News

Despite fracking failing to get started at a gas well in the North of England, company's lorries, police vehicles and protesters' wood fires have combined to drive up air pollution levels near the area.

Operations at the Kirby Misperton well in North Yorkshire have been delayed after the operator Third Energy ran into financial problems. Nevertheless the project's local pollution impact has been revealed by Government supported research.

A professor of atmospheric chemistry at the University of York, Alastair Lewis, said his air quality monitoring project found a group of pollutants had increased in the vicinity of the site to levels normally seen in a city rather than a rural area.

Lewis discovered the main causes were:

  • lorries supplying the well, were producing the largest, most visible impacts above the surface on nitrogen oxides (NOx) from the use of compressors, generators and truck movements;
  • opposition by campaigners, such as slow walking in front of lorries supplying the site, and burning of wood by protest camps, would have driven up NOx levels;
  • police operation and police vehicles have been a significant source of the pollutants, with North Yorkshire police spending more that £600,000 on policing protests on the site over the Autumn and Winter period of 2017/18.

As a result Lewis commented that the above causes "shifted a semi-rural location into a chemical environment that looked more similar to a city suburban environment for NOx".

However he did add that the levels did not breach regulatory limits, and the full research will be published in due course.

Steve Mason, who lives near the well and a campaigner for Frack Free United, said he was extremely concerned that air quality had been impacted. 

"If the air quality of rural Yorkshire can be turned into that of a city environment by preparatory work for a single well that was never even fracked, imagine the impact if there are thousands of fracking wells strewn across our countryside, which is what the industry is planning to do".

If the shale gas industry scales up to a national level with 400 wells, NOx levels would increase by up to 4%, according to an earlier Government report.

A study undertaken by the London Green Belt Council has found developers are threatening London's green belt land, with five out of six local authorities planning to build on protected land.

They discovered that 202,700 developments have been proposed for green belt land, an increase of 64% based on the previous two years. This is despite enough previously developed land being available in the area, over 4,934 hectares of brownfield land, to accommodate the planned new homes and many more.

The researchers stated that contrary to developers claims, building in the green belt did not create affordable housing especially for people in the South East. Findings revealed only 22% of the homes planned on land released from the green belt would meet the government’s definition of affordable.

Chair of the London Green Belt Council, Richard Knox-Johnston, urged that the government must take action to avoid irreparable damage to the integrity of London’s protected land. He added:

''Government at all levels, supported by developers, claim that development in the green belt will provide more affordable housing, especially for young people but, as this report shows, this is not the case. Young people are being cruelly misled. Councils are being pressurised by government to set targets which are much higher than the likely need and are, on occasions, forced to accept even higher housing numbers to accommodate growth from neighbouring authorities. The government should be taking steps to reduce the pressure on councils to build on green belt land by focusing on brownfield land and genuine housing need and restricting the ability of councils to de-designate Green Belt land.''

Housing minister Kit Malthouse commented: ''We are determined to build the homes our country needs, but we have been clear that the use of green belt land should be a last resort.''

Bristol City Council in partnership with Plymouth and Devon Councils have been granted €1.9 million by the European Investment Bank and the European Commission for energy projects.

The projects which will be managed by a central delivery team in Bristol, include electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure, renewable energy, heat network projects, and improvements to the energy efficiency of domestic and commercial properties.

Cabinet Member for Energy, Waste and Regulatory Services, Councillor Kye Dudd, commented: ''It’s great that Bristol has once again been recognised as a national leader in the field of sustainability as our goal to become a carbon neutral city by 2050 moves a step closer. It’s even more exciting now that we are in a position to share our knowledge and expertise with other parts of the region, helping them to reduce carbon and provide clean energy to towns and cities across the South West.''

This is the second time Bristol City Council has been granted a funding bid from the European Local Energy Assistance (ELENA) facility. In 2014 the Council was granted 50 million for energy and sustainability projects.

Met Office forecasts have predicted that atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide are set to soar through 2019.

Continued deforestation and burning of fossil fuels combined with El Niño-like conditions are expected to lead to an average rise in CO2 concentrations of 2.75 parts per million (ppm). Globally this would mean average CO2 increased to 411ppm.

These predictions put the forecast for 2019 as having one of the highest annual rises in CO2 levels since records began. Greenhouse gases have not been in as concentrated levels as they are today, and the past four years have been the hottest ever recorded.

Professor Richard Betts, from the Met Office, commented: ''Looking at the monthly figures, it’s as if you can see the planet ‘breathing’ as the levels of carbon dioxide fall and rise with the seasonal cycle of plant growth and decay in the northern hemisphere. Each year’s carbon dioxide is higher than the last and this will keep happening until humans stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.''

A London-based construction company was sentenced this month for safety breaches after a worker was killed.

In November 2015 an employee from Formation Construction Limited was using a concrete breaker at Tech West House in Acton, to make an opening for a stairwell when he fell 7.5 metres, sustaining fatal head injuries.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the work was not properly planned, adequately supervised or carried out in a safe manner when the incident occurred.

Formation Construction Limited pleaded guilty to breaching the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, was fined £300,000 and ordered to pay £17,528 in costs.

HSE inspector Kevin Smith commented on the case, that "this was a tragic and wholly avoidable incident, caused by the failure of the company to implement suitable and sufficient measures to prevent falls".

He added that safeguards put in place were "virtually absent" and "ultimately, the company failed to control the risk on site and as a result one of its workers fell to his death".

Two companies have been sentenced this month following the death of a five-year-old girl who became trapped while using a lift at home in Weymouth.

The family moved into the property in 2009, owned by Synergy Housing Limited, as part of the Aster Group. The property had an internal lift used by the five-year-old's brother, who used a wheelchair. 

In 2015 the five-year-old got in the lift to get her brother's phone from upstairs. She put her head through a hole in the vision panel and as the lift moved upward, the five-year-old's head got stuck between the lift and the ground floor ceiling. She died of her injuries.

Aster Property Limited managed a contract with Orona Limited on behalf of Synergy Housing Limited for the maintenance and repair of lifts, including the lift at the property in which the five-year-old lived.

Synergy Housing also had an agreement from 2013 with Aster Property Limited to arrange the maintenance and repair of lifts and to control the work.

When one of the perspex vision panels in the lift became damaged in early 2013, this was not fixed or replaced. In May 2015 an Orona engineer visited the property to inspect the lift and noted the vision panel was damaged.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found failures by the three companies:

  • Synergy Housing as the family's landlord had primary responsibility for the safety of the lift at the property;
  • Aster Property as the company to which responsibility for arranging lift maintenance issues fell;
  • Orona who were responsible for the relevant lift maintenance and repair work.

Synergy House Limited pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and has been fined one million and ordered to pay costs of £40,000.

Synergy Housing accepted that its duties were not to be delegated and that the failings of Aster Property were part of its breach. The charge against Aster Property Limited was ordered to be left to lie on the court file and was not separately sentenced.

Orona Limited pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, fined £533,000 and ordered to pay costs of £40,000.

HSE inspector Leo Diez commented on the case, that these companies "failed in their duties" to put systems in place to ensure the lift was kept safe, and more could have been done.

During the investigation the HSE found:

  • tenants were not provided with safety critical information concerning the operation of the lift;
  • no risk assessment was carried out following the change of lift used when the five-year-old's family moved in;
  • concerns raised during service inspection were not addressed including:
    • the perspex vision panel had been damaged for up to 18 months prior to the incident which had been reported in an inspection in 2015,
    • problems with the emergency lowering and lack of emergency hand winding wheel during the entirety of the families tenancy had been shown in documentation from at least January 2011,
    • the key switch used to control operation of the lift had been modified from factory installation to allow removal of the key in any position, meaning it could be operated by anyone at any time;
  • concerns raised by the brother's health workers were not taken seriously enough;
  • according to HSE guidance, lifts carrying people should be inspected every six months but, in this case, the lift was serviced only four times between 2009 and 2015 and was not thoroughly examined since 2012.

HSE inspector Leo Diez added: "Companies should know HSE will not hesitate to take the appropriate enforcement action against those who flout health and safety law".


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