Neath Port Talbot council has approved Wales’s first application to explore for shale gas.
The council’s planning committee, meeting this afternoon, granted permission to UK Methane for an exploratory borehole for shale gas and coal bed methane in the Foel Fynyddau Forest, near Pontrhydyfen.
Planning officers had recommended the application be approved, despite two petitions of objection totalling more than 1,500 names. The council also received another 105 letters of objections. These include opposition from the local Labour MP, Peter Hain, two members of the West Assembly, two members of Neath Port Talbot Council and the Pelenna Community Council.
Last September, UK Methane was refused permission by the council for drilling at the same site because of concerns about noise and an echo-effect in the valley. The application approved this afternoon was very similar, except that it included a noise management plan.
The nearest homes to the proposed site are 300-400m away. A report by planning officers said the use of absorbent matting attached to the site fencing and around the main sources of noise would reduce disturbance to World Health Organisation levels
But this had not reassured objectors. As well as concerns about noise, the reasons for objection included:
- Highway and pedestrian safety
- Light pollution
- Damage to health of local people
- Impacts on local wildlife, such as badgers, bats and honey buzzards
- Seismic disturbance
- Impact on groundwater
- Falling house prices
- Effect on climate change
- Failure to consider the effect on fish and fishing rights
- Industrialisation of the countryside
- Lack of public engagement by UK Methane
Objectors also criticised the council for allowing only a fortnight for residents to comment. The planning officers’ report said: “Some people may see this as a deliberate attempt to sneak this through, before locals have had a chance to demonstrate their resistance in writing.”
The application was for temporary planning permission to drill one vertical borehole, of approximately 1,300m, into Westphalian and Namurian rocks to explore for coal bed methane and shale gas. The drilling would not involve fracking, a horizontal borehole nor flaring, the planning report said.
A moratorium on fracking applications is now in force in Wales. Because of this, some objectors said this was not a desirable time to consider the application.
Frack-Free Wales wrote on Facebook after the decision: “Neath Port Talbot Council have just approved the first Welsh shale application. Votes were 9 to 1 in favour, 2 abstentions. Time to contact the AMs methinks and ask just what kind of fracking ban were they actually proposing that local councils don’t seem to have noticed. A sad day for Wales indeed.”
Peter Hain told the BBC: said: “Pontrhydyfen, throughout its history, has been a heavily mined valley, it is likely there are more than 200 mines within its boundaries, some of which may have been forgotten and now lie hidden. For this reason, the geology of the village is particularly vulnerable to gas and water leaks, ground subsistence and sudden collapse. Added to this, Pontrhydyfen is without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most picturesque spots in our constituency and any threat to its tourist appeal must be seriously examined.”