Fracking would create jobs, provide energy security for Lancashire firms and would not damage existing tourism or agriculture industries, a pressure group said today.
Members of the North West Energy Task Force (NWETF) members were speaking ahead of today’s opening day of the County Council hearing into two test fracking bids on the Fylde.
Shale gas will bring stability
County Hall’s Development and Control Committee was due to begin hearing evidence for and against Cuadrilla’s bid to drill and test for gas near Preston New Road today and tomorrow and at Roseacre on Thursday and Friday.
Opponents of the controversial industry say fracking could damage the environment, pose health risks, cause traffic issues and hit tourism and agriculture.
But the NWETF members said if carried out responsibly and with strong regulation, its impact would be no different to existing industries such as the nuclear fuel plant at Springfields and BAE Systems at Warton. Mike Damms, chief executive of the Chamber of Commerce for East Lancashire, said the local chambers had examined the evidence and consulted experts before coming out in favour of a fracking industry across Lancashire.
He said the county’s huge manufacturing base needed a secure energy supply and could use the raw materials and fracking would create jobs at all levels.
He said: “We have come out in favour of shale but it has to be secure, safe and reliable and mindful of the needs of local communities.
“We have taken sounding from the Poles where it has already happened and there have been no issues and the majority of people are still in favour. The chambers are independent, we are nobody’s poodles but this would be good for business in Lancashire.”
He added that agriculture was a heavy industry with hoppers,silage towers and storage sheds in the countryside and large tractors and fracking would be no more intrusive and off putting to tourists. Janet Thornton, of Kirkham based Inspired Energy, said: “We specialise in energy procurement for large businesses across Lancashire and one thing they tell us that energy costs and supply are the biggest issue affecting their ability to grow.
“Shale gas will bring stability it will reduce our reliance on imports and we can build on our expertise in the energy sector to create educational packages and careers for the future.”
Former County Councillor Bernard Whittle, of Freckleton, said the impact of a new industry in Lancashire would be no worse than that of Westinghouse at Springfields or BAE at Warton. He said: “People still want to live and work here and it’s because of the advanced engineering opportunities.
“Regulation in those industries does not allow them to have an adverse impact on communities and it would be the same for shale.”
Blackpool businessman Steve Pye said a sustainable shale industry would provide a wide variety of jobs including jobs in health and safety and regulation. He said: “If you go to an oil conference anywhere around the world you will hear a Scottish voice because of Aberdeen, we want the same for fracking and Lancashire.”
Businesses sign letter to oppose bids
However, another group of local businesses have called on Lancashire County Council to turn down the fracking bids. Nearly 300 businesses including farmers, hotels, cafes, food producers, shops and estate agents have signed a letter to show their concern about the impact fracking would have on Lancashire.
The letter says fracking “poses a real and serious threat to our environment, communities and local economy” and that “our important farming and tourism sectors would be at risk from an intensive shale gas industry that requires thousands of wells puncturing the landscape.”
Furqan Naeem, Friends of the Earth’s North West Campaigner, said: “Businesses across Lancashire haven’t swallowed the industry hype about job creation and are worried about the impacts on the local economy - they don’t want the county to be made a guinea pig for risky fracking.
Fraser McMillan of PR1 Media Productions, one of the signatories, said: “Fracking would be a disaster for the local economy as well as the environment.”