New study finds community suffered “collective trauma” over Lancs fracking decisions

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Plans to frack for shale gas in Lancashire resulted in individual harm and a “considerable toll” on the local community, even before drilling began, according to a new study.

It concluded that people experienced feelings of powerlessness, depression, guilt and anger during the process to decide Cuadrilla’s applications for two sites in the Fylde district.

Researchers Damien Short and Anna Szolucha, of London and Bergen Universities, said:

“It was apparent from the research that a form of ‘collective trauma’ was experienced by the affected communities.”

They defined this as “a blow to the basic tissues of social life” and damage to community bonds.

From analysis of interviews and conversations, the researchers said people described:

“A sense of powerlessness and feelings of depression, a sense of loss, fear, betrayal, guilt, anger, and an emotional rollercoaster ride of highs and lows as the planning process ebbed and flowed through various stages and the appeal process.”

The researchers concluded:

“Significant individual harm and a palpable community collective trauma were experienced from the planning process itself, the various stages of objections and bureaucratic hoops through which concerned citizens have to jump; the feelings of powerlessness in the face of corporate lobbying; the perception that whatever happened locally ‘Westminster’ would likely intervene via the ultimate authority to approve fracking applications vested in the Secretary of State for Communities.”

They said people became disillusioned with the political process and felt they were being treated as “collateral damage”. During the planning process, some councillors also started to feel manipulated and to notice the power imbalances between the gas company and the local government, the researchers said.

The decision by Lancashire County Council to refuse applications for both Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood was welcomed by the anti-fracking movement. But the researchers said

“The process up to that point was deeply concerning on a number of levels, which do not bode well for local citizens who wish to resist future fracking applications”.

They alleged the report by the planning officer, which recommended approval of the Preston New Road application, was flawed and biased.

“Amongst the objectors to the application, there were serious concerns about possible industry influence or political pressure.

“From the interview data it is clear that the PO’s [planning officer’s] report caused considerable stress and worry to those most likely to suffer a direct impact if the applications were to go ahead”.

Cuadrilla appealed against the refusals and was granted planning permission for Preston New Road by the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid in October last year. Two community challenges to this decision were heard in the High Court in Manchester in March this year. The ruling is expected shortly.

Despite this, Cuadrilla began work at the Preston New Road site in January. Since then, there have been daily protests and police presence at the site.

The researchers said:

“This situation will have significant and long-lasting impacts on the local community, contributing to the collective trauma already experienced by the residents living in the vicinity of potential fracking sites in Lancashire.”

They called for more studies on the social impacts of shale gas exploration applications, as well as for production sites.

Fracking Lancashire: The planning process, social harm and collective trauma
Damien Short and Anna Szolucha, Geoforum (peer-reviewed journal), 17 March 2017

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