Lawfulness of Cuadrilla’s fracking operations put into question
Today, three environmental activists were in court at Preston Magistrates Court following their action (1) which shut down a Cuadrilla Resources fracking (2) site beside the Ribble Estuary in Lancashire in December 2011.
The prosecution needs to demonstrate that Cuadrilla were operating lawfully and the prosecution lawyers were scrabbling to find an expert witness to support this position. Last minute phone calls by the prosecution team delayed the commencement of the trial.
The activists are charged with aggravated trespass. To have committed an offence it needs to be shown that they had disrupted a lawful activity. In this case that means the drilling operations of Cuadrilla.
But today in court the Head of Planning from Lancashire County Council, Alyn Perigo, confirmed that Cuadrilla were operating outside the period of their planning permission. Cuadrilla had in fact continued to drill two months beyond their agreed time limit.
Mr Perigo also confirmed they had failed to meet a key condition to safeguard bird life from the adjacent Ribble Estuary Site of Special Scientific Interest. The council officer admitted they had few resources and very limited powers to police developers and that they largely relied on developers meeting their obligations.
Today’s hearing poses some crucial questions for communities around the UK now being faced with fracking developments:
- Can fracking companies such as Cuadrilla be relied upon to protect communities and environments locally and globally, given the ineffective regulation and oversight currently in place?
- Can a company that is prepared to flout its planning permission be trusted to manage the inherent risks involved in fracking?
- On December 1st 2011, activists from Bristol Rising Tide occupied a drilling rig operated by Cuadrilla Resources at Hesketh Bank beside the Ribble Estuary. The action stopped drilling for 13 hours before the occupiers came down of their own accord. Photos of the action are available at https://secure.flickr.com/photos/71113300@N08/
- Hydraulic fracturing is a method of extracting gas in shale rock. Huge amounts of water mixed with toxic chemicals are forced into the ground at high pressure, a large proportion of which are never recovered. This fluid also leaches arsenic out of rocks, creating a dangerous cocktail that’s difficult to dispose of. In the United States numerous spills of these fluids have contaminated irrigation water, affecting food supplies, and the health of surrounding communities. There are twelve licenses to frack for shale gas in the UK, five of which are held by Cuadrilla resources in Lancashire.