Friends of the Earth challenge Trafford Council on coal-bed methane planning decision
STOP PRESS: The Council has agreed to defer consideration of the application for Coal Bed Methane testing and production (81446/RENEWAL/2013) from tonight’s Planning Committee meeting in order to enable it to give further consideration to environmental issues raised by objectors. This application has raised a number of detailed and conflicting environmental issues and it is important that the Council acts to ensure that its decision is fully informed in relation to these matters.
The application will come back to committee once we are satisfied that these issues have been addressed.
This evening (Thursday 9th October 2014), Trafford Council’s Planning Committee will decide whether to grant permission for IGas, the company behind recent drilling in Barton Moss, Salford, a 25 year permission to operate coal-bed methane drilling and production at a site in Davyhulme in Trafford. Manchester Friends of the Earth, together with many local groups and concerned residents have been campaigning to stop this drilling from going ahead.
Manchester Friends of the Earth issued a press release “Green group warns of legal challenge to gas drilling plans in Trafford” briefly highlighting our concerns about serious flaws in Trafford Council’s planning process and their recommendation for approval.
This morning, Friends of the Earth have emailed all the Trafford Councillors who are members of the Planning Committee with details of our case on why Trafford Council planners are wrong to recommend approval for the IGas application. A copy of our email is shown below.
There will be a protest outside Trafford Town Hall (Talbot Road, Stretford, M32 0TH), before the Planning Committee. Meet from 5.30pm. Meeting starts at 6.30pm. Hope you can make it.
Email from Friends of the Earth to Trafford councillors.
Friends of the Earth have raised concerns over a number of months over the failure to conduct a proper screening of the time extension for the extraction of coal bed methane located next to the Davyhulme Water Treatment works (4681/FULL/2010).
We have also raised concerns that the planning department at Trafford is relying on out of date planning guidance, and while the planning department have assured us that our concerns have been presented within the report to Committee, we have yet to see evidence of this. We understand that this information may be circulated within ‘Additional Information’ today, but we would still like to draw the Committee’s attention to the following points:
Consideration of Air Quality issues
1. Up to date online planning practice guidance is clear that “in considering the sensitivity of a particular location, regard should also be had to whether any national or internationally agreed environmental standards (e.g. air quality) are already being approached or exceeded”. The Council has the power to refuse a development if the proposal cannot be made acceptable in air quality terms (i.e. if it presents an unacceptable risk from air pollution or prevents sustained compliance with EU limit values and national objectives for pollutants). It has been clarified that up to 6 months of venting of gas will take place in a letter received by Friends of the Earth on 7th October 2014 from Council officials and there is little or no information as to what gases (besides) butane will be vented, in what quantities or what the impacts may be. EIA is required to address these uncertainties in accordance with the precautionary principle. (http://planningguidance.
2. Environmental Impact Assessment
Council officials say that EIA guidance makes clear that it is unlikely to be needed in relation to an application for exploratory drilling which does not involve fracking. However, they seem to have failed to take into account that the application before the Council is to carry out exploratory, appraisal and production works, including potentially, further drilling during production. There is therefore a real risk that the Council has mis-directed itself in law on this point.
If the well is likely to produce more than 500,000 cubic metres of gas per day during production, EIA would be mandatory as the site would fall within Schedule 1 of the EIA Regulations. No information is contained in the application documents on this point, therefore it is unclear whether the Council has even considered this issue.
The most up to date guidance on EIA states that “local planning authorities should always have regard to the possible cumulative effects arising from any existing or approved development.” It also says that “there are occasions where other existing or approved development may be relevant in determining whether significant effects are likely as a consequence of a proposed development.”
We are of the view that the local planning authority should have taken the position given the concerns raised that this is a case where the screening opinion should have been changed (also an option in exceptional circumstances as set out in the planning guidance).
3. Climate change
The assessment of climate impacts in the Screening Opinion is flawed for, as clarified by Council officials, it concludes that impacts will be insignificant because impacts from this particular site will be no worse than impacts from other unconventional sites.
This is flawed reasoning, since the Environmental Report published by DECC in December 2013 in relation to onshore unconventional oil and gas concluded that climate impacts from unconventional oil and gas were likely to be significant. Accordingly EIA is required.
The Council relies too heavily on other bodies to regulate impacts and fails to recognise that it is tasked, by law, with assessing the significance of likely impacts and cannot simply assume that others will ensure this outcome, at some stage in future, whether or not particular impacts can be adequately mitigated. We are concerned that the Council has mis-directed itself in law on this point.
Up to date planning guidance is clear that EIA “can be useful for testing the integration of mitigation and adaptation measures and the long term implications of decisions.” We are concerned that the authority has failed to adequately consider the long term implications of this decision, and is taking a risky approach.
4. Inadequate information
It is not clear that the Council knows what all the chemicals are which will be used by Igas to drill for and extract gas, nor whether they are hazardous or not, nor how these issues related to their use were taken into account. This is a highly risky approach as this could lead to unforeseen impacts.
EIA guidance says that local planning authorities “must have regard to the amount of information available, the precautionary principle and the degree of uncertainty in relation to the environmental impact.” This applies to risks to groundwater (e.g. from well failure or leakage) which under the Water Framework Directive “should not be polluted at all”.
The Council has obtained inadequate information about the amount of waste fluid (and other waste substances) required to be disposed of. There is no overall total of fluid required to be disposed of and apparently no assessment of the capacity of local disposal facilities to cope with these amounts (given the demands on these facilities made by two new fracking sites currently under consideration by Lancashire County Council, each one of which will take up considerable capacity of local facilities).