Within the past hour, a truck has moved the rig off Rathlin Energy’s West Newton gas exploration site in East Yorkshire. The suspension of the site comes as the company prepares to give details about proposals for a new exploration well in the Holderness area and its plans for seismic testing.
Rathlin told us the proposed well, if approved, would be called West Newton B and would test “only the conventional Permian reservoirs at a depth of approximately 2,000m”. Rathlin’s spokesperson, Simon Taylor, said the drill would not reach the Bowland Shale, which was another 1,000m lower. He added: “Unconventional shale gas and associated high volume hydraulic fracturing have no part to play in the company’s plans in the West Newton area”.
Rathlin said the current West Newton well would now be suspended while the outcome of tests were evaluated. So far, Mr Taylor said, the results were encouraging. “The well bore will be safely secured and monitored and the perimeter ditches will be emptied when needed. It is likely that this site will be dormant for some time to come”, he said.
2D and 3D seismic testing is due to get underway in the next few weeks in the area around the West Newton site, Rathlin said. This would inform any possible future exploration programme.
There has been criticism of Rathlin’s operation at West Newton. In September there were complaints about a noxious smell coming from the site. This was described by the Environment Agency as a “small leak” but people living nearby complained of watering eyes, stinging throat and nausea. Some described the smell as overpowering and absolutely vile.
The Environment Agency required Rathlin to put in place an odour management plan but not everyone living locally was happy with the results and complaints continued until recently. Rathlin denied the smell was dangerous and said people’s awareness could be heightened by “anything out of the ordinary”. It said the smell came from naturally-occurring fluids within the well formation.
Videos were posted online of flames showing above the casing of the enclosed flare. The Environment Agency first told us “This is unexpected. The vendor specification for the flare states there should be no luminous flame. We are investigating the causes of this.” It later added: “When flaring occurs, an orange flame may be visible for a short period during start up and during shut down of the flare. At night a blue flame may be visible just above the flare top.”
The Health and Safety Executive is investigating an allegation that safety at work regulations were breached at the site. Some residents have complained about 24-hours-a-day noise, as well as light pollution at night. One person told us police had behaved “like night club bouncers”, protecting Rathlin Energy rather than the public. That person said: “I have been watched by van loads of police as I return home from work. Police using video cameras to film me walking my dog – once with a large camera lens only 600mm from my face.”
There was criticism that equipment was delivered to the site in July by convoy, rather than at 10-minute intervals, as agreed in the traffic management plan required by the company’s planning permission. The company blamed protests for the change in arrangements. Local people said there were just a handful of residents there at the time. We are also looking into whether a planning condition which set a time limit on work at West Newton was breached.
Rathlin has been accused of a lack of transparency about its plans. Simon Taylor rebutted this allegation, saying that in the past three years the company had held four public consultation meetings, 27 community liaison meetings with resident representatives, distributed 50,000 newsletters, letters and fact fliers, visited 35 local residents and responded to more than 250 letters and emails.
The local MP Graham Stuart and the Humberside’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Matthew Grove visited West Newton on October 23rd following up concerns from a local resident. They talked to Joe Public, who has been monitoring and documenting activity at West Newton since May. He raised with them his concerns about well integrity and pollution.
Rathlin Energy responded with this statement: “All our work was monitored by our regulators and we remained consistently compliant with the regulations and conditions of consent in everything we have done. There has been no well failure here and no pollution of land around the drilling site of West Newton”.
The prospect of the West Newton B well came in a letter hand-delivered by Rathlin to 7,000 households at the end of October. One resident said the news was “received yesterday to doom & gloom in the West Newton area”. But another resident, interviewed by the BBC, said a new well would not reduce the beauty of the area.
Rathlin has invited people from 21 parishes in Holderness to an information event about its new plans for West Newton B. There will also be a map showing where seismic testing will be carried out. The event is at Aldbrough Village Hall on Saturday (November 8th). A second information event, hosted by Frack Free East Yorkshire, is being held on the same day at the Elm Tree Inn in the village. More details of both events.