We store cookies on your device to make sure we give you the best experience on this website. I'm fine with this - Turn cookies off
Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

Frack free RCT

September 12, 2014 10:30 AM

Whilst a growing number of people are joining the campaign against fracking in Rhondda Cynon Taff, and indeed Wales, many more are unaware that permission for test drilling in Llantrisant has already been granted.

Licenses for 23 sites in Wales have already been granted, and planning applications for test drilling sites are coming in thick and fast. Rhondda Cynon Taff planning committee originally turned down the application for Llantrisant in August 2013, but then granted it in October.

In the first of a series of articles on the subject we look at what it is, the issues surrounding it and what can be done to put the brakes on before test drilling becomes full blown fracking.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a technique designed to recover gas and oil from shale rock. The process involves drilling down into the earth and injecting water, sand and chemicals at high-pressure to release the gas inside.

There are a number of serious concerns regarding the process, both regarding safety and the effect on the local environment and communities.

Some of these were highlighted and questioned during a session with the Welsh Affairs Committee in December 2013. Evidence was taken from Energy Minister Michael Fallon and from Chris Faulkner, Chief Exec of an American fracking company. Some of the responses were bizarre to say the least and certainly did nothing to allay any fears over the process.

When questioned on the disruption a community might experience from drilling Mr Faulkener said:

"If you are not using pad drilling-if you are putting up one well site, drilling one horizontal well and having to move on to the next location, as we have had to do in America it takes 1,000 trucks in and 1,000 trucks out to mobilise and demobilise a rig.

"If we wipe away the fact that we feel very confident that fracking is safe, there will still be concerns about noise, dust and truck traffic. To reduce those, we use pad drilling. We use sound and noise actuators. Curtains that go around the drill site keep the viewshed intact, for the aesthetics, and also keep the noise down, because you are drilling 24 hours a day in these communities."

When asked about the possibility of earthquakes:

"In Blackpool, where Cuadrilla caused two seismic events, there is 100 years' history of seismic events from coal mining. Secondly, "earthquakes"-let us put quotes around that-in a 2.0 range occur 1.3 million times a year on this planet. It is unfortunate that we did not talk about the other 1,299,998. We talked about-and made a huge deal about-the two that occurred in Blackpool, but this occurs 1.3 million times.

"I would caution that by saying that I would not go to California and start fracking near fault lines and such. I would know the geology you are dealing with; again, that is why it is important to have regulation."

Michael Fallon MP - Minister of Energy, and Durate Fiueira - Head, Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil also gave evidence.

They were asked about the possible number of wells that would be dug.

Michael Fallon: "I do not think we know the answer as to how many wells are likely to be drilled. I think the industry estimates that some 30 to 40 wells will be drilled for exploration over the next couple of years, but I have not seen any firm estimate of how many wells could be drilled in the production phase."

Duarte Figueira: "We do not know. Estimates were made by the Institute of Directors in May that talked about a number of thousands of wells, but it is worth bearing in mind, as I think you heard in your last evidence session, that there is a very big difference between what happens at the exploration stage and what happens at the production stage."

The Minister was also asked about the situation regarding planning permission and licenses in Wales:

" We have been working with the Welsh Government to make sure they understand the process that we have in England. Some of these regulatory steps apply across England and Wales. There is a very clear regulatory process now-a five-stage process. First, you have to have a licence. Then you have to have planning permission from the local planning authority in Wales. You have to have the necessary environmental permits from the Welsh body concerned. You have to have consent for your drilling operation and the construction of your well from the Health and Safety Executive. Finally, you have to come back to my Department for a consent.

"So there is a five-stage process, which will apply slightly differently in Wales, but it is there for Wales as for England. Given the activity there has already been onshore, particularly in the south of Wales, in all kinds of extraction, I would have thought there was quite a lot of interest and potential in Wales. There are already some 23 licences out there. We know there are half a dozen operators in Wales. I am pretty confident that, if all this potential is really there, Wales will be involved in it."

So the vehicular movement and the disruption for local residents will around these sites will be significant, and in many areas the road network will struggle to cope. The number of wells could be huge.

Whilst those on the side of fracking dismiss the earthquake risk as being minimal, then the areas where licences are being granted are former mining areas and there are already risks of subsidence.

There is a further worry about the possible contamination of the water supply. The fracking companies insist that the risk is tiny. They say that where there have been incidents in America the water supply is very different to here, and that as long as the operation is carried out properly and all due precautions taken there will be no risk.

We do not think these vague reassurances are enough. Until more is known about the process and any possible effects then the Welsh Liberal Democrats firmly believe that there should be no sites given planning permission in Wales.