Local resident Joe recounts his experience of over 15 years of community opposition to the gas storage proposals Over Wyre, and what he believes are the concerns that remain today.
C 1998 A gas fired power station is proposed for the old I.C.I site at Thornton by NPL, with storage possibilities for gas around the old salt workings on the other side of the river around Stalmine/Preesall.
C 2002 Texas energy company Canataxx proposes storing natural gas under the Wyre estuary in new, solution mined, caverns. Concern grew among the public as the proposed caverns would be constructed adjacent to, or among, I.C.I's old salt mines and bore holes. These concerns culminated in a public meeting at St Aidan's School, around August 2002, where Canataxx outlined their plan. Mumbled delivery often dismissive answers left more people leaving alarmed, rather than placated.
The consensus of concern by individuals and local organizations led to the formation of P.W.G: the Protect Wyre Group. From Fleetwood Civic Society, Fleetwood Hotel and Guesthouse Assoc, Protect Rural Wyre Group, Thornton Action Group and many other individuals gave their time and /or expertise.
Study of Canataxx's proposals revealed plans for storing 40 billion cu ft of gas at pressures 700-800 psi. (800psi is the tyre pressure of a Halifax heavy bomber in WW2.) The unlined caverns would hold the equivalent of 60 'gasometers,' usually seen at the edge of towns. It was proposed that the solution mined caverns would use an angled drilling technique previously untried in this sort of mining.
PWG started a publicity campaign, using leaflets for house windows and cars as well as mobilising a letter writing campaign that eventually sent approx 34,000 letters (c.12,000 on three occasions.) Each letter expressed individually voiced concerns about Canataxx's scheme, the main points briefly being :
SAFETY, due to insecure geology; ie the layered nature of the salt and presence of known fissures, (one of which runs under the village school,) the proximity of old mine workings and boreholes; contaminants e.g 50,000 tonnes of toxic mercury waste, dumped over 26 years, in historic workings by I.C.I. Dangers of extra traffic at construction and terrorist threat were concerns. Many also recalled the explosion at Abbeystead, where nothing more dangerous than water was being moved.
ENVIRONMENTAL damage, the proposal sits on a SSSI, loss of amenity due to footpath closure and loss of Rights of Way. This in an area well used by walkers, birders, dog walkers, shooters, locals and casual tourists.
NO PROVEN NEED for the facility.
Canataxx's ANONIMITY, therefore lack of accountability.
PWG also collected and evaluated information, before passing it on to the public, often via the 'Green Book' and dealt with the technical and legal side.
By January 2004, Lancashire County Council (LCC) were considering Canataxx's application. A Hazardous Substances Consent was also being considered from Canataxx.
During 2004, LCC refuse the application. The company appealed and by Nov 2004, LCC are notifying the public that Canataxx's appeal will be heard by Public Inquiry. The firm seemed to attempt to muddy the waters of the appeal by lodging a second application with LCC and by late submission of documents to the opening of the Inquiry.
26th Nov 2004. Canataxx refuse to attend public meetings, stated in a reply to Hilton Dawson, M.P. (Mr Dawson had queried the need for the second proposal.)
3rd Dec 2004 Hazardous Substance Consent refused by LCC.
10th Dec 2004. Hilton Dawson states : “I deplore this proposal....(which)...my constituents regard as dangerous and utterly inappropriate.”
Jan 2005. LCC “...disappointed with some of Canataxx's responses.” (By letter to Hilton Dawson, M.P)
16th July 2005. Public Inquiry starts at Marine Hall, for both Canataxx's applications. Further Inquiry dates are announced for October, November, December and January, at North Euston Hotel. All dates are well attended by the public. Inquiry findings expected by 19th October 2007. The Inquiry heard representation from all walks of life, bolstered by the technical expertise of many specific scientific fields. Ben Wallace MP added his objection with knowledge of the North Sea gas fields. The protest movement has always had the support of our MPs, regardless of political party.
24th June 2008. Canataxx mail drop letters to households.
PUBLIC INQUIRY FINDS AGAINST CANATAXX
Canataxx challenge the decision on technicalities. LCC have to reconsider points and ask for public input. By March 2009, yet more letters of protest go out, the total now around 35,000. This is a typical letter. LCC apologises for the delay in replying to submissions “....due to the large number of representations.”
27th Jan 2010. LCC Development Control Committee REFUSES PERMISSION for the gas storage at a special meeting.
Meanwhile the company changed its name to Halite.
Around this time a blow-out occurred on Back Lane. An old brine well was being pressure tested. The valve had corroded shut and brine was forced under pressure around the outside of the pipework, solution excavating a depression approx 3ft deep and 100ft across. The toxic run off then killed 100 yards of established hawthorn hedge. Radio Lancashire reported this as a “...water burst..” They reported the facts inaccurately, though whether through bad journalism or through being in receipt of incorrect information, is not known.
On 17th July 2015, the scheme was passed on review. The Secretary of State for the then Department of Energy and Climate Change was Amber Rudd. Her brother worked for Finsbury and they lobbied on behalf of Halite, so Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth gave the final go ahead.
PWG, having done everything it could to achieve it's purpose of defeating the gas storage proposals through the planning process, disbanded, their hard work and public commitment, along with the involvement of a whole community, going to waste through what many in the community believe to be political corruption.
Although PWG may have gone, protests against the gas storage have not and our current campaign still has the aim of preventing this “...dangerous and inappropriate” scheme. With the dubiously achieved decision of Lord Bourne to give a Development Consent Order, we have now to argue on different fronts for success. Before outlining the immediate threats from the proposal, it's as well to consider other more distant events that have weighed on the concerns of the community.
HUTCHINSON, KANSAS. U.S.A.
Early on in the campaign, research by PWG unearthed a worrying incident at Hutchinson, U.S.A. Gas had migrated from a storage facility in domed salt for several miles to build up and explode in a retail warehouse in the town. The gas had migrated along natural fissures in the rock and built up in the basement over a weekend. Because of this Kansas state law does not allow underground gas storage within “...3 miles of a population centre..” or “...5 miles from mines, active or dormant.” There are approx 150,000 people living within 5 miles of the proposed Preesall storage caverns;- this in layered salt, not the domed salt used for gas storage elsewhere.
PORTAS RANCH, L.A. USA
Gas here was stored in sandstone, not salt but escaped through poorly maintained valves, which corroded to allow gas to seep out. At its worst, aircraft flying into l.A's international airport were diverted around the area of potential danger, houses were evacuated and pets began to have fits and vomit.
Locally, methane gas ignited to cause the explosion at Abbeystead and its subsequent injury and loss of life. Although not caused by deliberately stored gas, residents of Wyre will remember this for a long time yet.
CURRENT PLANS, inherited by NPL from Halite.
Halite sold their operation to NPL in November 2018, despite Halite owing massive debt, the project described as not cost effective, (by Halite at January meeting, 2018) and not needed by the (Conservative) government's own advisers.
Current plans are for 19 caverns to store 130,000,000 cu m of gas. (cf Canataxx's original plans for 40 billion cu ft) Plans are for angled drilling into the layered salt of the area. Neither angled drilling, nor storage in layered sat has been tried before. The overburden of 300ft is flimsy compared to the overburden of two or more miles in domed salt. (E.g Germany.)Several caverns are large enough to contain Blackpol Tower, with room to spare, the largest could contain the Eiffel Tower. This largest cavern would lie within 100m of the boundary with Hackensall Hall and is the nearest to the village of Knott End - a cul-de-sac. No safety or evacuation plans have been mooted for any area, by any of the three companies involved or who have been involved in this project previously.
Access for construction vehicles and workers will be off Hallgate Lane and normal construction will allow 62 heavy wagons per day :- 31 journeys each way on already overcrowded and poorly maintained roads.
THE CONSTRUCTION AND TOXIC BRINE
The caverns are planned to be solution mined. This involves forcing water under pressure into the ground, dissolving the salt and the resulting waste brine pumped to the surface for disposal. 'Disposal' here means dumping as toxic effluent into the Irish Sea.
If allowed, this effluent, at 8 times the salinity of ambient sea water, will be discarded into the sea at Rossall at up to 19,000 tonnes per day (Circa 28 Olympic sized swimming pools) for at least 6 years.
Locals with knowledge of the area – commercial fishermen and boat anglers – are concerned the computer models used for brine dispersal do not tell the whole story. There appears to be no in-house expertise within Halite (now under NPL's umbrella) for marine discharge. With these quantities of brine a miscalculation, accident or mistake could damage the marine habitat irrevocably. 'Brinewatch' is the protest group with detailed information on this toxic effluent discharge.
At a public meeting of 19/1/2018 Halite said they would adhere to the conditions in the Development Consent Order as that what they had to do legally, and that if the local community wasn't happy with those standards they should take it up with the authorities who approved the project to go ahead.
This project will bring no community benefits long term, construction jobs will be of minimum local benefit and noise concerns have not been assuaged. To quote from Canataxx “This is a purely commercial development.” Time has moved on, but the attitude of callous, remote and unaccountable business ventures has not.
Joe, local resident, Knott End.
Written by volunteers from the No Gas Storage Campaign. If you would like to write a blog - get in touch!