Rathlin Energy’s drilling operations in East Yorkshire have been heavily criticised by local people contributing to an official consultation. They accused the company of causing noise, damaging vibrations, light pollution, smells and extra traffic.
Rathlin drilled an exploratory oil and gas well at West Newton in Holderness, north of Hull, and another at Crawberry Hill, near Beverley. Our investigations showed that the West Newton site, known as West Newton-A, repeatedly breached its environmental permit conditions last year.
The company is now applying for planning permission to drill two more wells at a new site at West Newton. According to responses to a council consultation on the application, the company’s previous operations disrupted a quiet rural area. Rathlin was also accused of not being open about its plans for the area.
Rathlin has said it will not drill into shale nor hydraulically fracture the proposed wells. But some people who wrote to East Riding of Yorkshire Council said they did not trust the company. Many said they were concerned that the wells would threaten the quality of drinking water in the aquifer and industrialise the area. They also questioned whether the council could regulate the company’s operations.
The consultation, which closes at the end of this week, has attracted more than 100 public comments. Of the 125 published on the council’s website so far, 123 were objections. Just under two-thirds were from the three nearest postcode areas to the well. Only 10% were from non-Hull postcodes. (For more detail go to the bottom of this post). A decision on the application is expected to be made on 26th March.
Rathlin carried out seismic testing in the West Newton area in November and December last year. According to the minutes of Rathlin’s most recent community liaison meeting in February, residents thought the level of noise and vibration was “unacceptable” and a “subject of worry and debate amongst the local community”.
Rathlin’s field manager, Caroline Foster, said the levels of disturbance were “generally all well below the levels which should have caused damage”. But comments to the consultation said buildings shook, ornaments were knocked off shelves and properties were damaged.
“We have encountered cracks in our living room ceiling since the seismic testing was carried out and other villagers have reported the same”. (Pat and G A Johnson)
“Last year, in the early hours we experienced what can only be described as a mini earthquake. Our house shook to such a degree ornaments fell to the floor. I actually thought the house was falling down. I can hear explosions on a daily basis. It’s like being in a war zone.” (Judy and Adrian Bloom)
“Since the seismic survey there has been a strong smell similar to sewer gas contaminating my house and next door. The matter is now being investigated by the Environment Agency. Rathlin Energy have denied causing any damage to the mains sewer in my front garden as a result of the detonation of dynamite in the field opposite my house.” (Mr and Mrs Hufford)
It has also been alleged that the water level of a commercial fishing lake began to fall at the time of the seismic testing. A company spokesman said: “Rathlin Energy (UK) Limited initially provided some assistance to the owners to keep water levels topped up when it was alleged our work had caused the pond to leak. We have had an independent engineer conduct an investigation of the claim. We consider the matter concluded on the basis of the investigation.” The matter is now in the hands of solicitors.
Rathlin plans to build a new road to the proposed West Newton-B drilling site at Crooks Lane. The traffic management plan recommends that lorries travel to the site through the villages of Sproatley and Bilton.
Respondents to the consultation were concerned that the proposed route to West Newton-B would put at risk children walking to school in Sproatley. There were also concerns that villages on the route could not cope with the extra traffic.
“My biggest concern is the potential loss of life through serious accident. …This route passes by a road giving access to a school, village hall, post office and public house, not to mention regular public transport and school bus routes.” (Thomas Park-Poulson)
“Sproatley is a very small village, not equipped for taking HGVs. (Jeanette Rowe)
“Do not want to see more heavy traffic trundling through the area with the inevitable safety issues and damage to the roads this would cause. Also the danger to our children and aging population by allowing site traffic to be routed through Sproatley.” (Anita Howell)
Threat to rural community
Rathlin Energy said the West Newton-B would have limited impact on the rural area. But many respondents were concerned about past disturbance to their neighbourhood and what the new development, if approved, would bring.
“My husband and I chose Sproatley to live in because it is a peaceful, rural community in the countryside.” (Pat and G A Johnson)
“We are in our eighties and retired here to hopefully spend our remaining time in peace and tranquillity. Is this going to be possible?” (Mr and Mrs Darksey)
“We moved to the countryside to get away from the noise and traffic. This would be detrimental to family and village life”. (Judy and Adrian Bloom)
There were also concerns that another well would industrialise the area
“The impact of such industrialisation is not welcome in rural areas.” (Elizabeth MacKee)
“This activity has no place in our beautiful rural countryside.” (Robert Cockburn)
“This application represents yet another step towards the steady industrialization of the rural part of our county.” (Shirley Gregory)
“Local businesses will suffer when residents and visitors are put off by threats that drilling are known to pose” (Adrian Day)
“Industrialisation of the countryside will have a negative impact for local residents who have taken a lifestyle choice to live in an area known for its peace and tranquillity. (Mark Spencer)
Several respondents complained about lighting at the West Newton-A site. They said the original planning application had identified the need for four lighting towers. But there were six in place when the site was operating.
“When the West Newton well was in operation, we had arc lights and beacons clearly seen from my bedroom window just over two miles away.” (Mr and Mrs Hufford)
“We have suffered with the lighting issue every night, all through the night and this is not good enough close to residents’ houses.” (Julia Moulds)
An updated noise impact assessment, submitted by Rathlin as part of the application for West Newton-B, said “the overall adverse effect of these operations would be considered as not significant”. It said noise from flaring and drilling would be “well within upper limit values”. Noise from the preparation and construction of the site would be “at a reasonable level”.
Despite this, people who objected to the application complained about noise from the previous operations and were concerned about what could happen if the new site went ahead.
“Previously we were exposed to noise emanating from power generators, lighting towers, the drilling rig, drilling equipment, fork lift trucks and two mobile cranes most of which run continuously through the night.” (Greg Butterworth)
“Maximum care was not taken to avoid disturbance to surrounding properties.” (D Walmsley)
“For those residences surrounding the proposed site the current effect of noise pollution is virtually zero, identical circumstances to residencies surrounding W4est Newton 1. It can therefore be anticipated that households surrounding West Newton B will experience noise pollution in an identical manner to those experienced by residents from West Newton-1 well site.” (Louise Castro)
In September last year, people living near West Newton-A complained to the Environment Agency about a noxious smell coming from the site. Some said it caused eye and throat irritation and a few said it made them feel sick. An investigation established that gases were leaking from the well without being burned by the flare. Many people who took part in the consultation complained about the smells at West Newton-A and feared the same could happen at a new well.
“The smells were very disturbing and as I suffer from emphysema very worrying.” (J Elliot)
“Worst of all, the smells emerging from the site made life a misery, not to mention quite frightening. There is no reason to believe that things will be any different by the same methods by the same cavalier company in the same area.” (Samantha O’Boyle)
“This company cannot therefore guarantee to implement its Environmental Management System (EMS) in a manner that prevents offensive odours or control the dispersion of offensive odours beyond the boundary of the wellsite.” (Rosemary Stanley)
Louise Castro said the application failed to adequately assess the potential impacts of disposing of waste gas or releases to the atmosphere. She also said details of monitoring air quality and mitigation for any problems were severely lacking.
The Environment Agency found that the odour problems at West Newton-A were a breach of the environmental permit. Our investigation revealed that the site breached permit conditions a total of 14 times between July and October 2014. The Environment Agency is currently considering what enforcement action to take against the company but it has not objected to the West Newton-B application.
Some respondents criticised the permit breaches.
“I do not consider that Rathlin Energy are a fit and proper company to be given the opportunity to drill yet another well at West Newton.” (Anna Brookes)
“Rathlin Energy have been shown to be an unreliable company and have not managed to comply with their licensing conditions.” (Joanne White)
“The company failed to comply with its Environment Agency permit in numerous ways at West Newton A site, raising questions about the adequacy of its management systems.” (Susan Weaver)
It is also alleged that the company did not comply with the requirements of the traffic management plan for West Newton-A, agreed as a condition of the planning permission.
Louise Castro wrote in her objection: “None of the agreed points were adhered to, including the route, convoying vehicles, identification notices in vehicle windows, parking in designated areas and the identified route.”
She, along with others, criticised the delivery of equipment to the site in a convoy last summer, against the requirements of the plan.
Rathlin said it was instructed by Humberside Police to bring vehicles in as a convoy. But Miss Castro referred to a response from the force to a Freedom on Information request. This said: “There are no recorded instructions given by Humberside Police to Rathlin Energy”.
Respondents to the consultation were concerned that a new well could threaten the aquifer, which provides the region’s water supply, by leaks from the well and spillage on the surface.
Sarah J Morris wrote: “Well failure is a risk that the industry acknowledges. It cannot be eliminated. The industry will only talk about minimising and mitigating risks. I don’t believe any risk to water supplies is acceptable. Please don’t play Russian Roulette with our water supplies.”
Louise Castro documented problems at West Newton-A in May last year. She said after several days of rain the site’s perimeter drainage ditch, designed to collect run-off from the site, overflowed. She said the contents went into a nearby ditch that feeds the Lambwath Stream, a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
“Several calls from concerned residents were made over a three day period to the Environment Agency before action was taken and a site visit undertaken. Following recommendations Total Environmental Technology removed three tankers of water from the perimeter drainage ditch.”
Several objections also questioned the flood risk assessment for West Newton B. Jon Mager and others pointed to discrepancies between the route of the new road in the assessment and the route in other parts of the application. “Obviously this discrepancy needs to be addressed so that local residents, especially farmers, can understand what risks there may be of flooding on their property or local roads”, he said.
Rathlin commissioned an ecological assessment as part of its application. It concluded: “The construction of the proposed wellsite will result in short-term and temporary impacts on nesting birds, and potentially on reptiles, water vole and great crested newts. With appropriate mitigation, no adverse effects on these species are anticipated. Permanent losses of habitat within the footprint of the wellsite are negligible, and will result in only minor impacts.”
However, Louise Castro argued in her objection to the application that the assessment was inadequate and contained errors. She said ecological surveys of bats, grass snakes, great crested newts and water voles had not been done at the most appropriate time. She said the assessment disregarded vital information and data collection was very restricted. She added that the assessment was incorrect in its statement that there were no records of barn owls within 2km of the site.
Greg Butterworth, who lives about 1km, from the proposed site, said there was a registered barn owl nesting site on his property, where birds had nested for past seven years.
“In future they may be flying directly into a barrage of floodlights from the drilling site”, he said. “The threat of disturbance to these creatures through light and noise pollution is of great concern, as is the movement of traffic and the potential for their food sources to be contaminated.”
Threat to East Yorkshire’s economy
Andrew Day was worried that the application would threaten the area’s growing leisure and food-growing economy. He said: “The East Riding has the brightest potential that it has had for many decades in being recognised for its high quality food production, the potential earnings from rapidly increasing tourism and leisure events, and as a national and world leader in offshore wind engineering technology. All those are put at risk by the development of unconventional fossil fuels in the region – which this development is clearly a preliminary part of.”
Wendy Cross also believed an oil and gas industry might damage the economy as well as the landscape.
“Your own ERYC website is headed by a picture of the rolling East Yorkshire countryside. Residents and visitors to the County would lose visual amenities which bring money into the area, if this industrialisation is allowed to go ahead.”
Temporary or not?
Rathlin’s West Newton-B application is for a temporary wellsite. But Jon Mager, along with some other respondents, questioned the company’s long-term plans for Holderness. He said “Rathlin have not shared their intentions with local residents. It took a High court hearing to establish that their current exploration is linked to 50-year options giving the right to lease the land to produce oil and gas”.
“Instead of colluding with the fiction that Rathlin are merely engaged in temporary exploration ERYC [East Riding of Yorkshire Council] must now publish a full explanation of the strategy agreed when Rathlin made their intentions clear at the start of their relationship with the Chief Executive and Director of Economic Regeneration so that the impact of the 50-year plan can be fully assess by local residents and members of the planning committee.”
Paul Priestley-Leach wrote: “One by one these ‘temporary’ well sites are increasing in number. The surrounding landscape will gradually be ruined.”
Val Mager wrote: “A picture begins to emerge of the East Riding dotted with drill pads, reminiscent of aerial photographs of Buffalo, Colorado. Clearly the question that arises is how many more wells are planned for the East Riding.”
East Riding of Yorkshire Council
Bernard McCoy questioned the fitness of the planning committee to determine the application. He said:
“The planning committee also took steps to restrict public involvement in the previous planning meeting, again following collaborative work with Rathlin. ERYC has failed to disclose the extent of its discussions with Rathlin leaving open the reasonable doubt that it is party to a joint strategic plan or understanding for Rathlin’s commercial goals in this area.”
There were also concerns about the council’s ability to regulate a future drilling site.
“Who, in East Riding Council Planning Department is qualified to oversee the Health and Safety aspects of these sites? As we understand it, the processes are highly technical. How can the Council keep control of this company’s operations when they do not have the specialists required for this technology?” (AA and MA Fawcett)
Of 125 public responses analysed by DrillOrDrop.com
- 123 (98%) were objections, one raised questions with East Riding of Yorkshire Council and one had no objections.
- 67 (54%) were from women, 42 (34%) from men and 10 (8%) joint from a man and a woman. 6 (5%) had no information about the gender of the respondent
- 77 (65%) were from the HU11, HU12 and HU17 postcode areas – the nearest to the proposed site. Only 12 (10%) were from non-HU postcodes. 18 (15%) gave no postcode details.