IGas is at the centre of disputes with the authorities in two areas where it has licences to explore for gas.
In Cheshire, the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) is demanding IGas pay the £200,000 costs of a police operation for the eviction of a protest camp. And in Nottinghamshire, a local council is taking legal advice over whether the company has broken planning laws.
“Blatant disregard for the planning process”
Opponents of fracking in north Nottinghamshire have accused IGas of a “blatant disregard of the planning process” and of upsetting local people. They say the company has put portable buildings and floodlighting on a potential shale gas site where it has not yet applied for planning permission.
Bassetlaw District Council is consulting its lawyers over whether IGas has broken planning rules.
The company is expected to submit an application next month for an exploratory shale gas well at the site called Tinker Lane between Blyth and Barnby Moor.
Local people have complained to the council that buildings and floodlighting have been on the site since October 2015. That month IGas submitted a scoping request – the first stage of planning application.
David Larder, chair of Bassetlaw Against Fracking, wrote to Bassetlaw District Council, saying the buildings had been on site for “many weeks”. He asked:
“How can they be regarded as temporary? Do they require planning permission? Do the lights require planning permission? What is the enforcement position at the moment? I would be grateful to have a statement made by the council on this matter as soon as possible please.”
Bassetlaw’s enforcement officer replied saying the council had visited the site and spoken to IGas. The letter continued:
“Following our discussions, IGas provided a QC’s legal opinion with regards to the use of the land. Before issuing a formal response we are now seeking a further legal opinion on the matter. The Council’s decision and any proposed enforcement action will depend on the outcome of the legal opinion.”
“In the meantime the Council have no option other than to hold the matter in abeyance until the legalities of the use have been decided.”
Mr Larder said Bassetlaw District Council appeared to be “taking the complaint seriously”. He said:
“The action by IGas is a blatant disregard of the planning process. The premature establishment by IGas at Tinker Lane and the upset that it has caused to local residents might be taken as a portent of the cavalier and slapdash attitude much as we witnessed previously with IGas Energy Group company, Dart Energy, at Daneshill.”
DrillOrDrop asked Bassetlaw District Council for the latest information about the site. Beverley Alderton-Sambrook, Head of Regeneration at Bassetlaw District Council, said:
“The Council has corresponded with the land owner and IGas and has advised them of its position. In addition, the Council is in the process of seeking legal advice and cannot comment further at this stage.”
DrillOrDrop also put several questions about Tinker Lane to IGas. A spokesperson replied:
“We have made our position clear to the Council and are awaiting their decision. We do not consider it appropriate to comment any further at this stage.”
IGas failed to understand community concerns”
In Cheshire, John Dwyer, the Police and Crime Commissioner, has described the eviction of the camp from IGas’s site at Upton as “wholly unnecessary”. Three weeks after the operation, which involved 175 officers police from four forces, the company announced it was abandoning the site. It said extraction of the coal bed methane around Chester was not commercially viable.
In a letter to the IGas chief executive, Stephen Bowler, Mr Dwyer said:
“I find it incredible that a company that describes itself as a responsible operator, with the highest standards of health, safety, and environmental protection, would have allowed the bailiff’s action to proceed and risk serious injury to all involved whilst at the same time deciding not to proceed with its interests at the site.”
“It is unfortunate that your company has acted so irresponsibly and failed to understand local community concerns and risks.”
The Police and Crime Commissioner’s office said this afternoon that IGas had replied to the letter but a decision had not yet been made about whether to make the response public. The Guardian reported that IGas had refused to pay the costs but IGas would not confirm this today.
The company added:
“The eviction involved the enforcement of a court order granted to deal with trespassers, who were on the land illegally. Police involvement in the eviction was a matter for the relevant local Police Authority and for them to assess the level of policing required to support the process.”