Planning process fails to take account of local opinion, say shale gas communities


Communities facing fracking for shale gas – or the possibility of it – criticised the planning system at a meeting in the Houses of Parliament this afternoon.

Statements from North Yorkshire and Lancashire condemned the process for failing to take account of local opinion.

The statements were read out at the meeting of a parliamentary group investigating shale gas planning and regulation.

One was from Paul Wicks, the former chairman of the parish council at Kirby Misperton, where Third Energy was given planning permission last month to frack an existing well. The parish council had objected to the application. After the decision Mr Wicks resigned saying he did not want to be part of a system that approved Third Energy’s plans despite 4,000+ objections.

In his statement, Mr Wicks said:

“The system prevents councils from making decisions based purely on the best interests of the public by creating a bureaucratic process that only allows “material considerations” to be taken into account when making decisions that affect so many.”

The other statement was from groups representing people living around Cuadrilla’s proposed fracking sites at Roseacre Wood and Preston New Road in the Fylde area of Lancashire. Last year, Lancashire County Council refused Cuadrilla permission to frack at both sites. The company appealed and, following a public inquiry before an inspector, the Secretary of State will make a decision on the applications, probably this summer.

The community groups accused the government of an ideological commitment to fracking and criticised the lack of community participation in the Secretary of State’s decision. Their statement said:

“We do recognise that the government thinks that shale gas is going to be an energy bonanza and that the Secretary of State would like to be able to make decisions on nationally significant infrastructure. But in this case we feel that we are being given the run-around because of an ideological commitment to fracking.

“We have asked repeatedly to speak to the process, including inviting the Secretary of State, Greg Clark to meet with us and discuss the decision his department will be making, and have received no response.

“Isn’t the government making a mockery of that entire planning process if they can just call in these applications and deny people like us a voice in the process?”

Louise Barr, the Deputy Director of planning, infrastructure and environment at the Department of Communities and Local Government, told the meeting comments raised by the public on planning issues would be taken into account. But she said decisions would be taken on planning considerations.

Resistance likely to fracking, says North Yorks MP

KevinHollinrakeKevin Hollinrake, the chair of the parliamentary group, warned that resistance to fracking was likely if local people felt companies were in control of the planning process.

He said people were worried about the prospect of hundreds of wells in a square kilometre. He said it was unclear from planning guidance how many wells would be too many and how many too few.

Ms Barr told the meeting that the cumulative impact of shale gas sites would be taken into account for individual applications and in the preparation of a local minerals plan.

Despite this, Mr Hollinrake told the meeting:

“I am sure my local residents will still be concerned because they don’t understand how their countryside is going to be affected by that statement. That’s what they concerned about.

“They are certainly worried that producers might end up in charge of this process and drive a coach and horses through the planning process with the back-up of an independent inspector or the Secretary of State, [and] that they cannot hold back the proliferation around the countryside.

“Unless we give people that reassurance then we’re going to see resistance on environmental grounds.”

23 replies »

  1. “Ms Barr told the meeting that the cumulative impact of shale gas sites would be taken into account for individual applications and in the preparation of a local minerals plan.” This seems to fly in the face of Planning Practice Guidelines which state:

    “Should minerals planning authorities take account of the environmental effects of the production phase of hydrocarbon extraction at the exploration phase?

    58. Individual applications for the exploratory phase should be considered on their own merits. They should not take account of hypothetical future activities for which consent has not yet been sought, since the further appraisal and production phases will be the subject of separate planning applications and assessments.”

    Click to access Planning_practice_guidance_for_onshore_oil_and_gas.pdf

    Am I missing something there?

  2. I wonder if the explanation hangs on the word “hypothetical”. I would argue, indeed have argued, that the idea of proliferation is built in to the application to hydraulically fracture a single well, as without such intended proliferation the application would not have been made, unlikely as it is to yield a healthy profit on its own, and, of course, answering no claimed national need on its own.

    • I could’t agree more David. Apparently it is necessary for a minimum of around 40 fracking wells to be drilled to just establish the viability of moving towards commercial production (which could involve several hundred wells being drilled). Surely it is obvious to the Planning Authority that by drilling any one well, it is implicit that the intention would be drill many more if that one initial well produced sufficient output.

    • Wells can be profitable as stand alone entities.

      You should also realize that operators are motivated to have as few well pads as possible. Well pads are expensive. Because operators can drill multi-laterals that each extend 3-10 miles, there is no need for “hundreds of well pads per kilometer.” Indeed, well pads will be few and far between if operators seek to maximize profit.

  3. Just a note to say that a 70 acre Scottish solar farm was officially opened in sun-drenched Perthshire today. A useful (all be it heavily subsidised) addition to renewable production, but it’s a sad joke that part of the Green opposition to Cuadrilla’s Blackpool development was “industrialisation of the landscape”. 70 acres of solar panels, 35 times the size of the planned drill site and not exactly Capability Brown in outlook.

    • Well Mark, ICM polling in 2015 showed that two thirds (65%) of people would support a solar farm within 2 miles of their home but that “Shale gas is the least preferred method of energy generation, with just 2% of public support”. How wonderful to read that renewable energy is continuing its inevitable march though. Thank you.

      But I can’t help noticing that your maths is as shaky as a fracking well when it hits a fault. The KMA wellsite is operational and has an area of approximately 1.4 hectares. 70 acres is 28.3 hectares, so the solar farm is just 20 times the size of this development frack pad, not 35 as you claim. We are told by the IoD that a fracking pad in production will be around 2 hectares in size, so the solar farm is just 14 times the size of a production frack pad, not 35.

      And the frackers have the gall to accuse us of exaggeration 🙂

      • Yes you’re right, 14x not 35x, a guesstimate on my part. Well done. It’s worth saying that the solar panels will remain on site for the life of the installation, whereas once the drilling is complete at Blackpool, one would only be left with a fenced well head which I think are only about 20 ft high (another guesstimate). Yes renewable energy development continues on it’s upward path seemingly but without a partnership with a backup fuel, that path leads us to a greener but colder, darker, February night. Clean natural gas is the ideal partner for, not an enemy of, renewable energy.

        By the way, incredible quote from Amber Rudd ” we now have an electricity system where no form of power generation, not even gas-fired power stations, can be built without government intervention.”. Basically it seems the government subsidies and the tax regime given to renewables now means that even CCGT stations can’t compete and therefore new stations won’t attract investment without a subsidy themselves. Makes you smile.

        • Your estimates of land use are moot because they don’t take into account equivalent energy production. When you do take this into account, you will see that solar requires approximately 230x the land use of natural gas. Of course, it also requires a coal-fired peaking unit for backup as well, and I’m not sure how you want to factor that in. http://www.ngsa.org/analyses-studies/beck-data-rev/

          BTW, a well pad such as Cuadrilla’s would require 100 wind turbines to generate a like amount of energy.

          It would be helpful if the locals actually had some facts by which they could make these comparisons. A multi-well pad of 3.5 acres should be compared to a 816 acre solar farm.

          Personally, I would much prefer the well pad!

          • Surely the point with solar is that it doesn’t have to take up extra land? Why doesn’t every roof in the country carry solar panels? Then land use as an argument would be irrelevant.

    • Mark, those 0.70 acres of solar panels will generate a small fraction of the energy of the well pad that is 1/35th the size. And of course that energy will only be available on the rare occasion when the sun shines. The impact on the earth from the minerals that were mined to create the panels and infrastructure, and the toxic residue that was left behind should also be taken into account.

  4. John – Thanks for the clarification on area / visual impact. Out of interest do you know how much electricty can be generated from a 70 acre solar farm in a day – kwhrs? It would be interesting to compare with the electricity generated by the Knapton gas turbine from the existing wells – and an estimate of what the potential generation of a small shale gas development at KM-8 location producing for example, 50mmscfd on a 24 hr basis.

    I expect (but may be wrong) that the 70 acre solar development production will be a small fraction of the gas generation. But it will be an intersting exercise.

    The Knapton gas turbine is 40MW rated I think, the Erroll Estate Scottish Solar farm is rated to 13MW. Note these are ratings NOT to be confused with actual output. As solar does not generate at night it is already down to less than 6.5MW rating even if it operates at 100% Load Factor in daylight hours. Of course this does not happen and solar panels rarelt attain 100% rating output for even a few hours of a day. I expect the actual load factor for a 13MW rated solar farm will be less than 25%?

    So energy produced per acre of surface footprint will be far greater with gas than solar?

  5. On the face of it solar farms may take more acreage, but don’t forget the oil and gas companies have admitted they are planning thousands of wells. Thousands of wells plus all the other paraphernalia needed for fracking. Solar farms don’t create noise, flaring, lighting, air pollution or millions of gallons of contaminated water to be disposed of. Nor do they produce the thousands of HGV movements needed for fracking over many years. And solar farms can be removed without leaving permanently damaged land behind.

    • Pauline, you are missing the point of my comment which is about energy return for land take. You clearly don’t want fracking, fair enough. However I assume you appreciate we need gas for a long time to come and solar in the UK at least is a minor contributor and only while FITs are on offer – and that is all. Solar is never going to replace gas in the UK or at night anywhere until suitable storage is developed. What about conventional gas wells onshore UK? Without fracking. A few of these wells have been supplying Knapton for some time. Should be easy to find out how many wells and the land take. Taking the very optimistic view that Erroll solar farm has an annual load factor of 25%, it will take 12 Errolls to equate to a 40MW turbine output over a one year period. Lets say 10 as the gas turbine is not 100% efficient but new modern CCGT’s have very high load factors. So the solar farm will have to be 700 acres to get anywhere near a small gas turbine (equivalent to a single 747 engine). And there is still the problem of what happens at night? As much as I hate wind farms, they produce more electricity per acre than solar ever will.

    • Pauline it’s perhaps worth remembering that solar panels don’t come from thin air. Much of the noise, polltion, water use issues you mention happens in countries (of course a long way away) where the rare earth minerals, for example, used in their construction are extracted. Also you mention “thousands of wells”; that should be compared with the acreage of solar farms needed if we move to a fuller renewables based energy system. David Mackay, the late authority on these matters, suggested if I remember rightly that a total solar farm acreage the size of Wales would be required.

    • You think an 816 acre solar farm won’t need hgv movements? Do you really think a working well pad is any more noisy than a solar installation? Do you think that the chemicals and minerals that go into solar pv cells do not create toxic residue and airborne pollution? I think you are mistaken.

  6. And then we have the problem of fracking well decline curves don’t we Paul? The hamster wheel that you guys would have us all turning means that whilst one well might be “temporary” we’ll always need another, and another, and another. That’s what you aren’t mentioning here.

    • John, all oil and gas wells decline eventually. Secondary or tertiary recovery methods may be deployed in oil wells. Gas wells may be recompleted with smaller tubing. Shale wells may be fracked again at some stage or in fill wells drilled. What am I trying to hide? The current discussion is about footprints and what the technologies have to offer. But you know the answer. Even shale gas wells will provide exponentially more energy than solar for the same footprint. And on a 24/7 basis what ever the weather. The decline curves will depend on the shale and it’s geology and gas content etc. This will be better known after fracking and testing. The number and frequency of wells required will be part of any development plan submitted which will require planning permission. To supply knapton from km 8 location the number of wells may be very low as the turbine requirements are not great and economics will preclude too many wells.

    • John, though decline curves are steep, wells continue producing for 8-10 years. Also note that because well pads are used for many wells, a single pad can produce for multiple decades.

  7. Oh come on Paul – you know exactly what I am saying here – we don’t need fracking and testing to predict likely fracking well decline curves – there is ample data from the wells that have been drilled 🙂 You are trying to frame the discussion in to one of relative footprints whereas it started as being about cumulative impact and public acceptability of fracking wells. Nice try at derailing the thread though.

    • As I understand it shale formations in the UK are much thicker than generally in the USA so experience there may not always pass across. It is more likely I think that, with appropriate consents, that each well pad will may operate multiple individual wells harvesting different levels, thus reducing overall visual impact. Also the incentives regarding land use are different; in the USA mineral rights belong to the landowner whereas in the UK it’s the Crown, so in the US small landowners often welcome developers with open arms because of the revenue. Obviously because of the smaller total land area in the UK and the revenue situation there will be more incentive to use land economically.

      • Mark – I think most of us are well aware of the muti-lateral well scenarios. Some of us are a bit concerned that with the problems the UK operators have had with single wells so far they may struggle a little with the 40-60 lateral well pads that have been mentioned. It’s not all about land take though. Whilst a 40 lateral pad may involve “only” 10 vertical wells each well still needs to be serviced, drilled and fracked meaning that all of the impacts may be concentrated geographically compare to 40 single well pads, but extended in time for anyone unfortunate enough to have to suffer such a well pad in their vicinity. That may go some way to explaining why so few people (2% according to that survey) are supportive of a fracking well in their neighbourhood. Also given the EURs projected by the IoD for each well, the number of well pads required to extract even just 12 tcf (4 years worth of UK demand) would be a staggering 100 well pads or 4,000 wells. If Cuadrilla plan to extract that much from the Fylde (and they claim they can) we’d have a well pad every 4 square miles. I think the visual and other impacts will be quite significant with that kind of density, don’t you?

        • Why would Cuadrilla plan to do such a thing that makes no economic sense? Every 4 square miles would mean redundancy given lateral coverage.

          No one wants to live next to any industrial operation. I don’t care if it’s a chemical plant, a tire manufacturing operation, a solar farm, a biomass turbine, or a gas well. This is no mystery my good man!

          In terms of density and land use, there are few technologies that are more economic than gas. http://www.ngsa.org/analyses-studies/beck-data-rev/

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