Cuadrilla has pledged to spend £5m on fracking more quietly, in an attempt to address planning officers’ concerns over noise from its proposed sites in Lancashire.
The shale gas explorer on Friday asked Lancashire County Council to delay crunch votes on its plans in order to allow consultation on new noise and traffic mitigation measures.
Council planners on Wednesday recommended that councillors refuse permission for Cuadrilla to frack at two sites between Preston and Blackpool, when they vote on the proposals next week.
Likely noise levels at the Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood siteswould have “significant adverse effects on health and quality of life”, the planning officer said.
He also raised concerns about the “severe” impact of lorry movements to and from the Roseacre site.
Cuadrilla had argued it would represent an “unreasonable burden” to further limit the noise levels, but on Friday set out plans to do so at a cost of about $3m-$4m (£2m-£2.7m) per site.
These would include “a further sound barrier around the major parts of the drilling rig along with other measures such as additional shielding around individual components of the drilling rig” at Preston New Road.
“The detail of this additional mitigation requires proper consultation and planning regulations clearly require this,” Cuadrilla said. “We have therefore also requested a deferral in the determination of our planning applications to allow for this consultation to take place.”
The company did not disclose the total cost of its fracking plans but said total site construction would have been less than £2m each.
It secured funding of £60m from British Gas owner Centrica in a 2013 deal to fund the exploration and appraisal programme, implying total works at each site may be about £30m.
A spokesman for Lancashire County Council said that a decision on the request would not be made until the planning committee met on Wednesday, when it was scheduled to vote on the proposals.
Cuadrilla’s proposed fracking sites
Planning guidelines say that noise should be kept to within 10 decibels (dB) above background levels by day, and be set to “reduce to a minimum any adverse impacts” by night, in both cases without imposing “unreasonable burdens” on the operator.
At Preston New Road, Cuadrilla’s drilling would have exposed nearby properties to noise about 12.5dB above background levels by night.
At Roseacre, nighttime drilling would have raised levels by 13.3dB, while daytime noise would have been increased by 14.6dB from the company fracking, which it has said it will only undertake by day.
In both cases Cuadrilla had told the planning officer that “a range of noise attenuation measures could be employed to reduce noise levels but that further attenuation would result in unreasonable burden”.
Francis Egan, Cuadrilla chief executive, said on Wednesday that the planning officer’s recommendation was a “surprise” and that appeared to be introducing a tough new precedent because other onshore drilling operations had only had to comply with the maximum thresholds, which Cuadrilla’s plans already did.
The new nighttime noise levels under plans set out on Friday would reduce the noise further to be within 10dB above background levels.
A spokesman for the company said it was also working on measures to bring the daytime noise at Roseacre to within the 10dB limit.
Fracking opponents condemned Cuadrilla’s latest announcement. Helen Rimmer, Friends of the Earth’s campaigner for the North West, said: “This is yet another example of Cuadrilla trying to circumvent the planning process and creating more uncertainty for communities by doing so.
“They’ve had months to get the information right and it’s outrageous to make such a last minute request.
“Two thirds of people in Lancashire don’t want to see fracking in the county and the Council must refuse the deferral and turn down Cuadrilla’s controversial plans.”