The shale gas industry should be required to establish a fund for the clean-up of any contamination from fracking, councillors in North Yorkshire have said.
A report from a county council committee said the fund should be established early and it should be mandatory. (Link to report – see item 8 on the agenda)
The report, which will be voted on later this month, stepped back from requiring individual companies to pay a bond when they applied for planning permission to explore for shale gas. But it said:
“There is a strong case to suggest that the government should require the industry to develop mutual funds for bonds, early on in the development of the industry, to deal with the occurrence of environmental contamination.”
The report raised concerns about the impact of a shale gas industry on the area and its tourism industry. It concluded:
“A proliferation of well sites in a concentrated area could impact negatively upon tourism – one of North Yorkshire’s key industries.”
“Accommodating (and planning for) a large scale shale gas industry has particular challenges and could give rise to substantial impacts that need addressing.”
North Yorkshire is in the front-line of the debate over shale gas. Third Energy has applied for planning permission to frack at Kirby Misperton in Ryedale and most of the area has been licensed for shale gas exploration.
The report is partly a response to a petition to the council’s Ryedale area committee in June last year. This called on the county council to “publicly oppose fracking and all other forms of unconventional fossil fuel extraction in North Yorkshire”.
If approved the report will inform the council’s response to the petition. It will also help to shape the Minerals and Waste Joint Plan (MWJP) being developed for North Yorkshire, the North York Moors National Park and the City of York.
The report said the MWJP should go further than the current draft in deciding where fracking can take place in the county and how it will be managed. The councillors recommended the MWJP should:
- Set detailed criteria for where shale gas operations should be allowed, taking into account towns and villages, the landscape, noise, traffic, light pollution and the impact on the economy.
- State how waste from an onshore oil and gas industry would be managed
- Set criteria to assess and minimise the impact of light and noise pollution from shale gas sites
- Set criteria to assess any “cumulative impacts arising from a proliferation of well sites”.
The report also called for:
- Baseline study of health in and beyond North Yorkshire to identify impacts from a shale gas industry
- Training for the emergency services and GPs to respond to spills or explosions.
- Baseline monitoring of emissions to air at all proposed shale gas sites – not just the first few as proposed by the British Geological Survey
- Development of a comprehensive picture of risks to groundwater, taking account of different geologies
- Greater protection of groundwater than provided by the ban in the Infrastructure Act on fracking at depths of less than 1,000m
The report also said the public inquiry into Cuadrilla’s fracking appeals in Lancashire had raised doubts about gaps in the regulation of shale gas. The MWJP should “into account any relevant issues where they are known in time to inform the content of the plan”.
Location of shale gas sites
The report considered requiring buffer zones between fracking sites and the county’s National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It said this would give greater protection to the environment and heritage. But it also concluded buffer zones would be inflexible and hard to justify in planning terms. Large buffer zones would leave relatively small remaining areas suitable for development, it said.
The report supported the idea of minimum separation distances between well pads. But it said they should be used flexibly. It said stand-off distances of more than 1km “would be likely to prevent development in all but a few localised place” and could steer development to areas off the main road network.
- The report will be considered by North Yorkshire’s health scrutiny committee meeting on 22nd April before going to the council’s executive on 24th May.
Link to report – see item 8 on the agenda