Former Energy Minister Lord Howell – who caused a storm of protest when he stated fracking should be carried out in the ‘desolate’ parts of the north – has told the Government its drive to get the fracking industry started has been botched, and risks alienating thousands of voters.
And in an article for the Journal of Energy Security, he stated information coming from senior Government sources was “seriously flawed”.
Local politicians and residents have all called for the rush to start the shale gas industry to be halted – to ensure the practice can be carried out safely and under regulation.
Lord Howell wrote: “The view coming out from ministers is much too optimistic and could prove extremely dangerously politically when the reality unfolds.”
Cuadrilla is expected to lodge planning applications in the next few weeks to hydraulically fracture wells in Treales and Little Plumpton. The process involves drilling deep underground and firing water and chemicals at shale rock to release gas trapped within.
Speaking of a proposed £100,000 per fracked well incentive for local communities, Lord Howell added: “Spending time and money trying to bribe and cajole rural communities is a complete waste, as well as putting backs up and losing rural votes on a major scale.
“Villages and their environs where homes are worth a million will be unimpressed by £100k offers, and by assurances that ‘only’ two years of heavy truck traffic will disturb them. Those who have visited sites in America will also know that even after installation, the thump of compressors can be sensed up to two miles away, as well as the whiff of diesel from the compressor pump engines.”
The peer said he was unhappy at the information being given out by all levels of Government on fracking the process of drilling deep underground and blasting shale rock with water and chemicals to release pockets of gas.
Still wanting to see a successful fracking industry in the UK, he warned: “Based on a lot of evidence and advice from all over, I view what is coming from the Cabinet Office, from Ministers and from DECC about shale gas and oil as being seriously flawed, needing correction and costing us dearly as this becomes evident, which it will.
“A different tone and form of opinion leadership is needed if fracking is to go ahead successfully.”
Lancashire County councillors said any start to the process needs due care, with residents in favour of strong controls and regulations.
And Francis Egan, Cuadrilla’s chief executive, said: “Cuadrilla is committed to being a good neighbour and to talking to local residents and community representatives at every stage of the process.
“We announced in February the proposed locations for two new exploration sites in the Fylde as part of our work to understand the full potential of Lancashire’s shale gas resources. We’re currently speaking with local communities about our proposed new exploration sites and are listening to people’s feedback on our proposals.
“We have received many comments from local people through the consultation events we have run, via our website and direct correspondence.
“Through the Community Liaison Groups, publications and other meetings and methods, we will continue to engage with local residents to listen and continue to explain our proposals.”
Concerned Fylde coast politicians this week moved to put the brakes on fast-moving plans to turn the region into the centre of fracking in the UK.
After a week in which Prime Minister David Cameron was told developing a shale gas industry was an “urgent national priority” by a House of Lords committee, Fylde’s MP, county councillors and residents have urged caution.
One leading national tabloid newspaper also called on the Government to “get on with it”.
Lancashire County Council leader Jennifer Mein said the authority would properly consider plans and would not be rushed into making a decision or bow to pressure from central government or industry.
She told The Express: ““There is a considerable level of interest in Lancashire’s shale gas reserves and our development control committee has to consider any applications we receive for further exploration according to the planning regulations in place.
“As exploration is still in its very early stages, it’s not yet clear whether, and on what scale, a shale gas industry could develop and therefore difficult to say what the impact upon local people could be.
“However, I understand that many people have concerns about fracking taking place near where they live, and for many Lancashire people there are currently a lot of unknowns.”
Fylde MP Mark Menzies said the energy process, which involves firing a mixture of water and chemicals underground to crack or fracture shale rock to release gas, should only be taken with the “most stringent of regulations” with a “strict planning regime.”
He added: “Fylde has been at the centre of the shale gas debate since I was elected to Parliament and it has always been my priority to ensure the industry is subject to the most stringent of regulations and its impact on local people is kept to an absolute minimum.
“That is something which cannot be taken for granted and I do not like it when I hear people talking about rushing things along where caution is obviously needed.
“I have held two debates in Parliament on how the industry will be regulated and there is a very thorough process which companies must go through before a permit is issued, followed by a strict planning regime where local people’s views are taken into consideration.
“I am due to hold further meetings with the Minister in the coming weeks where I will continue to press upon him the importance of local people when making these decisions.”
Residents living close to two proposed shale gas sites at Preston New Road near Little Plumpton and Roseacre Wood, Treales, gave a mixed view on the rush to frack on the Fylde coast.
Janet Meredith, 63, of Roseacre Road in Wharles, said the Government sees the village as “a dot on the map” where fracking is concerned.
She added: “It’s just so close. It’s horrendous really. It’s an absolute disgrace.
“I do appreciate we need shale gas – but not enough research has been done into it.
“It can be done in different places to such a lovely rural area.
“The people driving this, the Government and others, just see us as a dot on the map.”
Les Waring, 78, of Foxwood Close, Little Plumpton, said he supported the plans – but felt they must be taken under the safest possible conditions.
He added: “I’m in favour of exploration but under strict control. It is going to create some employment, but I think they pluck these figures out of thin air.
“It is something which needs to be investigated under as strict controls as possible. Everybody wants the safety – that is key.”
His wife, Gaynor Waring, 72, added: “I think it is a fear of the unknown.
“I fear for our energy sources. If Russian president Vladimir Putin turns off the gas tap, where do we get our energy from?”
Susan Holliday, 52, of Preston New Road, raised concerns about shale gas taking too close to homes – and urged the Government to improve regulations.
She added: “I am not against fracking in principle but I think the proposed sites are too near to residential parts. I think there is not enough control and not enough regulations in place.
“My understanding is the regulations in place apply to off-shore drilling which is very, very different to drilling near peoples’ homes.
“I understand the need for finding different sources of energy but do not believe shale gas is the answer.”
Neighbour Patricia Davies, 57, added: “I have lived on the Fylde coast for more than 30 years.
“The fact these (sites) are close to our home is worrying. We’ve been told it will bring in a lot of jobs but so far there have been very few.
“People are generally concerned about having this on their doorstep.
“It is the tourism, natural character, food chain and the health and safety of residents we have concerns about.”
But Ed Cook, of Defend Lytham, said it could be six years before fracking takes place.
He added: “There is a huge amount of concern at Little Plumpton and Roseacre. The big issue is the contaminated water, the flowback water.
“There is a problem with the chemicals which go down and the chemicals which come up. No-one has said where and how it will be processed.
“I know at national level it is being pushed, David Cameron wants to get on with it, but a recent report I saw on TV said it could be 2020 until we get gas out of the ground.”