After months of deliberation and several deferrals, the national park authority approved Third Energy’s application for its site at Ebberston Moor South.
Members of the planning committee voted by 14 votes to 1 in favour of the scheme. Also today the Environment Agency approved Third Energy’s permit application.
Chris Redston, of Frack Free Ryedale, described the plans as the “thin end of a very dangerous and toxic wedge, which could result in the wholesale industrialisation of one of the most beautiful parks in the country.”
This is the second major mineral development approved by the national park authority in the past two months. On 30th June, it gave the go-ahead for a potash mine near Whitby.
The plans will allow water to be reinjected at an existing borehole at Ebberston Moor, to extract up to 15 million standard cubic feet of gas per day. The scheme would not involve fracking, unlike Third Energy’s plans for Kirby Misperton in Ryedale.
The permission will also allow Third Energy to drill a second borehole and construct an underground pipeline from the site to the Knapton Generating Station.
More than 200 people formally objected to the application and during the meeting campaigners held a silent protest outside the authority’s offices in Helmsley.
Opponents argued that the scheme amounted to an industrial development and it should not be allowed in a protected landscape.
They said the scheme would have unacceptable adverse environmental impacts. This made it contrary to Section 115 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which says “great weight should be given to conserving the landscape and scenic beauty of National Parks”.
Objectors also said the gas reserve at Ebberston Moor was not nationally significant and so there were no exceptional circumstances, required by Section 116 of the NPPF, to justify a major development going ahead.
They said contamination of aquifers could not be guaranteed by the industry and pointed to increasing evidence that induced earthquakes had been caused by waste water injection schemes. The water would, they said, contain radioactive waste.
One person, Miss L Allanson, formally supported the application, arguing that gas exploration had taken place in the Vale of Pickering for many decades and not resulted in problems.
North York National Park planners had recommended approval of the application. They said planning permission had already been granted for gas extraction and water re-injection at Ebberston North
They acknowledged that the application represented a “major” development in the National Park and to comply with the NPPF there needed to be exceptional circumstances.
But the planners said there would be “no demonstrable harm”. It was justified by supporting jobs at the Knapton Generating Station and the contribution of the gas produced as a “bridge” to a UK mixed energy supply.
The permission is for 20 years. It is subject to 21 conditions. These cover lighting, vehicle movements, storage of materials on site, a scheme to improve biodiversity, ecological and archaeological surveys, and odour management and noise monitoring plans.
There is a limit on pressure that can be used for water injection (1000 pounds per square inch bottom hole pressure) and the maximum volume that can be injected (556m3/day).
Gas can be extracted from the Kirkham Abbey Formation only and there is no permission for drilling into the Bowland-Hodder Shale or for hydraulic fracturing.
Chris Redston, who opposed the application on behalf of Frack Free Ryedale, said after the meeting: “We are disappointed that this application was finally approved, particularly given the worrying safety issues that still surround the waste water re-injection wells.
“Third Energy are planning to re-inject 2.3 billion gallons of radioactive waste water through the Corrallian Aquifer – which provides drinking water to the whole of Scarborough – into the rock below. While we are relieved that many of the points we raised regarding safety and mitigation were taken on board by the Committee, we still believe this is an inappropriate development in one of the country’s most precious National Parks.”
“Many observers were surprised that Yorkshire Water, which provides the area with drinking water, didn’t even bother to respond to the consultation – a fact that was duly noted by the Committee. Another ongoing concern is that the well-site will, in effect, be self-regulated by Third Energy, who merely have to send data to the Environment Agency every six months. There are unlikely to be any on-site inspections of the well by the Environment Agency unless there is a serious problem.”
“Many people in Yorkshire, particularly those involved in the tourist industry, are becoming increasingly concerned with the amount of mineral development that is being allowed in the National Park. Earlier this week the Government announced dozens of potential PEDL licences for oil and gas exploration – including fracking – across the whole of North Yorkshire. At least three of these licences are slap bang in the middle of the National Park, and many others impact on its borders. A lot of observers feel that this application is the thin end of a very dangerous and toxic wedge, which could result in the wholesale industrialisation of one of the most beautiful parks in the country.”