Fracking sites should be at least a mile from the nearest home, according to the Conservative MP whose North Yorkshire constituency is on the shale gas front line.
Kevin Hollinrake, who represents Thirsk and Malton, told DrillOrDrop: “There is a minimum distance at the moment to put an anaerobic digester away from a house so why wouldn’t you have a minimum distance to a fracking well?”
He said the separation distance for anaerobic digesters was 400m but he wanted a bigger distance for fracking sites.
“I would like to see any fracking activity a mile away from homes and schools”
When asked if he would buy a house 400m from a fracking site, he said: “That’s one reason why I would like it a mile away.”
“I would like to see these sites away from villages, away from schools, away from people, wherever possible.”
Mr Hollinrake, elected at the May 2015 election, has just returned from a self-funded visit to fracking areas in Pennsylvania.
His constituency includes the Ryedale village of Kirby Misperton, where Third Energy has applied to frack an existing well, 210m away from the nearest home. The company has said it also wants to frack at nine current sites and up to 10 new ones in already licensed areas of the constituency, with between 10 and 50 wells per site.
In addition, Thirsk and Malton will have another 35 licence blocks for oil or gas exploration released by the government last month. This is more than double that of the constituency with the next highest number.
In an interview for DrillOrDrop, Mr Hollinrake said he continued to have concerns about fracking but his visit to Pennsylvania had reassured him on some aspects. He also repeated his call for fracking sites to be at least six miles apart. You can read a full transcript of the interview here. Other key points made by Mr Hollinrake in the interview:
- Ryedale should have a Local Plan for fracking
- Ten additional fracking sites could be accommodated in Thirsk and Malton
- Around 80% of people in Ryedale are concerned about Third Energy’s plans
- Local people need more information about what fracking would be like
- Fracking regulation must be independent and enforced
- Done right, fracking should not reduce house prices
- Money from fracking should be invested in green energy
- More clarity is needed on community benefits for fracking
When asked about the mood in the constituency over Third Energy’s plans, Mr Hollinrake said:
“Most people are concerned. I would guess probably around 80% of people would have real concerns about fracking. It is very localised, to be fair. If you’re in an area where an application hasn’t gone in people seem to see the benefits of a domestic source of energy. But in the areas affected, of course, people are very concerned.”
He said he was aware that 180 local businesses, many reliant on tourism, had formed a group to campaign against fracking. He said:
“I’ve been in business myself for 20 years and I think I would be concerned too.”
But he said the businesses he saw in Pennsylvania in fracking areas had not suffered. “In fact, quite the opposite.”
“In the US, where it [fracking] has happened, you see about 80% of the public are in favour of fracking.
“So the key is that if we are going to do it, we need to make sure that we do it right and that shouldn’t have the impact that people are worried about on their businesses.”
The owner of an estate agency, Mr Hollinrake said fracking should not affect house prices.
“If it is done right I don’t think it would have a negative impact on house prices. My experience of Pennsylvania – and we met realtors, we met with people who live in that area – is that house prices have gone up not gone down because of the increased demand and the job opportunities. As long as it is done right, then that [falling prices] shouldn’t be the case.”
We asked Mr Hollinrake if he was confident about the UK’s regulatory regime for fracking and whether it would be properly enforced. He said:
“I think the regulations seem to be strong, although we need to keep ensuring that they are and that they evolve.”
But he added: “I want to know the precise detail on how often these inspectors, the people in the field from the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency, are going out to inspect these sites as this work is happening.“
“I very much want to see a very robust regime of regulation, where we have experienced professionals, engineers, geologists, on these sites, looking at what is happening, as it is happening, at the drilling and fracking stages, in particular.”
The anti-fracking campaign group, Frack Free Ryedale, has accused Mr Hollinrake of over-reliance on the power of regulation to protect people and the environment. He responded:
“Public health is only affected if your water supplies or air quality is contaminated. So the key thing is: if we are measuring those things and we have those regulators on those sites all the time, taking the measurements, making sure that those levels don’t exceed what is permitted, then there shouldn’t be any impact on public health.”
During Mr Hollinrake’s visit to Pennsylvania, there was a report that public drinking water supplies in Potter County had been contaminated by a fracking company. Earlier in the month, an investigation by the journalism website, Public Herald, showed that Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection [DEP] kept hundreds of water contamination complaints related to oil and gas out of the records.
Mr Hollinrake said he had read about the cases. He would not comment on them, beyond saying he had been disturbed to read that the DEP had not seemed to be taking complaints seriously.
He said he met people in Pennsylvania where there had been problems caused by fracking. These include Dimock, featured in the film Gasland, where there had been methane contamination of water.
“They clearly still had got problems and a new solution had to be found for those people to be able to get fresh water”.
Mr Hollinrake has described fracking as a “heavily industrial process” and he has said he would “fight tooth and nail” to prevent shale gas in Ryedale on an industrial scale.
Given Third Energy’s future plans and the 35 new licences in the constituency, we asked the MP what would constitute “industrial scale”.
He said 50 wells on a site “sounds like an awful lot to me”. Pressed on how many sites would have an unacceptable impact, he said:
“I don’t think there is a cut-off point. I think if there were 10 more sites across this constituency, which is a very big constituency – I think it is about 2,200 square miles – I am sure there are places we can put 10 more sites without it becoming an industrial location”.
Mr Hollinrake said in rural Pennsylvania fracking sites had been “fairly well-hidden”.
“You didn’t see a well at every turn, you didn’t see a processing plant on every corner. So that was quite reassuring.”
He said the sites he saw in Pennsylvania had between six and eight wells each and all were drilled, fracked and tested together over a period of about six months. “Then it is done”, he said. “The equipment on there that handles the gas is left there and we visited sites that had been producing gas quite happily for many years without any more work being done to them.”
Cuadrilla proposed to drill, frack and test four wells consecutively on each of its two proposed Lancashire sites, over a period of six years. So we asked Mr Hollinrake how confident he was that the Pennsylvania pattern would happen in the UK. He said:
“We don’t know the answer to that. That is an answer we do need to know. But I think we will only know by actually taking the next step, which is a small step in the process, if this application is successful.”
Mr Hollinrake said he wanted to see a local plan for fracking, in the way that plans were developed by councils for housing.
He said a local plan would enforce both separation distances from homes and fracking sites and his proposal of a six-mile buffer zones between fracking sites. It would ensure sites were near A-roads so that lorries didn’t go through villages, he said.
“It would decide where these sites are going to go, how the traffic is then going to be moderated, in terms of impact on villages and where people live, for example.”
“So all these things are planned in advance and you engage with the community so that they can see exactly what will be happening and also have access to everything as it is rolled out, including any impacts on the environment.”
Asked if he felt communities were fully engaged he said: “No I don’t. T think we absolutely have to step that up.”
For or against?
Mr Hollinrake has said on his website he was against fracking until he received satisfactory answers to questions about independent regulation, well decommissioning and industrialisation of the countryside. We asked him if he had received these answers from the government.
He said he the Environment Agency had assured him it would be independently monitoring what happened on drilling site.
“To some extent I get that reassurance. But I want to see more detail and also what will happen in a future beyond this potential first well.
We asked: “So would you say you were still against fracking?”
Mr Hollinrake replied: “I’ve never been against fracking per se. I have been consistent about this. If you can do it safely and do it in a way that doesn’t industrialise the countryside then I think it would be the wrong thing to rule it out. I have nothing against it like that. But certainly for me to be happy with it I would have to make sure that we are getting that proper regime of regulation.”
He said he would not be influenced by government policy on fracking:
“I am the Member of Parliament for Thirsk and Malton. I represent Thirsk and Malton in Westminster. I am not there to represent Westminster in Thirsk and Malton. So if I don’t think it is right for Thirsk and Malton, and I live here, then I will certainly not support it. I will oppose it, whether it is Conservative policy or not.”
- Third Energy’s fracking application for Kirby Misperton is open for comments (click on the neighbours tab) until 14th October 2015. Click here for details of the application. The target decision date is 18th November 2015.
- Link to the interview transcript here
- Links to Kevin Hollinrake report and Regulators Question Time event