Anti fracking activists in Ellesmere Port are awaiting the outcome of a controversial planning application in the town due to be decided on Thursday (January 25).
The proposal by IGas to flow test their existing well at Portside North is reported to have attracted 1,411 objections and a petition of 1,044 signatures with some duplication. There have been two representations in support.
Approval is recommended by planning officers but anti-frackers argue the granting of permission would bring a full scale fracking operation a step closer with the associated fears around water and air contamination as well as earthquakes.
IGas, which describes itself as the largest independent producer of oil and gas onshore in Britain, insists the plan does not involve any hydraulic fracturing and only relates to testing to assess whether commercial hydrocarbon production is possible at Portside Road.
It has welcomed the recommendation and argues it has been drilling wells and producing oil and gas ‘safely and in an environmentally responsible manner’ for over 30 years.
Lengthy and detailed objections by Ellesmere Port Frack Free are among those to be considered with a count by the borough council suggesting that of 1,443 comments it has received only three support the application.
The group claims the company employs less than 100 people and has ‘little experience’ in shale gas operations. “This renders IGas completely unfit to undertake this nature of hazardous activity so close to commercial and residential properties,” it has told the council.
It disputes the development will not involve any fracking and claims: “This is not accurate......the key feature that defines fracturing is that fluid is injected at very high pressure into the target rock to fracture it and release gas.
“Given that IGas is planning to force up to 5,000 tonnes, derived from the lorry movements since IGas has not provided accurate figures, of fluid into the rock, it is disingenuous of IGas to pretend this application is not fracturing.”
Councillors are due to hear, however, the liquids being used within the well would not be delivered at pressures great enough to allow fracturing to occur.
The town’s frack free group summarises its objection as building on a previous planning application it claims IGas has breached involving approval for coal bed methane with IGas developing the well for shale gas and no public consultation having been undertaken for shale gas along with no environmental risk analysis or environmental impact assessment.
The plans are also ‘severely lacking’ in many areas of regulation and best practice it feels.
“The applicant developed a shale gas well, drilling far beyond the coal seams and into the shale deposits far below,” says the group.
It believes statements relating to emissions ‘are entirely misleading’, there is ‘insufficient information’ to allow emergency response teams to form a plan and the application does not contain recommended detail on wastes and disposal.
Opponents claim IGas’s financial position is ‘perilous’ and the application does not provide sufficient information to indicate it has been designed safely.
“Inaccurate and misleading information’ has been provided on potential pollutants, the group believes and it is calling for a full seismic survey given the proximity of the Capenhurst uranium enrichment plant.
Among many other objections, the group says: “We already know that Ellesmere Port is an air quality management area with high pollution levels. This site is 1.6km from Marina Drive which is often considered the centre of Ellesmere Port.
“The immediate vicinity is also an area of multiple deprivation with many residents already suffering from poor health. Borough council figures show illness rates 50% higher than elsewhere in Cheshire. Their health should not be put at risk by additional pollution.”
And they insist: “We object to this application because the application falls into the classification of hydraulic fracturing whilst the applicant claims it is not.”
Taking account of national planning policies in recommending permission planning officers say: “It is considered that great weight is therefore given to the benefits of potential mineral extraction that may arise as a result of this appraisal.
“It is considered that, subject to conditions, the proposals would not give rise to unacceptable adverse impacts on the natural environment and human health, having particular regard to noise and particle emissions.
“The landscape and visual impacts of the proposals will be minimal when considering the location of the site and the time limited operations involved. The
highways impacts of the development will also be limited for the same reasons.”
IGas says it is ‘pleased’ with the recommendation that it should have consent to carry out further tests on the rock formation encountered in the well drilled in late 2014, including a flow test, to better understand the volumes of gas it contains.
The company points out it was granted the required environmental permit by the Environment Agency in November last year.
“IGas businesses have been drilling wells and producing oil and gas safely and in an environmentally responsible manner for over 30 years and we will continue to uphold the highest standards in the future,” it concluded.
Ellesmere Port and Neston MP Justin Madders (Lab) believes: “With so many objections I would hope that if the planning committee reject the application that the decision is accepted by all concerned and we don’t have Government pressure to approve the application through the back door like we have seen in Lancashire.”