As East Yorkshire councillors prepare to decide on plans by Rathlin Energy for a third oil and gas exploration site, the company declined to comment about allegations that its seismic testing programme damaged local property.
The campaign group, Frack Free East Yorkshire, has called on Rathlin to “come clean” about damage, which it says happened at exactly the time the tests were carried out.
When we asked Rathlin Energy a series of questions about the issue, it would not confirm the allegations or give details of any compensation arrangements.
Rathlin’s seismic testing programme was carried out in November and December 2014 around West Newton, where the company already has an exploration well. The tests, which are used to locate oil and gas, set off small explosions and record the echoes.
At Rathlin’s community liaison meeting a few months later in February 2015, residents complained that the level of noise and vibration was “unacceptable” and a “subject of worry and debate amongst the local community”.
Some people who took part in a council consultation in February and March 2015 described ornaments falling off shelves and houses shaking. One person said cracks appeared in a ceiling after the seismic testing took place. There was also an allegation that a local fishing lake started to loose water.
Frack Free East Yorkshire has accused Rathlin of “gagging” people affected by the testing. It said:
“It is now common knowledge in the area that Rathlin Energy has made payments to property owners, but only on the condition that they sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement, meaning they can’t talk about it. This is common practice in the US.”
We put the following questions to Rathlin Energy:
- Is the following statement fair and accurate: “Seismic testing carried out by Rathlin’s contractor in Holderness caused damage to a number of properties”?
- If it is not fair and accurate, are there questions over damage or cause or both?
- If the statement is fair and accurate, what damage was caused and to how many properties?
- Has Rathlin Energy or its representatives told residents of property affected by seismic testing that they must make claims through solicitors?
- If so, how many claims have been made in this way?
- How many compensation payments have been paid so far and what is the total value paid out?
- Is it accurate to say that a condition of the payment is an agreement by the claimant not to disclose the payment, payment terms or damage, ie a confidentiality or non-disclosure clause in the agreement?
- How may compensation claims are the subject of legal action in the civil courts?
In response to the questions, a spokesperson for Rathlin Energy said:
“Our operations and any direct involvement with any stakeholders are and remain a matter between Rathlin and the individual stakeholder.”
Richard Howarth, of Frack Free Yorkshire, said:
“We were promised transparency in the oil and gas industry, and yet at the first signs of damage Rathlin is slapping gagging orders on the public. In order to decide on the future of this industry in our East Riding countryside, we need to know the truth about what’s going on.”
Rathlin Energy’s planning application for a second exploration well in the West Newton area and a third in the county will be decided by East Riding of Yorkshire councillors at a meeting on Thursday 4th June in Beverley. Planning officers have recommend the application is approved. Our report
At Rathlin’s other East Yorkshire well, at Crawberry Hill, near Walkington, the company has said there has been no work, other than maintenance, since summer 2013. Planning permission expires in under five months on 25th October 2015.
The company has applied for environmental permits to allow it to test the existing well at Crawberry Hill, flare off waste gas and, possibly, drill another well. A public consultation period on the permit application closed last week.
The company has been in discussion with the Environment Agency over its flaring plans for Crawberry Hill. This followed problems at the existing West Newton well last summer, when gas was vented without being burned, in breach of permit conditions. What went wrong at West Newton?
We also asked the company when testing was due to start at Crawberry Hill and whether agreement had been reached agreement with the EA on a flaring solution. The company spokesperson said:
“Rathlin’s test operations are and will remain subject to any Environmental Agency permit requirements.”