A CRUCIAL intervention by two Scottish professors may have led to the impasse at Lancashire County Council yesterday over the re-starting of fracking in the UK.

As Lancashire Council’s Development Control Sub-Committee eventually decided late yesterday afternoon to postpone to Monday its final decision on Cuadrilla’s application to start fracking in Lancashire, it emerged that professors at Glasgow and Edinburgh University had provided strong evidence against fracking.

The committee had been thought ready to approve the Cuadrilla application to frack up to four new wells at Preston New Road, but yesterday it appeared that opinions against fracking had firmed up. A council source said the evidence of the Scottish academics had been influential.

David Smythe, Emeritus Professor of Geophysics at Glasgow University, gave evidence to a pre-meeting of the Committee last week, citing the latest report from the USA that proved, “from a case history in Pennsylvania, that faults and/or fractures can and do act as a conduit from fracked shale to contaminate drinking water,” as Smythe wrote on his personal website.

The second and more recent intervention came from Stuart Haszeldine, OBE, Professor of Geology at Edinburgh University, who said there were still uncertainties about faulting and the underground movement of fluids and gases in Lancashire.

Like Smythe, he called for a moratorium – similar to that imposed on fracking in Scotland by the Scottish Government earlier this year – until more research has been carried out.

He said: “I recommend a moratorium, so that truly scientific investigations can be undertaken.

“It has to be wondered why the science will not predate the commercial drilling, to inform the most secure and best result, but instead the science will follow after the commercial drilling. Fundamental uncertainties on faults, fractures, stress, movement of frack fluids, movement of frack gases and hydrocarbons, and basic understanding of deep hydrogeology remain unresolved in the sub-surface planning evidence submitted for fracking at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood.”

In his submission, Haszeldine cited the court win by a group of citizens in Pennsylvania who claimed that fracking had contaminated their water. He wrote: “The State regulator failed to detect any contamination by chemical analysis, so the citizens resorted to hiring a consultant environmental science company to make investigations. The case went to court, and the citizens won, convincingly.

“Lessons I draw from this include: i) clear evidence that frack fluids and gas can travel several kilometres along fractures which were previously un-recognised; ii) the Regulator had insufficient analytical equipment or skill to detect contamination; iii) there was inadequate systematic or scientific investigation of the region before commercial fracking occurred.

“Do similar criticisms apply to the present-day propositions for commercial drilling in Lancashire? This area is geologically complex, with many steep (near vertical) faults and fractures. This is like Pennsylvania, but even more fractured.

“It remains very unclear if the evidence provided by the potential developers is adequate, or unique, in its interpretation.”

The Pennsylvania study showed that deep gas could migrate to hit the drinking water table, Haszeldine said.

He added: “Pre-existing steep fractures could be gas and groundwater conduits to move contamination vertically and laterally.

“Lessons emerging from studies of recent fracking practice in some states of the USA show that is has been difficult to predict the effects of fracking on fluid flow in some cases.

“It is of course clear that most fracked boreholes do not show evidence of adverse consequences. But those that do have not been cleaned-up and remain contaminated, permanently in human timescales.”

Haszeldine said more detailed tests would provide information about where faults and fracture occur in Lancashire.

All the tests were technically possible but would mean deferring commercial drilling in the UK, he added.