The company wants to drill two vertical exploration wells 1,100m deep into the coal measures. After testing, it might then drill lateral boreholes 600m long under the Manchester Ship to produce gas for about 25 years.
The application goes before Trafford’s development control committee tomorrow evening (8th October) at 6.30pm. Drill or Drop will be reporting from the meeting.
There have been 336 letters of objection and a petition against the application with 1,460 signatures. Three councillors have also objected. The council received one letter of support.
Planners said the scheme, which could include a generator to produce electricity from gas extracted, would “not have any unacceptable environmental, ecological or social impacts”. They have, however, recommended 29 conditions, including a no-fracking clause.
IGas was granted planning permission for coal bed methane exploration and production at the site in 2010 but no work was carried out. It is now seeking an extension to the permission for another three years.
The development control committee voted in October 2014 to postpone a decision on the extension after objectors to the application raised environmental concerns.
The site is 1.2ha between the M60 and the Davyhulme waste water treatment works. The nearest homes are more than 500m away but two leisure centres are within 250m.
According the application, site construction is expected to take 20 days and delivery of the 34m drilling rig and equipment would involve 30 lorry trips.
Drilling would last 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for about 50 days. But, according to the officers’ report, the company needed “the flexibility to undertake further drilling operations on the site throughout the production phase”. This could be used to enhance production volumes and, or, to carry out maintenance, the report says.
200-300m3 of water would be used during the drilling phase and delivered by tanker. 500m3 of rock cuttings would be removed. About 20m3 of produced water would be removed from the well each day, the report said.
Testing the well would last between 30 and 180 days, IGas has estimated, during which gases would be flared.
If the site were to go to production, the end use of gases is unknown, the report said. This would depend on the quality and volume of gas and local infrastructure. If it were not viable to export, gas would be burned in a generator. A plan for a heat and power plan in the original application has been removed.
Daily lorry journeys were estimated at four during construction, 10 during appraisal drilling and eight during the extraction drilling phase.
The report said coal bed methane is trapped in interconnected fractures called cleats. Fracturing of the rock was not required and hydraulic fracturing was not part of the application.
Five Trafford councillors objected to the application, as did Trafford Labour Group. The letters of objection included comments from the Breath Clean Air Group and Friends of the Earth.
The reasons for objection included:
- Inadequate information in the application on drilling, chemicals, testing, flaring, production and de-watering
- Risk of contamination of ground and surface water
- Chemicals used in coal bed methane extraction can be as toxic as fracking fluids and are used at shallower depths
- Extracting water from coal seams can lead to depletion of groundwater
- Risks to health and safety of local people
- Concerns about well integrity
- Risk of land instability
- Baseline environmental quality and pollution levels should be understood before drilling to assess and monitor the impact
- Flood risk
- Risk of methane leaks and air pollution
- Concerns that air quality in the area is already unacceptable
- Adverse impact of vehicle movements
- Increasing carbon dioxide emissions in the borough
- Application conflicts with local planning policy and the Greater Manchester Climate Change Strategy
- The application left scope for fracking by stating the need for flexibility in the use of the rig to enhance production.
Trafford Council had concluded that the application did not need an environmental impact assessment. But Friends of the Earth argued that the council’s screening opinion was flawed. Among the reasons it gave were: the council should have required separate applications for exploration, testing and production and it should have taken account of recent evidence, cumulative impacts and the contribution to climate change.
Planners’ reasons for approval
Planning policy The planners argued that the application complied with the National Planning Policy Framework, which includes an aim of maximising the potential of UK oil and gas reserves. They said it also complied with the Trafford Core Strategy and the Greater Manchester Minerals Plan.
Noise Because the site was close to the motorway, the planners considered the development was unlikely to be a nuisance
Air quality The operation would be monitored continually by gas detectors, the planners said, so that in the “unlikely event of an escape of gas, the operation can be quickly shut in until rectified.” Any impact on local nitrogen dioxide levels would be “imperceptible and not significant”.
Lighting The impact of floodlighting on the area could be controlled through conditions, the planners said.
Visual intrusion According to IGas, the production test and production phases would be “low-key operations that utilise small scale equipment and are visually unobtrusive”. The rig would have be visually intrusive but it would be on site for approximately 50 days, the planners said. They thought it was “appropriate” to allow flexibility to IGas to bring back the rig for servicing and maintenance of the boreholes or in an emergency.
Seismicity The planners said the National Planning Policy Guidance advised that coal bed methane extraction did carry seismic risks.
Ground and surface water “The applicant states that careful management and control measures will be used to overcome any potential risks to ground waters”, the planners said.
Impact on climate change The planners said emissions from the site would be controlled by the Environment Agency. They also argued that the use of gas in electricity generation was better than the use of coal.
Public health The development would be low impact if properly run and managed, the planners said.
Cumulative impacts Despite the IGas site at Barton Moss and a biomass plant established since the original planning permission, the planners said “there would be no undue cumulative impact”.
The planners proposed 32 conditions. Work must start within three years of the date of the permission and all external paint and finishes on plant and building must be approved before each phase of work could start.
They also recommended approval in advance of issues such as landscaping, fencing, lighting, site restoration, surface water disposal, a survey of protected species.
The recommended condition 22 said: “This approval does not grant or imply permission for any hydraulic fracturing.”
Updated on 8/10/15 to correct date when planning permission was granted initially and to add amendments supplied to the committee meeting