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National demonstrations in Preston this week as Council decides fracking applications

Chris Satori
Lancashire County councillors have been receiving messages from all over the world urging them to reject Cuadrilla's applications for fracking exploration at their meetings this week.

The New York State legislature outlawed fracking last December.  Last week, 850 of the state's current and former elected politicians have written a letter to Lancashire's councillors asking them to note the findings of a two-year study by New York State Department of Public Health. With regard to the industry's claims that it would bring jobs to the region they stated:

"We are sure that the fracking industry will promise jobs and prosperity. We urge you to treat  these claims with deep skepticism. The experience in the U.S. is that these claims are false and  vastly overstated. Meanwhile, local communities are faced with significant costs including road  and infrastructure damage, emergency response, heightened crime rates, and lingering  contamination and pollution. Additionally, fracking threatens to negatively affect existing  economic sectors. Like Lancashire, New York has strong agriculture and tourism sectors. We  believe that fracking would put these at risk.

"To safeguard the county’s economy and environment, and to protect the health of its citizens,  we urge you to say no to fracking in Lancashire."

Legal pressure
Tomorrow, Tuesday 23 June, the council will begin deciding Caudrilla's application to frak at Preston New Road, with a decision expected on Wednesday. The Council's Officers have recommended conditional approval for this application. At a previous meeting they recommended that the application be rejected, but a panel of lawyers from Cuadrilla persuaded them to defer the decision to give Cuadrilla time to amend its application.

Furthermore, the Council was reminded by a pro-fracking central government of limitations to its powers, and the possibility of these being further limited by future legislation planned to ease the way for fracking companies. (See previous news item: "Fracking battle heats up: leaked Osborne letter shows plan to force permits through"

In keeping with the legal tone of the debate, the officers' recommendation for approval comes with 48 conditions, 44 of which must be met prior to any development taking place. However, the region is overwhelmingly opposed to fracking so, although onerous, these conditions, designed to cover the council's back, don't come close to reflecting the wishes or the welfare of the region, but do serve to illustrate the very heavy levels of pressure being brought to bear on the both officers and elected councillors from a government made up of politicians with strong personal financial interests in the oil and gas industry.

Smear Campaign
Complaints have been lodged against the officers' reports' 'smear campaign' against expert witnesses. David Smythe, emeritus professor of geophysics at the University of Glasgow, submitted written evidence to the council on what he saw as the risk of fracking to water pollution in the Fylde. He also gave a 30-minute presentation at a pre-meeting of the committee last week.  The planning officers’ report said of Professor Smythe:  “Comments that the geology of Lancashire is not suitable for fracking have been provided by a professor who retired 18 years ago and is now living in France running a B&B. Evidence in the US and UK is to the contrary.“  This statement was “a calculated denigration of an expert witness”, Professor Smythe said. He said he took early retirement from the chair of Geophysics at Glasgow 16 years ago and then spent about 10 years consulting for oil companies throughout the world. (His wife, not he, runs a B&B).

Other expert witnesses have also been denigrated in a manner generally considered inappropriate for a planning report. Human rights lawyer, Damien Short, was concerned about the democratic process of previous Council meetings in which he noted that Cuadrilla always was given the opportunity to speak last, and thus their words where always the last the council heard, with no opportunity given to rebut inaccurate of misleading statements.

On Thursday 25 June the Council will consider Cuadrilla's application to frack at Roseacre Wood, with a decision expected on Friday. Officers have recommended that this application be refused.

Labour MP for Lancaster & Wyre Cat Smith has set up a petition calling on councillors to reject the applications, citing serious environmental and health concerns and warning that 'A green light for fracking could open the floodgates for applications in Lancaster and Morecambe'.

Demonstrations planned
Protesters are expected from across the UK from Tuesday to Friday with Green Party leader Natalie Bennet joining them outside County Hall on Wednesday to add her support to the anti-fracking demonstrations.

Council officers have warned of 'potential disruption', leading Green Councillor Gina Dowding to point out that this would be insignificant compared to the disruption planned by Cuadrilla 'who, if granted their applications, will disrupt the quiet lanes of rural Lancashire for years on end, threaten our clean source of water, risk polluting our air and ride rough-shod over our local communities; all for a quick buck that that will add to carbon emissions and will not solve our long term need for sustainable energy."

Lancaster contingent
Lancastrians intending to join the protesters will be travelling to Preston together on Tuesday morning on the 8.28am train from Lancaster Train Station, meeting on the platform at 8.15am.