Economics Environment

Chamber of Commerce’s Flimsy Backing for Fracking

Day seven of the Public Inquiry into the Cuadrilla fracking appeals in Lancashire saw the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce’s Chief Executive, Babs Murphy take to the witness chair for questioning by the Rule 6 parties’ barristers.

Chamber of Commerce

Pictured: North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce’s Chief Executive, Babs Murphy & North West Energy Task Force lobbyist for Cuadrilla

It has to be said that frankly, the quality of witnesses so far presented on behalf of Cuadrilla has been substandard. Commencing with the ARUP representatives in the first week, and running through to the Chamber of Commerce for North West Lancashire, they appeared underprepared and their answers to the questions asked of them lacked substance. For such a high profile case on a national level, the weak case for the fracking industry is unravelling by the day.

Mr Mark Smith, a planning specialist from ARUP, and the first witness to be questioned, could be regularly heard to offer: “I can’t answer that” or “I don’t know” to barristers’ questions. Surely for the level of scrutiny that a Public Inquiry demands, it would be reasonable to expect that witnesses should be fully prepared for questioning?

A significant factor is that both of the applications for fracking in Lancashire are only for exploratory works. These explorations, as confirmed by Cuadrilla, will lead to just 22 jobs in total – 11 jobs for each site. This can hardly be described as a ‘job revolution’, as suggested by some shale enthusiasts.

The entire Rule 6 evidence as presented on behalf of the North and West Lancashire’s Chamber of Commerce’s Chief Executive, Babs Murphy, is stacked precariously on the economic hopes of full production shale gas wells: something that isn’t relevant to the Public Inquiry. The employment speculation and supply chain contracts should not be part of the evidence due to the three-part National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which clearly outlines three phases: exploratory, appraisal and production. For this appeal, only the first phase is taken into account: exploratory works. The rest is just pie-in-the-sky conjecture.

Ms Murphy’s lack of understanding of tourism and rural issues became clearer the longer she spoke. Speaking of the unredacted DEFRA report and the high profile publicity for it to be released, Friends of the Earth barrister, Estelle Dehon, suggested that its contents indicated that tourism and farming would incur losses in rural areas. Ms Murphy did not accept that this would be the case and stated that this would only be a “material consideration in phase two”, totally destroying the Chamber’s case on economic benefit, which is based on a full industrial production phase.

Ms Murphy also admitted to not knowing that part of the Chamber’s Statement of Case documents, The Institute of Directors Report on Getting Shale Gas Working, was commissioned by Cuadrilla. Which is odd, because it clearly states so on the first page. Ms Murphy also did not realise that the Deloitte Report on shale gas was commissioned by Cuadrilla too. Again, if she had read it closely, it plainly states this on the first page.

Ms Dehon probed Ms Murphy’s sketchy evidence provided as a Rule 6 party. Worryingly, Ms Murphy then admitted she had in fact, not even read the unredacted version of the controversial DEFRA report, relying only on the redacted version for her evidence submission:

“I cannot possibly read everything that is put in front of me, but I did read the redacted version.”

The redacted version was even written by someone named ‘redacted’. If Ms Murphy had deigned to read the unredacted version, she would have discovered crucial sections that were previously omitted with extensive implications for rural communities relying on agriculture and tourism for their mainstay. Ms Murphy stated that the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce had no members who were actually farmers.

Ms Murphy’s evidence therefore ignored report evidence such as:

“Rural community businesses that rely on clean air, land, water, and/or a tranquil environment may suffer losses from this change such as agriculture, tourism, organic farming, hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation.”

“Losses from tourists avoiding area due to shale gas operations”

“Shale gas development may transform a previously pristine and quiet natural region, bringing increased industrialisation.”

Screenshot from fracking lobbyist website, Lancashire For Shale

Surely such crucial possibilities of impacts on rural communities should be weighted as a serious consideration against shale gas development? The Fylde Coast is famed for its clean air and farming industry. Existing agriculture and tourism industries in the Fylde alone are worth a large percentage of income and employment. Put this alongside the speculative job figures from an untried, untested fracking industry in the UK and there is no comparison.

Ms Murphy went on to state:

“There is no evidence to suggest that the shale gas industry affects health.”

This comment elicited shocked gasps from the audience. The environmental and health impacts resulting from hydraulic fracturing works are well documented across the world, resulting in bans in locations such as France and New York. The evidence provided which secured the New York ban was in-depth and without industry interference: the same cannot be said from the UK government’s limited and narrow (and also, now outdated) Public Health England Report. The other UK health review on fracking, the 2015 Medact Report, written by well-respected UK medical professionals, highlights more up-to-date and relevant studies outlining serious concerns with regards to fracking, which the UK government has blatantly attempted to discredit and ignore.

With over 800+ scientific studies now implicating fracking’s cost to humans and the environment, New York State powerfully concluded: “High-volume hydraulic fracturing poses significant adverse impacts to land, air, water, natural resources and potential significant public health impacts that cannot be adequately mitigated.”

The tired cliché of the UK government’s “gold standard, robust regulations” for shale gas seemingly adds up to very little in the face of it, yet this is the party line that the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce is following blindly.

So far, the credibility and knowledge of the expert witnesses rallying for shale is entirely unconvincing.

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