Anti-fracking campaigners and IGas agree: Shropshire CBM not worth exploiting


Dudleston Heath

Coal bed methane exploitation in north Shropshire now looks unlikely after it emerged that geologists working for IGas came to the same conclusion as an anti-fracking group – that it is not commercially viable.

The detail was revealed in documents presented by IGas and Frack Free Dudleston (FFD) to the Planning Inspectorate in a claim over costs.

FFD was seeking the expenses it incurred in preparing for a planning appeal which was unexpectedly abandoned. The group argued that Dart Energy, which brought the appeal and was later taken over by IGas, had acted unreasonably and should pay the costs.

The Planning Inspectorate announced before Christmas that FFD’s costs claim had failed.

FFD said:

“Although costs were not awarded, the geological statement is very important for this area. People will be relieved to hear that at this stage it looks extremely unlikely that there will be any further applications for coal bed methane extraction in Shropshire.”

Dudleston Heath plans

The case dates back more than a year when Dart Energy applied to explore for coal bed methane (CBM) at Brooklands Farm, Dudleston Heath, near Ellesmere.

In October 2014, Shropshire Council’s planning committee rejected the advice of officers and voted that they were minded to refuse the application. The final decision was adjourned but in January 2015, before it could be confirmed, Dart Energy appealed to the Planning Inspectorate. The company said Shropshire Council had failed to decide the application by the target date.

During the planning process, Frack Free Dudleston argued that the coal seams of the Dudleston area were geologically unsuitable for CBM. The group said:

“We referenced a Government report that was published after the awarding of PEDL 185 that indicated that this area is not good for CBM.”

Dart said the report, produced by Department of Energy and Climate Change and the British Geological Survey in 2011, was not written about the Dudleston area. FFD replied that it was a national study covering the whole UK. It said:

“Shropshire and its coal formations even appeared on one of the maps and the map identified the nearest good area as being many miles away.”

But Dart maintained to the planning committee and its new owner, IGas, that the CBM prospects in the exploration and development licence PEDL 185 were worth exploring.

The appeal process got underway and the Planning Inspectorate set a date for a public inquiry. But on 31st July, IGas, now running Dart, withdrew the appeal.

“No need for exploratory drilling”

In documents seen by DrillOrDrop, IGas’s lawyer, DLA Piper, said the decision to abandon was taken after geologists reviewed CBM prospects in the licence blocks acquired from Dart Energy.

DLA Piper said:

“On completing their review of PDL 185 in July this year [2015] IGas’ experts advised senior management that the CBM target coal seams in PEDL 185 did not meet the company’s criteria for commercial development on a standalone basis.”

“As soon as IGas had been advised by its geologists that the CBM resource was not commercially viable (and ahead of the completion of the overall review) it instructed its subsidiary Dart Energy to withdrawn its appeal as there was no need now for any further exploratory CBM drilling to be carried out in the area covered by PEDL 185.”

DLA Piper added that the commercial viability of a target mineral resource was a relevant planning consideration. The conclusion that the CBM resource was not commercially viable was, the company said, a material change in a relevant planning issue and justified the decision to withdraw the appeal.

FFD, in a response to DLA Piper, said

“The key point is that IGas effectively now agrees with what FFD have been saying all along and are therefore also implicitly concluding that the statements and actions of Dart Energy were inappropriate on this matter. The geological unsuitability of the area is now presented as being the sole factor in deciding that the area has no commercial prospects for CBM, which therefore makes it a very important consideration.”

“It is reasonable to insist that Dart Energy make a proper assessment ahead of placing their initial planning application. Furthermore, when confronted with a well-researched local response during the planning process that they should acknowledge the information rather than seek to dismiss it and then plough on with a planning appeal.”

Costs arguments

FFD argued in its costs claim that Dart had been “inappropriate to rush into lodging an appeal” and that the company’s participation in the appeal process had been obstructive. FFD said:

“We presented our case in line with the planning guidance and were arguing that the appellant had been unreasonable on procedural grounds”.

FFD said this included:

  • Failing to provide additional information requested by Shropshire Council before going to appeal
  • Seeking an appeal knowing that it would not be able to access the site to collect this information
  • Trying to downgrade the appeal from a public inquiry to written representations or a hearing based on false premises
  • Seeking an appeal knowing that its access agreement to the site was due to expire and that, even it won, it would not be able to use the planning permission.

The Planning Inspectorate confirmed that an example of unreasonably behaviour includes the withdrawal of an appeal, giving rise to a procedural award of costs against an appellant.

But the decision notice, issued on 9th December, concluded:

“An award of costs against the appellants, on grounds of ‘unreasonable’ behaviour resulting in unnecessary or wasted expense, is not justified in the particular circumstances.”

The only challenge to the decision open to FFD is a judicial review. A spokesperson for the group, said:

“We decided not to pursue a judicial review because the potential prize – costs awarded – was not worth the financial and time investment.  Situations where the outcome is that drilling is stopped would be different”.

7 replies »

  1. Unusual for costs not to be awarded in this situation. A group I am involved with have twice recovered costs against the appellant in two separate public inquiries where the appellant withdrew the appeals at the 11th hour. The Inspectors deemed unreasonable behaviour and awarded us cost both times. It was fairly straightforward to demonstrate unreasonable behaviour. We recovered costs for third party specialists we had contracted to help put our Rule 6 party cases forward for the two appeals.

  2. That’s a brilliant result for FFD, congratulations to all. No fracking for Shropshire is an excellent outcome for all concerned.

    I expect housebuilding will take place on site now as this can’t be objected to under new regs, which is why whole hosts of licences are rolling out, as a recruiting sargeant for green land for new homes knowing fracking licences wont be granted.

    Wonder if Peel conglom will roll in ??? Not sure who the chancellor Bob the builder is pals with in that area?

    • I think you are kidding yourself if you think FFD caused IGas to pull out. FFD would have opposed it no matter what the geology / economics were (like most anti posters on this board). The withdrawal was made by IGas for technical reasons – “On completing their review of PDL 185 in July this year [2015] IGas’ experts advised senior management that the CBM target coal seams in PEDL 185 did not meet the company’s criteria for commercial development on a standalone basis.”
      The fact that FFD did not get any costs despite the late withdrawal from the Appeal by IGas implies that (in the Inspector’s opinion) FFD did not contribute significantly to the Appeal process in their capacity as a Rule 6 Party.

      • The question arises whether Igas knew all along that it was a non starter. If so, then they have misled and deceived the local community, businesses, landowners, farmers, Shropshire Council, the readers of the Shropshire Star and local newspapers. Moreover, Paul Tresco you seem to have omitted the front line activists at Dudleston Castle who were another line of the community resistance since July 2014. What we saw was local community empowerment at its finest. The opposition was overwhelming, unanimous, countywide. You didn’t
        stand a chance and they knew it. Therefore they owe Yellow Belly and Co an unreserved apology for messing everybody around. This industry is unsafe, uneconomic, unhealthy, unpopular, unwelcome and unsustainable. If only you could see my lips, it ain’t going to happen! The disbenefits outweigh the benefits. The geology is unsuitable. We are a tiny island, the most densely populated country in Europe. Now move on and stop kidding everyone on that it is safe and makes economic sense!

  3. Mutuality – planning decisions are made under planning law. It may be that PINS would have refused the IGas appeal but we won’t know now. If IGas (Dart) knew it was a none starter I doubt they would have appealed. The planning application and the appeal will have cost them a fair amount of money.

    I agree with you regarding the issue of the size of the UK (England). We are not the most densley populated country in Europe (Malta, Netherlands) but we are up there. The main planning issues with shale gas and CBM are related to our small geographical size and population density, traffic and noise. But you have no need to worry if as you say the industry is uneconomic. If you are correct it will never happen. But you are wrong about the geology, the geology (shale gas) appears to be excellent, especially in the Bowland shale which is very sandy and looks to be highly productive.

  4. We as part of the local community are proud of our achievements. We did what we set out to do. Prevention is better than containment and undoubtedly cure. Imagine the scene of devastation with heavy equipment and lorries trundling into North Shropshire. The scale, industralisation 24/7, the ‘blot on the landscape’ the visual impact, the noise and air pollution, the drilling through the water table, the clean up operation on what is organic pasture. The farmers land would be blighted and contaminated, his business and reputation would be over. Wildlife would of been badly affected. Human/animal health and welfare would of been compromised. It was too risky.

    Paul Tresto – IGas (Dart) would of lost heck of a lot more money had they overcome the many obstacles that were blocking them, particularly in light of their geologists reports. We did them a favour but in actual fact our aim was to do it for our children for this generation and beyond. Furthermore, if it wasn’t for one of the ‘brave councillors’ who had done his research and found out what the potential consequences would of been if drilling had commenced, then Shropshire Council would of agreed in favour with the Chief Planning Officer (who evidently had not done his research and was seen laughing and joking (conflict of interest) with the four ‘city style slickers’ who rolled up at Shirehall looking like desensitised synthetics on a mission). This is despite the fact that all of the Councillors were rebuked afterwards due to the fact that the Council could of faced £100k penalty if the decision had been overturned.

    Besides, there is no rationale or justification in any sense in setting up up to 10,000 wells (mostly in Northern England) near homes, schools, play areas, parks, ANOB (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty). The whole idea is bonkers. Short termism, achieving what? Fracking is a junk bond, non-profitable, impractical, unrealistic and absurd. You only have to look at the current situation at Upton nr Chester where there is a ‘game of chess’ being played out. A stand-off. Psychological war games to see who will pounce first. Except the local community, councillors, local MP, zoo, businesses etc are either directly or indirectly getting involved as well as high profile names and the fact that the BBC, ITV, RT, Chester Chronicle etc are providing regular media coverage is counterproductive to the industry as more and more locals and people from across the country and world are descending on Upton Community Protection Camp and it would be a PR disaster to go in when it has become a ‘people power stronghold’. The clock is ticking on this loss making industry. They will never get a foothold in this country let alone Shropshire. Let Shropshire set a precedent to other counties like Lancashire, Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Cheshire and many more. Take heart from here. Local democracy can and will prevail.

    Verdict – victory for the local community of Dudleston and Shropshire and for common sense.

    Paul Tresto – you were correct to point out, I meant to say we are one of the most densely populated countries in Europe.

  5. Mutuality love the passion. Unfortunately they cleared the Upton site in seven hours, with every police van in the North West and Wales present. It behooves us all to redouble our resistance to these threats to our ways of life. The people of Chester deserve the same respite as us more fortunate folks in Shropshire.

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