Retired bishop urges villagers to object to Third Energy fracking plans

Graham Cray

Right Reverend Graham Cray

A retired bishop who lives in the North Yorkshire village where Third Energy has applied to frack has written to residents urging them to object to the plans.

The Right Reverend Graham Cray was in Pennsylvania last month at the same time as the Thirsk and Malton MP, Kevin Hollinrake.

Mr Hollinrake, who was on a fact-finding visit to fracking areas, told DrillOrDrop he was partly reassured after his visit. And he said most problems in Pennsylvania dated from the early days of fracking.

But the Reverend Cray, who lives in Kirby Misperton about half a mile from the KM8 well which Third Energy wants to frack, said the problems were continuing. In his letter he said these included:

  • Health issues, water contamination and noise and air pollution
  • “Woefully inadequate monitoring”
  • Local officers and elected officials under “huge pressure to approve fracking applications”

Safeguards have no legal force

Mr Hollinrake told us there should be a local plan for fracking, including separation distances of a mile between sites and homes and a six mile buffer between sites.

But the Reverend Cray, a former bishop of Maidstone, said this would not be enough:

“Mr. Hollinrake has proposed a series of safeguards, including that fracking should not occur within a mile of houses. All his suggestions and more would be necessary. But none of them have legal force at the moment. Better that fracking is not allowed to start at all.”

“If you have not already done so, I urge you to register your objection against the application to frack at KM8 with North Yorkshire County Council.”

Reverend Cray was on a lecture tour to Pennsylvania, which had been arranged before Third Energy submitted its planning application. He did not visit the fracking areas but spoke to nine people from different counties about their experiences.

In an interview with DrillOrDrop, Reverend Cray, said there was “a strong body of concerned people” in Kirby Misperton.

“I have not yet met anyone in the village who likes the thought of fracking at KM8. I am told there might be one but I have never actually met them. Quite a group of us are actively opposed and concerned and there are only one or two of us who stick our head above the parapet and talk to the papers.”

“We have no reason to trust Third Energy”

Third Energy says on its website and in leaflets that it is “committed to being a good neighbour”. But Reverend Cray said: “We don’t feel one little bit well-dealt with. We have no reason to trust what Third Energy have said to us.”

He said when the KM8 was drilled in 2013 people living nearby suffered from noise and light pollution and were unable to open their windows on hot summer nights. “When they complained Third Energy sent them an electric fan”, he said.

He also described a leaflet sent by Third Energy to villagers two hours before an open meeting of the parish council. Residents were told the company wanted them to be the first to know. “Then we discovered that the leaflet had been given out to local schools three weeks earlier”, he said.

“Third Energy, from my point of view, has at best been economical with the truth. It has promised us figures and applied for something like four times the amount.”

We asked Third Energy to comment. A spokesperson said: “I can confirm that there was only one complaint about noise during the three months of drilling and this was resolved after a visit to meet the couple concerned.” The spokesperson said he was not aware of any leaflets that have gone to schools..

.Reasons for opposition

Reverend Cray said he opposed fracking before his visit to Pennsylvania on climate change grounds.

“We should not be starting to develop a new fossil fuel and that it is a serious distraction from renewables that have to be our future. Britain, as a very innovative country but also as a primary polluter, has a moral responsibility to set an example and not just work out how to keep the lights on.”

He added:

“The more we heard what Third Energy wanted to do just over half an mile from our house the less and less that it seemed to be a good thing for Ryedale, irrespective of climate change because beauty, tourism, agriculture and food are the long-term prosperity of this area.”

Following his visit to Pennsylvania, he said:

“I came away quite clear that it [fracking] has huge potential for harm, that its scale changes rural communities, I think I would have to say, permanently.”

He described how a church was funding the supply of bottled water to 32 households after their water supply became undrinkable.

“I have come back not the slightest bit assured that this is safe and some of the things that I saw about proximity to wells make the fact that I live what is just over half a mile from what is supposed to be the first one particularly concerning.”


Third Energy told the House of Commons Environment Select Committee it wanted 19 sites in Ryedale with between 10 and 50 wells.

Mr Hollinrake told us the fracking sites he had seen in rural Pennsylvania had been “fairly well-hidden” and he thought there were places in his Thirsk and Malton constituency which could accommodate 10 more sites.

But Reverend Cray said the contrasts between Pennsylvania and Ryedale were more important than the similarities.

He said the Pennsylvanian landscape was heavily wooded and hilly. “So tree and hill cover means that fracking pads are far less easily visible in the daylight than they are here.”

He said Bradford County, which has 1,097 wells, was twice the size of Ryedale and had a population of 63,000. Ryedale has 52,000 people.

“The population density is greater in Ryedale and the communities are closer together. You don’t have to go very far before you come to another village. In fact, I am fairly certain that if Mr Hollinrake’s suggestion that nothing should be done within a mile of homes was applied, there would be no fracking in Ryedale and there would be no possibility of it being at the industrial scale needed for it to be profitable.“

“So you put that potential number of wells, which is the object of the exercise, into a community this size with this level of population that is not wooded, and is not largely hilly – we’re between the Wolds and the Moors – and the impact is huge.”

“The real fear I have is of a large-scale hundreds of wells industry that does huge harm to the environment both here long term in terms of climate change and global warming (not just overseas immediately) and which changes the nature of this community and robs it of its long-term economic prosperity.”


Reverend Cray criticised what he called the UK’s “fragmented system of monitoring and supervision”, with different agencies responsible for different aspects of fracking. He said:

“The current schemes are much too dependent on the actual gas company’s own documentation and self-regulation.”

And he said he was unconvinced that the regulators had sufficient expertise in all the aspects of onshore drilling.

“The moment this develops on the scale that it is needed, with all the cuts that have been, there are not the personnel to regulate it properly. Mr Hollinrake talks about engineers being all over inspecting. Well who is paying for them, how many, who do they work for?“

Updated at 13.50 on 10/10/15 to include response from Third Energy

8 replies »

  1. This is a classic example of a clergyman pontificating about a technical subject he knows nothing about. He has relied on the misinformation produced by local anti-frackers and gives it a Christian gloss. As a result he argues from false information. He seems to have returned from Pennsylvania with a very different picture from Kevin Holinkrake MP and myself (I visited PA last year). I would suggest the Bishop relies on reliable sources and not his anti-fracking friends. Here’s my review of an earlier article of his . Please note I am also an Anglican priest, but I was formerly an exploration and mining geologists so do have some technical skills. I am also studying the geology of the Bowland Shales in the field. https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2015/08/15/bishop-says-there-should-be-no-fracking-in-yorkshire/

    • The bishop is speaking in good faith and with good grace. Infallibility is available to no human nor to any well casing. His reasons for opposition to shale gas extraction in Ryedale remain unchallenged. His reasons are corroborated by many including the government and legislature of the Netherlands.

    • I don’t think you can say they are unchallenged just after a link that challenges them. It makes you look a little silly.

  2. So he met people but didn’t see for himself? Might as well be batty old fashion designer says ” I met a man in a pub who told me fracking was bad and I believe him”

    If you’d like to go to Pennsylvania Ruth, then you can find things out for yourself. It’s about as interesting as seeing paint dry, warn you in advance.

  3. I see the zealous pro-frackers are gathering in the comments thread here.
    I guess you guys have real concerns that the tide is turning against you with events of the last week?

    I was pleased to hear on the 10.30pm Look North report on last nights ‘fiesty’ meeting that even the BBC are starting to catch up with things – within the report they clearly stated ‘there has only been one fracking job of this type so far in the UK and it caused seismic events in2011’.
    I thought I was hearing things at first but fortunately I was viewing via the iplayer so I could rewind and double check, and yep, they really said that.

  4. I heard the bishop speak on this and he is very far from speaking about things he knows nothing about. He focuses on ethics. This issue is about power (is the government supporting the fossil fuel investors or the people?)

    • A bishops going to do what a bishops going to do. Its not exactly like CoE bishops are heavily respected for their science, or that their ethics or philosophy is not controversial in of itself, or that there are protesters of various ilks putting on their own public meetings, debates, or challenging the Church in multiple other ways – very often for its complete disregard for science.

      Meanwhile it was great to see Australia’s chief scientist say recently that fracking was safe. I know the anti fracking bunch are noisey, but I think a more honest appraisal of the situation is that more and more scientists are coming out and saying it can be done safely and as that is happening the anti fracking lobby is getting more desperate in its attempts to ignore them and scare people. Every time they win a battle they get all excited, but what they seem scared off most is that a few wells will be drilled and fracked without any issues (problems in the US were at a rate of about one every 3000 wells so we could easily drill for years in the UK without any issue and if the UK needed 20,000 wells and each has 10 laterals then that would need 2000 wells and we likely would never see any issue at all). That is what the anti fracking lobby is up against now. As they say, it all starts with one well, but hidden in that statement lies the reality that they lose more ground with every well drilled where there are no problems.

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