla.
There is also growing academic opposition to fracking. One of those to submit evidence to Lancashire council was Stuart Haszeldine, Professor of Geology at Edinburgh University, who ho is currently working on research into fracking, said there were still huge uncertainties around the technology.
In his submission he wrote: “It has to be wondered why the science will not predate the commercial drilling, to inform the most secure and best result, but instead the science will follow after the commercial drilling.”
He added: “Fundamental uncertainties on faults, fractures, stress, movement of frack fluids, movement of frack gases and hydrocarbons, and basic understanding of deep hydrogeology remain unresolved in the sub-surface planning evidence submitted for fracking at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood.”