Public Health England (PHE) gave details of its recent proposals to monitor for the radioactive gas, radon, in the air and homes around Preston New Road. (See DrillOrDrop report)
The organisation told residents it was now working on the arrangements and that letters should be sent to householders in about two weeks. PHE representatives said baseline data should be collected before drilling started and, ideally, over a period of six months.
But people living near Preston New Road said they were not reassured by the news.
They said the protocols used in North Yorkshire, which included six months of monitoring, must be applied to Lancashire. But this now looks unlikely. Cuadrilla has said it plans to start drilling in the second quarter of the year (April-June) and PHE confirmed it had no powers to delay operations because radon monitoring was not required under shale gas regulations.
PHE told residents that there was a low risk of exposure to radon from shale gas operations. But the residents argued there was no safe level of exposure to radon.
One resident said:
“I do not think that the powers-that-be have an interest in looking after this community.
“They cannot drill until they have the baseline data. Drilling needs to be postponed for six months.
“There is no mechanism for Cuadrilla to postpone drilling so it will not be a proper baseline. It is outrageous.”
Baseline radon data has already been collected in Ryedale, North Yorkshire, where Third Energy has permission to frack its well at Kirby Misperton. The research is part of a project co-ordinated by the British Geological Survey and is independent of monitoring required by the Environment Agency. The baseline data will be compared with results when fracking or production is underway.
Until recently there had been no plans to monitor radon at Preston New Road under a similar research project in Lancashire, which has been running since February 2015.
One person said: “[Radon monitoring] should have been started earlier” and a third person asked: “Who excluded Lancashire?”.
Preston New Road Action Group has also called for baseline monitoring for benzene, which has been detected in high concentrations in air around some fracking sites in the US.
Claire Stephenson from the group said:
“The government claims that ‘robust, gold-standard’ monitoring and regulation will be in place for fracking. There is still nothing to show for these claims, other than empty, meaningless rhetoric.”
The PHE said it may collect baseline data on benzene but it said the Environment Agency was responsible for regulation of the substance.