Rathlin Energy has applied to extend the planning permission at its West Newton A wellsite in Holderness for another three years.
The company has already drilled one well at the site on Fosham Lane and has permission for a second. But planning consent expires in March 2016.
The application to East Riding of Yorkshire Council was published in the Hull Daily Mail yesterday. It seeks to vary condition 2 of the original planning permission, granted in January 2013. This required the site to be abandoned and restored to agriculture by the expiry date.
According to minutes of a meeting with local representatives, released today, Rathlin’s Project Manager, Tom Selkirk, said the company “would like to retain the option to drill the second of the two permitted wells” at West Newton A.
The company said East Riding of Yorkshire Council had decided an environmental impact assessment was not needed as part of the application. This means it should be decided in no more than 13 weeks.
Problems at West Newton A
West Newton A made national headlines in autumn 2014 when unburnt gases were released from the well during testing, creating what some local people described as noxious smells.
Since February the well has been suspended. But there have been discussions between the Rathlin and the EA about the safe flaring of gases.
In response to a recent Freedom of Information Request, the EA confirmed it had not received any documentation from Rathlin Energy on how the company expected to carry out flaring at West Newton A.
In the minutes of the recent meeting, Rathlin said the option to drill the permitted second well at West Newton A would depend on what information it “obtained when drilling and testing the West Newton B well”.
The company received planning permission for the West Newton B site in June this year but has not yet started work. The site is about a mile from West Newton A and also has consent for up to two wells. Fracking is expressly prohibited in the planning permission.
Rathlin said in the minutes that work on West Newton B was not expected to start until 2016.
Before work can begin, East Riding of Yorkshire Council must approve a range of written plans submitted by Rathlin covering how it will manage the operation. These include:
- A scheme for archaeological investigation
- Biodiversity enhancement and management
- Environmental management plan
- Construction method statement
- Traffic management plan
We asked Rathlin Energy whether these documents had been submitted and approved but the company declined to respond.
It also declined to answer our question about when the archaeological survey would begin and whether a specialist company had yet been appointed.
Another condition of the planning permission is that operations must start by June 2020, five years after the granting of consent. Once operations begin, the company has two years to carry out drilling, testing, abandonment and restoration of the site.
The minutes also reveal that Rathlin Energy is not prepared, at this stage, to fund a road crossing in Sproatley, one of the villages on the proposed lorry route to West Newton B. This had been discussed by East Riding councillors as a way of addressing local concerns about increased traffic through the village.
But Mr Montagu-Smith is quoted in the minutes as saying:
“Rathlin is still very much in the exploratory stage of its operations and consequently the company cannot commit to supporting this initiative”.
But he added: “Should the company’s exploratory work result in a commercial find and a long-term relationship with neighbouring communities then a full environmental impact study will take place which could include a range of neighbourhood initiatives.”
Crawberry Hill restoration
Rathlin announced last month that it was abandoning a third East Yorkshire site at Crawberry Hill, near Walkington, where it had drilled a well and carried out some tests.
At the time, the company cited technical and commercial reasons. According to the minutes, Rathlin’s Chairman, David Montagu-Smith said no further exploration work would be done at Crawberry Hill.
We asked Rathlin when abandonment and restoration work would start at Crawberry Hill. But it declined to answer this question too. Planning consent on the site expires in April 2016.
Mr Montagu-Smith is quoted in the minutes as saying:
“The company continues to believe in the overall prospectivity of the geology in the Crawberry Hill area but the current well site is not a preferred location for further drilling or completion investment and, as a result, the well will be abandoned and the site will be restored”.
According to the minutes he said:
“The associated works will be carried out in accordance with the terms and conditions of Rathlin’s licence, the environmental permits and safety regulations governing the company’s operations and within the timetable set by the planning permission granted by East Riding of Yorkshire Council.”
Updated 19/9/15 to correct expiry of planning consent at Crawberry Hill from 2106 to 2016