Shale Gas Exploration Public Inquiry
The extraction of shale gas using hydraulic fracturing techniques, commonly known as 'fracking' requires a noise assessment to be carried out to determine whether noise levels which are generated, particularly during the drilling and fracturing stages, exceed noise limits specified in national planning guidance. Something which many people are unaware of is that the minerals planning authority, normally the relevant county council, can only object on specific planning issues such as appearance of the equipment in the landscape, noise, traffic, effects on cultural heritage. What goes on under the ground is subject to rules laid down by the Environment Agency and the Department of Energy and Climate Change. In 2015 Lancashire County Council turned down two applications for shale gas exploration sites; one on noise grounds, amongst other factors, and one on non-noise grounds. Cuadrilla Bowland, the company who had applied for planning consent to construct and operate the exploration sites, subsequently appealed the planning decision with the result that a public inquiry was convened to hear the evidence in front of a planning inspector who would make recommendations to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.
We were commissioned by Lancashire County Council to review the information which had been submitted on noise by Cuadrilla Bowland's consultants, and the responses of the Council's previous noise consultants, with a view to presenting evidence supporting the Council's refusal of planning permission for the site where noise had been a factor. We found that the original assessments which had been submitted for both sites were significantly lacking but that the situation had been improved by the submission of additional material prior to the planning decisions being taken. We did consider, however, that there were significant question marks over the assessment standards which had been applied and lack of consideration of uncertainty in the noise predictions. The public inquiry ran for 6 weeks at Blackpool Football Club's home ground in Blackpool in February and March 2016 and our noise evidence focused on the issue of the assessment standards and the predictions but also took into account the levels of background noise at the nearest houses to the proposal which had been turned down on noise.
Evidence on noise issues was presented by ourselves along with that from Cuadrilla Bowland's noise consultants and those representing each of the two action groups opposing the development. The Inspector is expected to produce her recommendations to the Secretary of State in July with the final decision expected sometime after that.
Further details can be found on Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shale_gas_in_the_United_Kingdom