The plight of a young boy with a serious lung condition played its part in an emotional first day at the landmark Bramley Moor Lane fracking inquiry.
Nearly 200 people filled the Assembly Rooms in Chesterfield to hear the opening day of the pivotal process which could lead to fracking in the Derbyshire countryside.
The inquiry sees INEOS, a major player in the chemical and oil industry, go up against Derbyshire County Council and the campaign group Eckington Against Fracking.
Significant concerns have been raised about the plans for exploratory mining in Bramley Moor Lane, near to the village of Marsh Lane, north of Chesterfield.
This is due to the feared impact of increased traffic on the area’s roads, on a primary school which sits just 636 metres from the site, and the potential for water sources and ground to become polluted.
Approval for the scheme, which seeks to begin exploratory mining, would see a 60-metre tall drill erected on the site.
This would be used to drill rock 2,400 metres below ground to seek shale gas deposits.
If shale gas is found, then fracking may begin on the site, but this would require another application.
Barrister for INEOS, Gordon Steele, said that “the appeal that is before this inquiry for determination is for exploratory mining, not fracking”.
This was supported by the QC for the county council, Richard Kimblin, who said: “This inquiry is not concerned with the merits of fracking. This inquiry is concerned with the merits of the eight elements of the appeal proposal.”
These elements include a “listening well” to search for shale gas and construction of a vertical hydrocarbon exploratory drill and the building of an access track. The well equipment would be kept for up to five years, the drill would be operated for three months.
Fracking involves injecting water and chemicals at high pressure into rocks to create tiny cracks, allowing the gas to flow up a well to the surface – where it can be collected.
An approval of this application would set a precedent in the county and could lead to further fracking or exploratory mining sites cropping up in further locations across Derbyshire.
The perceived impact which the proposal could have on residents was at the forefront of many of the opening statements.
Mark Watford, a resident in Marsh Lane, gave an emotional speech about his young child who suffers with a severe lung condition. His son requires an IV every 10 weeks along with numerous forms of medication.
Mr Watford and his family moved to the village Marsh Lane to be away from pollution.
He said: “It is not just about our son, I am worried for the health of all of the children in the village. How can anyone go to work when we don’t know if our children are safe in school.
“We moved to Marsh Lane to give our son a fighting chance, we all know the effect that pollution can have on small lungs.”
Robert Street, member of Coal Aston and Dronfield Against Fracking, was the first speaker at the inquiry and felt that the proposals would have a cumulative impact on the area.
Councillors Alex Dale and Angelique Foster, cabinet members at the county council, spoke at the inquiry as local representatives.
They stated that, from their own experiences, the roads around the proposed site are already dangerous – a situation which they feel would be worsened by increased numbers of heavy goods vehicles.
Cllr Foster said that more than 600 vehicles pass the site each day and that she has received numerous reports of near misses and accidents on the route.
Resident near the site, Derek Ross, said that he had seen numerous accidents caused near the proposed mining location.
He said official data states that there had been 35 crashes near the site in the past five years. “Myself and my son have cheated death and survived crashes,” he said.
In his opening statement, David Kesteven, chair of Eckington Against Fracking, said that the proposal is “environmentally unacceptable.
He said: “Let’s be absolutely clear, this is not about ‘keeping the lights on’ but about supplying feedstock and energy to the UK’s biggest plastic factory owned by the UK’s richest man.
“This exploratory well is in our own backyard, right on top of a hill in our beautiful green belt, down a long, winding road and an airstrip.
“If you think of hanging a motorbike from a crane in a quiet rural field and leave it running for 3 months, I think you’ll understand why we say that this is environmentally unacceptable.”
Around two hours of the debate was around the impact of noise from the site.
The proposed noise from the drilling would be 42 decibels (db). For context, the background noise in the rural countryside where the proposed development would sit is 25db – twice the level of a whisper.
Guidelines given at the inquiry by Keiran Gaylor, acoustic consultant, state that noise should not exceed background noise levels and should never be higher than 10db above background noise levels in an area vulnerable to noise impacts.
A particularly noisy fridge freezer would make noise at a 42db level, and this would continue for three months.
Normal conversation levels are 60db and busy traffic is 70db.
Lee Rowley, MP for North East Derbyshire along with the head teacher of Marsh Lane Primary School, Fiona Marsh, are due to speak at the inquiry on Friday, June 22. The final decision is expected on Friday, June 29.
Eddie Bisknell , Local Democracy Reporting Service