Regulator examines new procedures at West Newton drill site

The Environment Agency says it is examining new procedures at a Rathlin Energy gas drilling site in east Yorkshire, where local residents complained last week about a smell that was making them feel ill.

The EA instructed Rathlin to carry out sampling and analysis at the site at West Newton, nine miles from Hull, and submit plans to control the smell.

Simon Parrock, a spokesperson for the Agency, said: ”We are currently assessing the operator’s revised procedures which are designed to allow the activity to recommence without causing a smell”. He added: “We are now looking to see if the work done has been carried out to our specifications.”

Rathlin Energy said the smell was “associated with a specific operation we were undertaking as part of our ongoing testing operations at West Newton last week”.

The company described the smell as slight and very localised, “largely confined to the well site”. But one local resident, writing on social media, said she could not go outside last Friday and blamed the smell for watering eyes and a stinging throat. Other people described it as “overpowering” and “nauseating”.

Rathlin said it had modified the activity that caused the smell and the matter was “under control”. It said the odour was not hazardous to health.

Opponents of Rathlin’s operation, who have formed the West Newton Community Protection Camp alongside the site perimeter, reported a “slight whiff” today but added that it was “only tiny”.

The Environment Agency said: “We believe the smell was caused by small quantities of natural gas from the well venting via the flare.” It said it had first been alerted to the smell on the evening of 9th September. It instructed the company the next day to carry out sampling and analysis of releases from the flare stack and from the vent on a tank being filled with liquid from the well. Rathlin was given 10 days to sort out the problem.

Simon Taylor, for Rathlin Energy, said analysis of the company’s data showed the source of the smell was “a combination of a number of naturally occurring constituents within the gas being tested”.

He said these constituents were usually burned but he added: “at very low flow pressure, methane, together with the heavier gases, are not being fully incinerated and their respective odours are being emitted”. Rathlin Energy had agreed not to flow gas below a certain pressure to ensure heavier gases were burned.

Campaigners described the site as quiet today and said “no work is going on here”. Rathlin said operations were continuing and its staff and contractors were still working.

The anti-fracking group, Frack Off, has accused Rathlin of trying to frack a shale gas exploration well at West Newton. Rathlin said its targets in East Yorkshire were entirely conventional. Simon Taylor said: “horizontal hydraulic fracturing does not form part of the company’s current operations or plans for the future”.

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