Planners recommend three more years for Rathlin’s East Yorkshire drill site



Rathlin Energy’s West Newton A site

Planners in East Yorkshire have said Rathlin Energy should be allowed to work at an exploratory gas site in Holderness for another three years.

In a report to the county council’s planning committee, officers have recommended approval of a planning application to extend permission at the West Newton A site. The application will be decided on Thursday 26th November at East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s offices in Beverley.

The current permission at the site, between Aldbrough and Sproatley, was granted in January 2013 and expires next year. Rathlin Energy has permission for another site nearby, known as West Newton B, and wants the option to drill an already-approved second well at West Newton A.

Although Rathlin Energy has said repeatedly it has no proposals to explore in the Bowland shale or use hydraulic fracturing, the planners’ report does not include a no-frack clause or condition.

The report said the application should be approved because it complied with local and national policy and was “considered acceptable in landscape terms”. The report also said the “relative isolation of the site” reduced the impact on the nearest homes.

The planners said under the current planning permission:

“The applicant has confirmed every effort has been made to complete the development within the 36 month timescale permitted”.

But they added:

“The test results from the West Newton A well, combined with evidence gathered during the 2014 3D seismic survey, has led to the need to retain the operation to drill and test the second well.”

An investigation by DrillOrDrop earlier this year revealed that operations at West Newton A had breached 14 conditions of the environmental permits regulated by the Environment Agency. They included releases of gas from the well head. Links to reports here and here


East Riding of Yorkshire Council said it had received comments from 32 members of the public. DrillOrDrop reviewed the comments listed on the council’s yesterday and counted 34 individuals. All were objections. There were no letters of support.

The issues raised included:

  • Light, noise and air pollution
  • Water contamination and risk to water supplies
  • Risk to the environment
  • Incompetence and poor track record of Rathlin Energy at the site
  • Threats to a nearby site of special scientific interest
  • Risks to livestock, crops and wildlife species and habitat, include barn owls, grass snakes, and newts
  • Industrialisation of a rural area and loss of landscape quality
  • Poor road infrastructure
  • Increased traffic volumes
  • Loss of amenity and infringement of human rights of local people
  • Threats to health
  • Contribution of fossil fuels to climate change
  • Lack of an economic case for oil and gas production and threat to local economy
  • Lack of expertise in local planning authority to regulate the industry
  • Potential policing costs
  • Potential for fracking for shale gas

Comments from correspondents included:

“Holderness is a predominantly agricultural area and I would not buy my food if I knew it came from an area containing an industry that is potentially dangerous for human health and safety”.

“Is Rathlin capable of safely managing a well site that is involved in the hazardous business of onshore exploration for oil and gas?”

“I have objected to previous applications by Rathlin and they have written a letter in response which is written in a threatening manner, which is totally unacceptable”

“Once again local residents will be disturbed by the large volumes of traffic associated with the site.”

“I do not believe that regulations can safely manage Rathlin’s operations in the East Riding of Yorkshire nor protect our quality of life.”

Communities of Holderness Against Onshore Drilling sent a dossier of what it said were failings at West Newton A to the council. But there is no evidence that this has been included in the planners’ report.

One local parish council, Ellerby, recommended refusal of the application. Burton Constable Parish Council said it had no objection. There was no response from Aldborough and Withenwick councils.

There were also no objections from ERYC’s tree and landscape section. An objection by the Nature Conservation Officer was withdrawn when ecological reports were updated. There also no objections from Humber Archaeology Partnership, the Environment Agency and Humberside Airport.

Case for the applicant

The planning report made the case on behalf of Rathlin Energy.

  • The UK is heavily dependent on energy from fossil fuels and this will continue for a number of years. With the decline of North Sea oil fields it is “imperative that this supply is maintained and additional oil and gas reserves are found”
  • By 2020, imports could increase to 70% for gas.
  • The UK government wishes to ensure security of supply by exploring for indigenous oil and gas on and offshore.

Planning recommendation

Policy. The planners said national and local policy supported oil and gas exploration, subject to the protection of the environment.

Visual Impact. This was considered to be acceptable in the previous application, subject to a 36-month limited consent.

“In order that the harm caused to the landscape qualities and visual amenity remains temporary, a condition is proposed limiting the whole site operation to a further 36 months.”

If a second well were drilled, the drilling rig would be on site for five to ten weeks and the well test equipment for three months, the report said.

Groundwater. There are no changes proposed to those agreed as part of the previous permission. The design of the well and the operation would ensure groundwater and the aquifer are protected from harm, the report said.

Traffic. The impact of the development on traffic and highway safety was considered acceptable in the previous application.

Heritage assets. These could be safeguarded from harm subject to conditions. The reported added:

“The proposal is a very heavily regulated on technical and environmental grounds by a number of other public organisation”.

Proposed conditions

  • Construction, drilling and testing must be carried out within 36 months of the permission.
  • After this the well should be plugged and abandoned and the site restored
  • 12-week maximum period for the rig to be on site
  • Maximum rig height of 49m
  • Other conditions on traffic movements, prevention of pollution, hedge and tree planting, noise management.

Link to planning agenda and report (see under 26th November 2015 meeting)

This report is part of DrillOrDrop’s Rig Watch project. Rig Watch receives funding from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. More details here


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