|The acknowledgement letter (a standard letter) is posted as a comment at the end of this posting.
I will be sending in very similar Call In requests for the recent Maesteg application to BCBC next, followed by the NPTCBC ones that are still live.
If you hear of any others please let me know.
Dear Mr Saunders,
I have been advised by Clive Ancrum, in correspondence of 11/03 that I should address this (and other) applications for the calling in of fracking related planning applications.
The case will essentially be similar in all cases, with some local factors at play.
This particular request concerns the application at Llandow, before Vale of Glamorgan CBC. It has their reference 2011/0115.
The guidance available in preparing these applications is not particular detailed and uses some vague terms. I am therefore endeavoring to cover a range of possible interpretations. The guidance noes state that the issue has to be ‘of more than local importance’ so straight away we have one such vague term. What does local mean? I will deal with this in no.2 below.
Using the SIX examples of criteria cited in the guidance notes first, let us look at them one at a time (although I would hope that we would only have to satisfy one to have a case).
1. CONFLICTS WITH NATIONAL PLANNING POLICIES
Mr Ancrum says, and I quote: “nothing in MPPW or PPW leads me to believe that all applications for coal bed methane extraction or related processes are automatically contrary to national planning policy or automatically raise issues of more than local importance.” This begs the question of how much of these documents he has actually read.
PPW Ch4 – Planning for sustainability. Read this chapter and then explain how the technically unsound exploitation of more fossil fuels, with potential dire health consequences from the fracking process, as well as climate change consequences do not conflict with this policy. Burning methane produces water and carbon dioxide; leaks of methane itself are at least 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than the CO2 released by burning it.
PPW Ch7 – Supporting the economy. Objective One states: “7.1.1 The Assembly Government is committed to building a ‘vibrant Welsh economy delivering strong and sustainable economic growth by providing opportunities for all’. The approach is built around the core strengths of Wales: an increasingly skilled, innovative and entrepreneurial workforce; an advanced technology and knowledge base; strong communities; a stunning natural environment and an exceptional quality of life.” How is this achieved by: fossil fuel exploitation with a maximum Lifespan, according to the proposing companies, of twenty years; that provides very few jobs during that twenty year period; that uses discredited technology imported from the States; that imposes long term worries as to what is happening beneath their feet on local communities; that has the potential to destroy wildlife and seriously harm human health not just during the operations, but for centuries thereafter.
PPW Ch13 – Minimising and Managing Environmental Risks and Pollution. It really should be self-evident that these proposals conflict with this planning policy. The problem seems to be, at local level for sure, that it all focuses on air, surface waters, noise and light pollution. There is barely even a mention of groundwater issue in this chapter, and out of sight seems to be out of mind. It is very much a specialist area that even the environment agency appears to have inadequate expertise in. It ought to be an issue here: 13.12.2 Local planning authorities should work closely with pollution control authorities when determining planning applications. The timing of applications under the different regimes may vary and the information relevant to an authorisation under Part I of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 may not be available when applying for planning permission. In deciding to grant permission for a development local planning authorities should be satisfied that any remaining pollution concerns are capable of being dealt with under the other pollution regimes. The problem here is that the only agency that ever seems to get consulted is the Environment Agency – and I am far from convinced they have the necessary expertise in this area.I can produce plenty of expert testimony for you – try these for starters from a BBC Newsnight story: http://news.BBC.co.UK/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/9255520.stm It is all worth watching – but the experts I would point you to are rock fracture and groundwater specialist, Tony Ingraffea, of Cornell University (6:30-7:20; 8:30-9:00; 11:15-11:40) and Dr Theo Colbourn (9:30-10:00). Plenty more here: https://bridgendgreens.wordpress.com/page/2/?s=fracking (especially the older posts)
MPPW – General Guidance. This worries me: “Wherever possible any mineral workings should avoid any adverse environmental or amenity impact; where this is not possible working needs to be carefully controlled and monitored so that any adverse effects on local communities and the environment are mitigated to acceptable limits” What on earth are ACCEPTABLE LIMITS of environmental impact? Acceptable limits of health consequences? Acceptable limits of wildlife harm? Acceptable limits of groundwater pollution? Section 7 clarifies:
“The main aims relate to minerals planning as follows:
• Social progress which recognises the needs of everyone: to provide for the benefits of increased prosperity through an adequate supply of minerals that society needs now and in the future, together with protecting and improving amenity;
• Effective protection of the environment: to protect things that are highly cherished for their intrinsic qualities, such as wildlife, landscapes and historic features; and to protect human health and safety by ensuring that environmental impacts caused by mineral extraction and transportation are within acceptable limits; and to secure, without compromise, restoration and aftercare to provide for appropriate and beneficial after-use.”
We do not NEED these energy resources now.We need investment in the renewable energy that is recognised by all but the mineral industries. This is recognised elsewhere in the planning policies. These policies cannot protect or improve amenity. Quite the contrary. These proposals are incompatible with cherishing wildlife, human health and safety. Restoration and aftercare is an everlasting commitment in these cases – as pointed out by this Geology Professor: https://bridgendgreens.wordpress.com/2011/03/06/fracking-short-term-profit-against-long-term-costs/
MPPW – Section 7. Pays lip service to the complexity of issues relating to groundwater, but ends with this salient statement: “Mineral planning authorities ………, where doubt exists, should adopt the precautionary principle in taking planning decisions on mineral development.”. That there is doubt is unquestionable. That MPAs are adopting this principle is not evident. Were it the case, they would be exercising their right to request you to call in these applications.
MPPW – Section 33. “Irrespective of Agricultural Land Classification grade, other agricultural factors, such as farm structure, soil conservation, farm water supply, surface water and field drainage may be matters to take into account when appraising the full extent of mineral working, restoration and aftercare proposals. The objective should be, wherever possible, to minimise any adverse effects on agriculture occurring as a result of mineral development. These factors are likely to be particularly relevant where agriculture is to be the after use of the site.” The land adjacent to the Llandow site is farmed. The farmers extract their water from boreholes. Need I say more?
MPPW – Section 34. Environmental Impacts. Just about all the impacts seem to get discussed in minuted meetings except: “Land drainage, impact on groundwater resources and the prevention of pollution of water supplies.” It is patently obvious that this is because no one understands it properly enough to discuss it. Unfortunately, this is the number one risk!
MPPW – Sections 37/38 Environmental Impact Assessment. 37 requires developments that are likely to have significant effects on the environment to be subject to EIA. But then 38 sets criteria for significance that excuse planning authorities having to undertake it, irrespective of the environmental impacts, so long as surface area criteria are not exceeded. This is an utter nonsense for this sort of development, where the surface impacts can be modest, but the underground impacts can be catastrophic.
MPPW – Section 64 – Onshore oil and gas. ” Where oil and gas operations can be carried out in an environmentally acceptable way and consistent with the principles of sustainable development, there is no case in land use planning terms for placing more restrictions on the development than are necessary to ensure the protection of the environment.” “Policies should distinguish clearly between the three stages of exploration, appraisal and development”. These two statements are blurring the issues. Initial exploration, and even, perhaps, the appraisal stage, may not be using the hazardous fracking process required in the development stage of these operations. It is a bit like encouraging people to go out and find a suitable tree; practice their hangsman noose knots and then tell them not to kill themselves. The whole enterprise has to be discouraged. The companies themselves are not going to thank anyone for being allowed to invest in exploration and appraisal only to be told that development is unacceptable. It is only fair to all concerned to evaluate the likely impacts of the development in informing a decision on exploration and appraisal applications.
MPPW – Section 65 – Coal bed methane. “Coalbed methane extraction equipment is similar to that for conventional gas reservoirs but coalbed methane is more difficult to extract particularly from virgin coal seams because of the low permeability of coal. There are additional environmental considerations associated with coalbed methane extraction: • the environmental impacts of exploration, development, operation and restoration of coalbed methane wells which may have a relatively long productive life of 30 years or more; • coalbed methane extraction usually entails many more wells than conventional gas; • the disposal of water produced during well stimulation and gas production which may vary in contamination; and • adverse effects on subsurface resources such as groundwater.” So the issues are again given this lip service, but with no guidance about how to tackle this more difficult process and additional environmental considerations. These proposals should therefore be called in to establish exactly how this contentious process be handled by planning authorities, who are literally out of their depth.
2. BEYOND THE IMMEDIATE LOCALITY
The mere nature of the proposals makes this self-evident. They are not going to simply drill straight down. They are steering drills into horizontal (or near horizontal) beds that extend many hundreds of metres away from the surface site, under other peoples’ land (which may not even be in the local authority area that allows the proposal). Once fluids are put into the ground, they can access the water cycle and thereby have no bounds at all. This is even before we mention the issue global warming and fossil fuels.
The reason I initially wanted all coal bed methane applications called in should be becoming clear by now. We are facing a scattering of proposals that could occur at almost any random spot across the South Wales Coalfield area (and bit beyond), at any time and from a wide range of PEDL licence holders, across numerous planning authorities. Dealing with each one separately is crazy and is only going to increase the probability of nasty consequences somewhere. As tghe consequences are so far reaching, some joined up thinking is desperately needed. Surely that is grounds for calling in.
3. SUBSTANTIAL CONTROVERSY BEYOND THE IMMEDIATE LOCALITY
These proposals are controversial everywhere they happen. The Green Party of England & Wales have passed emergency motions condemning all such proposals and pledgeing to fight them. I am at the vanguard of this campaign. I personally pledge substantial controversy. We are helping co-ordinate local (https://bridgendgreens.wordpress.com/2011/03/14/llandow-fracking-action-group/), regional ( http://www.greenparty.org.uk/region/wales/news/fracking-vale-of-glamorgan.html) , national ( https://bridgendgreens.wordpress.com/2011/03/02/press-release-green-party-emergency-resolution-on-fracking/ ) and international ( http://www.gaslandthemovie.com/take-action/ ) opposition to fracking.
4. NATURE CONSERVATION ISSUES
The Heritage Coast would be affected by any surface run-off. This could especially impact on Cwm Colhuw Wildlife Trust Reserve. Worney wood Woodland Trust Reserve is also nearby.
5. NATIONAL SECURITY
National energy security could be best served by leaving such reserves well alone for possible future needs in case of real emergency.
6. NOVEL PLANNING ISSUES
As I have indicated elsewhere, above, there are are number aspects to these proposals that make them challenging for the the existing planning structures. The fact that these are highly technical underground issues is the the reason there have been so many calamitous ‘mishaps’ in other parts of the world (especially thae USA). The fact that the really dangerous practices do come into the equation until well into the development phase in most cases, means that the conventional approaches are inappropriate. The consequences, even then, can take some time to manifest themselves. Thus we are asking inadequately trained officials to pass judgement on things that may not have consequences either in their geographical area of jurisdiction, or in the timeframe of their period of office. If these are not novel planning issues, what are?
Call in these proposals. Get thorough environmental impact assessments from appropriate experts in the field. Get the conflicts ad issues with national planning policies resolved or adjudicated on by the WAG. Only then can these proposals be approved and us know who to hold accountable if and, more likely, when things go wrong.