Fracking faces setback over noise concerns

Preese Hall in Lancashire where fracking in Spring of 2011 induced seismicity

The UK’s emergent shale gas industry faced a setback this week when Lancashire County Council recommended the refusal of planning permission for test wells at two hydraulic fracturing exploration sites.             

Noise issues were cited as concerns for both of the sites which are located between Blackpool and Preston. The council said that contrary to the Fylde Borough Local Plan it had not been satisfactorily demonstrated that noise impacts would be reduced to acceptable levels resulting in harm to the amenity of neighbouring properties by way of noise pollution.

Furthermore at the council found that the increase in HGV movements at one of the sites would have an unacceptable impact on the rural highway network causing severe reduction in overall highway safety.

“Clearly there is a balance to be struck between not imposing unreasonable burden on developers and ensuring that there would be no impact or an acceptable impact on local residents and the environment." 

Cuadrilla said that it was disappointed with the recommendations but that they believed that the issues highlighted could be resolved. “We believe, supported by independent experts Arup, that we have come forward with measures that would mitigate noise of drilling and fracturing and the proposed noise levels are within limits set out in government guidance."

Environmental Impact Assessments for the two sites were prepared by Arup, which included 3D noise mapping in its studies. At the first site, Preston New Road, the council’s recommendation centres around unacceptable night time noise caused by drilling of the wells.

The environmental statement explained that drilling operations would record noise levels of 39dB and 47dB at neighbouring properties during the early drilling phases, which would be 24 hour operations over a total of 14 months. These values fall within acceptable limits as set out in planning policy guidance.

However the council pointed to another requirement that states that the noise level does not rise by more than 10dB over background levels. Using its own studies it found the background night time noise level to be significantly lower than that recorded by the Cuadrilla report and therefore calculated a potential rise of 12.5dB. “The difference between existing low background noise levels and predicted noise levels is of concern,” states the council recommendation report.

It also pointed to recommendations from Fylde Borough Council's Environmental Health Team that ideally criteria should be set such that no dwelling shall experience sound levels that are more than 5dB above current background levels between 07.00 – 23.00 and no increase in background level between 23.00 and 07.00.

“Clearly there is a balance to be struck between not imposing unreasonable burden on developers and ensuring that there would be no impact or an acceptable impact on local residents and the environment. The applicant has indicated that a range of noise attenuation measures could be employed to reduce noise levels but that further attenuation would result in unreasonable burden. What constitutes unreasonable burden has not been explained by the applicant,” said the report.

On the issue of HVG traffic at the second site Cuadrilla said that it had sent new information to the council. “For our application at Roseacre Wood we had already supplied within the last week extra information regarding traffic routes which we and our expert advisers believe addresses all the new issues which have recently been raised. We believe these issues should have been more widely discussed,” said the spokesperson.

A final decision on planning is expected on 28th January for Preston New Road, and the 29th January for Roseacre Wood. “We will await the councillors’ decisions on both these applications and we believe that all of the limited issues that have been raised can be resolved,” said Cuadrilla. “In the end the councillors on the Development Control Committee will have to weigh the relatively minor impacts which affect only a small number of households and for which we have proposed adequate proposals for mitigation against the wider local and national, jobs, growth and economic as well as energy security opportunities.”

 Planning reports from Lancashire County Council here:

Documentation for Preston New Road here:

Documentation for Roseacre Wood here:

 More analysis from II:

Arup on shale gas as a decarbonisation stepping stone:

Why the UK needs to drill more holes:

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