Updated: No national limits on density of fracking sites, says Minister

thirsk and malton

Exploration licences in the Thirsk and Malton constituency

The government has ruled out national limits on the number of fracking sites in shale gas areas. It has also refused to set a minimum distance between wells and homes.

James WhartonThe local government minister, James Wharton (pictured left), said setting limits could prevent shale gas development in some places. He also said limits might fail to provide what he called “appropriate protections”.

The statement came in his reply to a written question from the MP Kevin Hollinrake. His Thirsk and Malton constituency includes Kirby Misperton, where Third Energy received permission to frack last month.

Thirsk and Malton has 38 whole or part exploration licence blocks within its boundary, the highest of any constituency in the UK.

Industrialisation of the countryside was a key argument against Third Energy’s fracking application in at Kirby Misperton. The company told a House of Lords committee in 2015 that it would need up to 19 sites in the surrounding Ryedale area, each with 10-50 wells (DrillOrDrop report.

Kevin HollinrakeMr Hollinrake (pictured right) has been calling for controls on site density including statutory buffer zones of six miles between sites and one mile gaps between sites and villages. He has also asked would-be producers to give him an idea of what his area would look like if shale gas developed.

Parliamentary question

In a written question to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Mr Hollinrake asked:

“Whether his Department has made an assessment of the potential merits of establishing clear national planning guidelines for the (a) maximum density of shale gas well sites per square mile and (b) minimum distances of such sites from towns and villages.”

The reply from James Wharton said

“Were limits to be set in national planning guidance, they may not provide appropriate protections in some contexts, or rule out otherwise acceptable development in others.”

DrillorDrop asked the MP’s office for his reaction to the minister’s reply. Mr Hollinrake, who chairs an parliamentary group on shale gas regulation, said he was not surprised. The minister’s response would be included in a report being compiled by the group, to be published by the end of the year, he said.

Earlier this month, Mr Hollinrake said people in his constituency were worried about the prospect of hundreds of wells in a square kilometre. Speaking at a meeting of the parliamentary group, he said it was unclear from planning guidance how many wells would be too many and how many too few (DrillOrDrop report).

“[Local residents] 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.”

Planning system

In his answer, Mr Wharton also suggested national limits were not needed. He said:

“The planning system currently requires shale well site density and distance to settlements to be considered where relevant in plan making and decisions on planning proposals, taking into account local context.”

There are currently no limits on site density or rules on minimum distances of sites from homes in the waste and minerals plans for North Yorkshire or for Lancashire, where Cuadrilla is contesting the refusal of permission to frack at two sites. There are also no specific limits proposed in the new draft minerals plan for West Sussex, where Cuadrilla has a wellsite at Balcombe and UK Oil and Gas acquired an exploration licence this month.

Lancashire County Council did not discuss well site density when it rejected Cuadrilla’s planning applications. Nor did North Yorkshire when it voted to approve Third Energy’s plans.

In the answer, Mr Wharton also said:

“For minerals such as shale gas, local authority mineral plans should set out environmental criteria for the assessment of applications and take into account cumulative effect of multiple impacts from individual sites and/ or from a number of sites in a locality. Planning law requires that decisions must be taken in accordance with the development plan for the local authority, including any relevant mineral plan policies, unless material considerations indicate otherwise.”

“In all cases, national planning policy must also be taken into account when applications are determined. This is clear that when a planning permission is granted for mineral development, including shale gas, there should be no unacceptable adverse impacts on the natural and historic environment, or on human health. It also ensures relevant cumulative effects are considered.”

Visualisation of shale gas in North Yorkshire

Mr Hollinrake chaired a summit on 8 February 2016 for would-be shale producers, including INEOS, Cuadrilla and Third Energy.

Afterwards, the companies promised to produce a visualisation of what North Yorkshire would look like if a shale gas industry developed.

Mr Hollinrake’s office confirmed to DrillOrDrop that more than four months on it had not received the visualisation and would be chasing it up. But the MP added later that the industry body, UK Onshore Oil and Gas, was working on guidelines on well and site density.

INEOS told DrillOrDrop that it estimates 10 sites each with 10-12 wells in a 10km x 10km square. An earlier diagram, which was part of a tender document to would-be contractors, showed 30 well sites in the same area, each with 12-14 wells. This was taken off the company’s website and described as incorrect.

Updated 16/6/2016 to remove the words: “told councillors in its licence areas” in the final paragraph

Updated 27/6/2016 with reaction by Kevin Hollinrake to the minister’s written answer

DrillOrDrop always welcomes comments on posts. In order to keep the comments area safe and legal, DrillOrDrop has a new commenting policy which you can read here.

24 replies »

  1. INEOS’s denial of the figures for well density that they included on an online ad for a Seismic Survey Contractor – which said there would be up to 30 well-sites and 396 wells – is simply not credible. The ad was on their site for at least five days before it was raised by worried residents at an INEOS charm offensive meeting in Malton, Ryedale. For the company to claim that the well density figures on this ad was incorrect is clearly a case of them shutting the stable door after the fracking horse has bolted. The ad must have been copy-checked and proof-read before posting on their website, and there were even two diagrams of the well-density that had been drawn up. The ad was there for nearly a week before it was raised at the meeting. It was then promptly taken down with claims that this was not the right figures. The irony is that even the figures they told the councillors – of 10 sites with up to 120 wells – is still a huge amount of wells in a 6.5 square mile area, and would require hundreds of thousands of truck movements, drilling 24/7 for years, enormous problems with waste water and all the other issues that come with fracking on an industrial scale. INEOS are clearly not to be trusted if they can’t even get their adverts right and they have no social licence to frack in Ryedale or anywhere else.

    • Chris, how would you know what INEOS’s internal strategic plans involve? Companies change their plans all the time for many different reasons. I find that your comment lacks credibility unless you can back it up with hard fact from INEOS.

      I live in an area where gas drilling takes place and the density is greater than that which INEOS has suggested. I can tell you that I can only find well pads if I know where to look for them.

      Your comment indicates that you don’t have a lot of experience with onshore gas drilling. The area INEOS references is 100 square kilometers (10km by 10km) which works out to 38.6 square miles. To have ten well pads over that amount of area would result in very little visual impact. Vastly less, in fact, than the energy equivalent of solar panels, wind turbines, or coal mines. Yes, trucks would roll through the area around each well pad for a few months while the sites were being finished, but trucks would be involved in any energy extraction build out, so I’m not sure what the alternative is.

      Fracking is the environmentally responsible course of action to take. Get used to the idea. Progressive environmentalists have already.

      • Interesting – one would assume you are not in the UK then Bill? I would be very interested to learn which country you live in. Are you familiar with the topography of Ryedale and North Yorkshire? As it may have no resemblance to where you live.
        Ineos did originally state these figures and Ruth Hayhurst did contact them to have them confirm this as well, so it is rather harsh to criticise someone for simply repeating the facts as stated and confirmed by the company.
        Many would disagree with fracking being and environmentally responsible course of action – and I wonder who progressive environmentalist are. As you will struggle to justify a UK shale industry to climate change scientists.

      • Seriously, if people like ‘Bill’ – interesting that pro-frackers never leave their full names, isn’t it? – think that ‘fracking is the environmentally responsible course of action to take’, then they are so far distanced from the facts that it is barely worth wasting time engaging with them. I would, however, refer you to the suppressed CCC report on fracking and climate change – why is this not being released if it says what ‘Bill’ maintains is true?
        Perhaps this is the real situation, based on recent science [not the limited Royal Society report, which is now over 4 years old now and embarrassingly out of date]
        [Edited by moderator to remove personal remark]

    • These things need to pass planning, and an overly intrusive plan would not pass muster. The Amec report indicated a square grid and laterals up to 2.5 km, (meaning a 5km spacing) I understood from the Amec report that spacing would (and could) be square.

      Hundreds of thousands of truck movements? You realise that water and gas are piped in and out? Do you realise they have drilled 100 wells in the Wytch farm area and nobody notices them? They have had one or 2 rigs for decades, discretely sited.

      One thing is certain, the pictures that you have promoted, of tightly packed wells are not even considered by operators.×169.jpg Those are individual wells and decades away from modern practice. You website is so full of false claims so its difficult to take these seriously. You still claim that BCUK oppose fracking when they have withdrawn their material (after my complaints). You also were unable to defend your false advertising to the ASA when I complained about it. You really would do better by sticking to the truth, but then there would be little to complain about.

      In Beverly Hills they even have drilled in the city, next to the school, with no issues!

      • Kenny –

        “The Amec report indicated a square grid and laterals up to 2.5 km, (meaning a 5km spacing) I understood from the Amec report that spacing would (and could) be square.”

        Well the Amec report also indicated (Table 2.6 Page 28) an average number of wells per pad of just 2 on pads between 2-3 hectares each, whereas you are on record as stating that “40 wells from one pad means little intrusion” so I do find it odd that you cite this report which clearly contradicts what you tell people elsewhere.

        In a 10km x 10km grid with 5km spacing you could have a maximum of 6 pads, and using Amec’s illustrative scenario assumptions, that would allow just 12 wells. However, even INEOS’s reduced scenario quoted above foresees 100-120 wells in that area. Amec’s report doesn’t really help you here Ken. Would it be unfair to suggest that you do seem to be cherry-picking the numbers that suit you from it and ignoring those that don’t?

        “Hundreds of thousands of truck movements? You realise that water and gas are piped in and out?”

        Well no Ken I didn’t – what evidence can you provide to show they plan to pipe flowback out thus reducing the need for so many truck movements, and where have you ever seen it suggested that gas would be transported in any way other than a pipe?

        “Do you realise they have drilled 100 wells in the Wytch farm area and nobody notices them?”

        Well I do know there has been drilling there into a conventional field – it is even claimed that some fracking may have taken place, but we all know Wytch Farm hasn’t been HVHF’d which is why Toni Harvey at DECC described it as non-comparable. People who try to use it as a comparison would therefore appear to be deliberately misleading people.

        “Those are individual wells and decades away from modern practice.” but an individual well is not so far away from the 2 wells per pad which the Amec report you cited uses as an illustrative scenario – so you appear to be saying that the Amec report is not to be relied on, even as you rely on it to try to make a point.

        As regards your serial complaints to the ASA about everyone and everything – can you explain why they have never once made a ruling on your complaints? Not a single one. It isn’t hard to get them to do so if you present them with properly collated evidence as the ruling on Cuadrilla’s multiple breaches of the ASA code demonstrates.

        Finally as regards your image of the Packard well site in LA, you do know that it housed a *conventional* drilling operation. Are you now suggesting that it was HVHF fracked? If so where is your evidence? If not you would appear to be trying to pull that Wytch Farm trick twice in one post which is quite remarkable.

        • Oops – I’ll critique my own post now as the AMEC report actually says 2 per pad for conventional and as low as 6 per pad for unconventional (lower estimate, low activity with upper estimate, high activity = 24) My bad – Maybe I shouldn’t read long reports quickly before bed time. AMEC’s scenario range is still way short of 40 wells per pad.

          So AMEC does support the possibility of between 36 – 144 wells in a 10×10 grid with 5 km spacing. However, even INEOS’s reduced forecast of 120 wells (down from 420 if they had 30 pads x 14 wells per pad) is only going to generate about 380 bcf of gas – or a couple of months UK gas demand though. And therein lies the problem for the frackers – you either have minimal disruption with a tiny number of wells and pads and not enough productivity to justify the activity, or you maximise production which means a high number of wells, high density and maximum disturbance. Which do we think they might try to do?

          • Thanks John for an incredible and informative fact filled response, which I read with interest, as well as admiration for keeping up with countering the spin pro frackers keep publishing.

            For my own part I have repeatedly asked politicians and planners at Preston and north Yorkshire to answer one very important question with regard to how much industrialisation are they desperate to inflict upon the North of England, after I read a national press report many years back, circa 2011, saying over 100 square miles of pristine landscape had been earmarked for fracking industrialisation.

            That’s over 100 square miles of North Yorkshire land.

            The Question:
            What is the expertly agreed estimate, independently confirmed ratio of ‘high polluting industrial/ fracking/ oil drilling/ nuclear land :essential life sustaining land ‘ before either the government or local council calls a halt to any more such developments? The cost of fracking far outweighs any benefits long term.

            I have had no reply to my question. At Preston Cuadrilla merely said they hadn’t a clue how many wells they expected to continue to need to build to make fracking pay its way. Third Energy too have no idea how many wells they expect to need to get any meaningful gas extraction for years to come. And sadly, to avoid answering NYCC have now rolled out the first frack approval, knowing full well once the floodgates open it will be impossible for people to stop the tide of industrial WMD.

    • I do hope the independent moderator picks up this comment and deletes it – as it is unnecessary, inflammatory and without any factual basis. Please do let people know who the “anti fracking mafia” is.

      • I wouldn’t worry KT – it’s that sort of comment that shows them up, so better if it were left here (like the last time he said pretty much the same thing – originality isn’t Bill’s strongest suit)

  2. This leaves communities at the mercy of the government and industry – having to fight every single application. With the SoS calling in appeals – there is no peace of mind for communities that are faced with fracking.

    Kevin Hollinrake will be remembered as the MP that failed to represent his constituents by putting Westminster’s agenda above the interests of those he was elected to represent. Many in his constituency, including lifelong Tory voters haven’t a kind word for him. His frequent excuse has been that he has been working tirelessly in North Yorkshire’s interest (where fracking is concerned) – and are the public to believe this response to his question is the result of the fruit of his labours?

    He has has had to be frequently challenged on some of the information he has provided and on how that information has been presented to the public – in short he has done all that he can to deliver fracking.

    Mr Hollinrake has worked tirelessly for industry and Westminster – that is abundantly clear.

    • KT – same with other industries and housing developments. There are no national minimum setback distances or cumulative impact maximums for wind turbines or anything else that I am aware of. I believe a few District Councils have adopted a minimum setback distance for turbines in their local plans but not sure if this has been tested in court.

      The only way that I am aware of to limit industrial activity / housing developments is through a Community Plan. However these have to blend in to the District Plan which has to fit the NPPF. Community Plans have to be approved by a Planning Inspector from PINS.

      Lots of work and lots of hurdles but it might work. It needs to be supported by the majority of the area designated in the Community Plan and needs to be evidence based.

  3. The UK government is in breach of European recommendations (January 2014) in refusing to define setback distances for fracking pads from residential areas.

    • May not matter after June 23rd.


      A recommendation in the European Union, according to Article 288 of the [Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union[1]] (formerly Article 249 TEC), is one of two kinds of non-binding acts cited in the Treaty of Rome.

      Recommendations are without legal force but are negotiated and voted on according to the appropriate procedure. Recommendations differ from regulations, directives and decisions, in that they are not binding for Member States. Though without legal force, they do have a political weight. The Recommendation is an instrument of indirect action aiming at preparation of legislation in Member States, differing from the Directive only by the absence of obligatory power.

  4. Indeed, Paul. The UK lobbied intensively for the setback and other regulations not to become legally binding and succeeded in reducing these to mere recommendations. I am sure they have also worked behind the scenes to scuttle the EC promise to review nations’ progress on implementing the recommendations with a view to converting to legally binding regulation if insufficient progress had not been made voluntarily. This is a measure and example of how our government has worked hard to water down European measures to protect our environment. It is a danger signal to anyone misguided enough to want us to leave the EU. Outside the EU , especially under a one-on-one TTIP-type agreement with the US which would inevitably come with haste, we would have little opportunity in international environmental and human rights law to challenge the government’s insane energy policy.

    • ragamala, I’m not sure it’s true that a one to one agreement with the US outside the EU will deliver anything not already to be aware of if the vote is to stay in and be on the receiving end of TTIP.
      TTIP, which the EU is signing up to eventually, I understand explicitly states that environmental laws should not be taken into consideration in any trade deal, which is why there has been a massive campaign to stop the signing of the treaty.

      Notice how in the UK the EPA or environmental protection agency, has now become the EA, the environment agency, where contracts for environmental protection are signed up to when industrialists set up their business in any area. This means congloms are given a certificate for environmental management by the EA, the latter confident and trusting that the conglom or industry will manage the environment, so that the EA doesn’t have to. And given the lack of workforce to monitor or enforce violations of that contract, we can expect taxes spiralling out of control as we are made to pay for constant ”accidental” toxic spills.

      I already have a long sad list of how this Dick Turpin approach to selling of EPA certs to industry isn’t working and you can take a look at this yourself on the EA’s own website and others.

  5. To achieve these well densities, which they will have to in order to be commercially viable, it’s obvious that they are also going to have to acquire the land compulsorily. Do farmers and land owners realise this?

Add a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s