A couple from North Yorkshire who visited fracking areas in Pennsylvania say their experiences should be a warning to Ryedale.
Joanna and Steve White, who live five miles from Third Energy’s proposed fracking site at Kirby Misperton, retraced the journey made by their local MP, Kevin Hollinrake, who visited the state in September 2015 (DrillOrDrop interview with Mr Hollinrake)
Like Mr Hollinrake, they paid for their trip. Unlike him, they were not reassured about fracking.
They returned with concerns about industrialisation of countryside, increases in traffic, the risk of water contamination and the possible of scale of fracking if it came to Ryedale. Mrs White said:
“We don’t want fracking in our area. But if it has to come, there have to be proper controls.”
The couple are now calling for the local minerals and waste joint plan, in its final days of public consultation, to impose non-negotiable legal controls on where and how fracking can take place. They also want statutorily-agreed compensation for losses caused by fracking.
“We had to see for ourselves”
In an interview with DrillOrDrop, the couple described themselves as “very run of the mill people”.
Mrs White said: “We’ve never campaigned or been so concerned about anything really before.”
“We started off being completely neutral about fracking. We haven’t opposed fracking because we’re zealots and have some kind of mission. We just want to be normal people”.
She said they were delighted when Kevin Hollinrake said he had been reassured by what he saw in Pennsylvania.
“We just thought if this really isn’t as bad as people have been saying then it’s not a case of eating humble pie, it’s a case of thinking thank God.”
She said they belong to Frack Free Ryedale, one of the groups opposed to Third Energy’s plans, but they hadn’t undertaken the trip for it or anyone else.
“We went over there because we felt we’ve got to see this for ourselves.”
The couple said they had hoped that if they were reassured they could step back from the opposition to fracking in Ryedale.
“We just want our lives back, basically”, Mr White said.
“We told Frack Free Ryedale that if we came back reassured we would tell everyone because we felt people who were worried about fracking coming into the area deserve to know.”
The couple spent seven days in Pennsylvania in late October and early November. They travelled, as Kevin Hollinrake did, to Susquehanna and Butler Counties and said they met the people he met, along with others he didn’t.
Among the people they talked to were: the operations’ manager for a gas company, the prominent anti-fracking campaigner Vera Scroggins, the Mars Parents Group which is campaigning against fracking and gas processing next to local schools, as well as people in areas whose water supply had been contaminated. They also met waitresses, bar staff, a gallery owner, former oil company employees and people who had leased their mineral rights.
They said they visited sites where fracking, drilling and gas production was taking place. They photographed the ancillary sites required by fracking, such as compressor stations, dehydration plants and pipelines. The material is being compiled into a film which will be distributed locally next month.
“We want people to watch this and make up their own mind up. We think people need to have their eyes opened”, Mrs White said.
As a result of their visit, the couple said they couldn’t see an upside to fracking. They said they would not now choose to move to Kirby Misperton or probably anywhere else in Ryedale, one of the UK’s key areas for shale gas. The couple remain undecided about whether they want to stay in the area. Mrs White said:
“Unless the government controls the scope and the scale of this industry and puts real safeguards in place about where people live, go to school and have recreation it will have a massive impact on the area and it will not be positive.”
Impressions of Pennsylvania
They described to DrillOrDrop what they saw in Pennsylvania. They said:
- The active fracking site they visited was noisy, dusty and had a background chemical odour
- On their visit to the drilling site it was too noisy to hold a conversation
- In Montrose, the county town of Susquehanna County, bars had done well from fracking but the tourist industry had suffered and there was no evidence of an economic boom
- People told them gas industry jobs had not gone to locals
- House prices had gone down where drilling had taken place and up where there were no sites
- Everyone they talked to had strong opinions about fracking
- They met someone who had been dependent on bottled water for eight years because his well water had been contaminated
“Gas wells are all over the place”
The couple disagreed with Kevin Hollinrake that it was hard to find gas sites. They said the industry executive they met said drilling was much reduced from its peak. Wells were being mothballed because with falling gas prices companies could not cover costs. Despite this, the couple said:
“Once you get off the main road and into the suburbs, sites are all over the place. They are every half a mile. They are very close to houses. They’re not hard to find.”
Unlike Mr Hollinrake, they were told companies in the region did go back to sites to drill or frack additional wells.
They also disagreed with him that the area was like Ryedale. They said it was mountainous and heavily wooded, more reminiscent of Bavaria. Susquehanna County is bigger than Ryedale and less densely populated.
Mr White said he had been surprised that the ancillary sites added as much to the industrialisation of the area as the fracking pads themselves.
“There are compressor stations that are massive industrial sheds, eight in a row with big fans on them. There are about 40 of those just in Susquehanna County. Along with that, you’ve got dehydration plants and the pipelines that have been laid. You can see where the ground’s been dug up because there are swathes cut through the trees. It looked like a ski run, 60ft wide.”
He was also struck by the comment made by the owner of a bed and breakfast.
“She said you could see how the American Indians must have felt when the Europeans came because she said if felt like her country had been stolen from her. They had come in and they had raped the countryside. She could see that industry was necessary but did they have to do it in the way they’ve done it?”
“You cannot deliver this industry without lots of wells”
Mrs White said the industry executive told them: “You cannot deliver this industry without lots and lots of wells because shale is incredibly unpredictable. They said ‘It could stop tomorrow. We’ve no idea. It is a real trial and error industry’.”
Third Energy is proposing to frack and carry out a flow test on the existing KM8 vertical well at Kirby Misperton. We reported that the company’s operations director showed a local councillor a diagram of 10 lateral (horizontal) wells coming off KM8. But Third Energy described the diagram as a “very early conceptual sketches”. Its current planning application allocated nine years for gas production from KM8 if the flow test were successful. Mrs White described the reaction of the industry executive they met:
“He laughed when we told him that Third Energy had gone for nine years production. He said you can’t tell how long you are going to get commercial production out of shale. It doesn’t matter how thick your shale is, or what your geology is, you cannot tell.”
“In his opinion companies only ever do a vertical frack to save the money of drilling a lateral. He said you do the vertical frack to get the flow test. As soon as the flow test is done the laterals are in.”
“We asked ‘Can you have fracking without lots of trucks and noise?’ and he said ‘No you can’t’”.
“We spoke to lots of people who had been bothered for four years from trucks coming through and drilling different sites close together.”
“Divided and powerless communities”
The industry divides people, Mrs White said.
“There are winners and losers and the problem is the winners are looking at financial gain and they are not looking at how their actions may be impact their neighbours.”
She said individual members of the Mars Parents Group were being sued for compensation by people who wanted to lease their mineral rights to the gas companies. Some members of the group had, she said, been verbally attacked and false statements had been spread about them.
DrillOrDrop asked the couple how relevant they thought the Pennsylvania experience was to the UK.
“This is a warning”, they said.
Mr White said: “People felt there was nothing they could do. The politicians were rolling over like beagles and just giving the industry everything it wanted.”
“Our government has said ‘We’re going all out for shale gas’. They are doing what they did in the US. They are nibbling away at the democratic processes – it’s the same as happened in the US.”
Mrs White added:
“They say you are not going to suffer the same problems as American as we’ve got gold standard regulation.”
“The worrying thing is that people we spoke to in America were being told a similar thing to us: ‘The gas companies are good neighbours’, ‘Our regulations are fantastic’, ‘It won’t happen in this state’ or ‘What happened in Washington County won’t happen here in Butler County’.”
“They’ve been told the same stories that we have. They were told this industry could operate quietly in a corner.”
Mrs White said her message to people in Kirby Misperton was to fight Third Energy’s plans “every step of the way”.
“Having seen what I’ve seen, I would say you need to be really aware that if that flow test is successful and their plan would be to extract shale gas from that site this will not be one well. It may be one vertical well but there will be lots of drilling and fracking.”
Stricter controls in minerals plan
The couple called for stricter controls on the UK shale gas industry. They said the local minerals plan, currently being prepared for North Yorkshire and York, must be much stricter than the draft. The plan will set local planning policy for the period up to 2030.
Mrs White said:
“The minerals plan is so important because it is the blueprint to control fracking for the next 10 or 15 years. But I think the blueprint that we have at the moment is woefully inadequate.”
“We need to be tough with fracking if we hope to introduce the industry, discreetly and appropriately, as the industry claims can be done.”
“It needs a proper strategy about where it should go and how it should be controlled and a proper economic impact assessment.”
“Yes we do need jobs and we do have to look to the future but it’s not right to bring an industry into the area that then decimates other economies. We cannot have the situation that for the fracking industry to be successful, peoples’ lives are turned upside down and the countryside spoiled.”
Specifically, the Whites are calling for:
- Minimum one-mile distance of fracking sites from all residential areas, schools, hospitals and individual dwellings.
- Two-mile distance between fracking sites and homes where possible
- Six-mile distances between each site related to fracking, including wells, processing plants and compressor stations
- Requirement for sites to be close to A roads
- Ban on fracking traffic through the centre of villages
- Statutory exclusion area set by water companies which bans fracking anywhere near protected drinking water zones
- Cumulative impacts of traffic and fracking taken into account in any planning decision
- Economic impact assessment required for every planning application
- Statutory compensation for any proven loss for homeowners and businesses
“Without these safeguards, the planning system is too subjective and open to interpretation”, Mrs White said.
“These controls must be in place so that there is certainty over the scale and scope this industry can have. They are needed if communities are to have any confidence that they can host fracking and continue their daily lives and enjoy the same quality of life.”
- The public consultation on the Minerals and waste join plan for North Yorkshire, City of York and the North York Moors National Park ends at 5pm on Friday 15th Consultation web page
- Third Energy’s planning application to frack the KM8 well will be decided by North Yorkshire County Council. The current determination date is 9th February 2016. Link to application
All the images illustrating this post were supplied by Joanne and Steve White from their visit to Pennsylvania