Nottinghamshire councillors have approved the first shale gas application in the East Midlands.
At a meeting of the county council’s planning committee, members voted 7-4 in favour of IGas’s plans for two exploratory shale gas wells at Springs Road, Misson. Click here for who voted how on the committee. Full result of vote here
They responded to local concerns about the company’s financial viability by requiring IGas to pay a bond that would cover the cost of site restoration.
The committee also added requirements for a local liaison committee, independent checks on water levels in a neighbouring nature reserve and stricter air quality and noise monitoring.
The approval is subject to 40 conditions and a legal agreement which requires lorries visiting the site to follow a defined route and makes IGas responsible for any road damage they cause.
IGas welcomes decision
John Blaymires, chief operating officer of IGas, said afterwards:
“Obviously we are pleased with the decision. We take our responsibility very seriously. We regard ourselves as custodians of the site and we will endeavour to fulfil the wishes and desires of the planning committee and the local residents.”
He predicted drilling could start in the second half of next year. The permission did not include fracking but IGas has said it may apply later to use this technique.
“Bad day for Misson”
Opponent of the plans said they were disappointed with the outcome. They have been particularly worried about the impact on wildlife in the Misson Training Area Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), 125m away.
Jayne Watson, of Misson Parish Council, said
“This is a bad day for Mission. It is a big decision that has been made: the first shale well site in the East Midlands.
“If they can do this here, so close to the SSSI, they can do it anywhere.”
She did not rule out a challenge to the decision.
“It does not end here. It is not over. It is the end of the first stage. We are a long way from a frack.”
“Threat to wildlife”
Discussions on the application centred on the impact operations would have on the SSSI. This is the largest wetland fen in the area and home to all five species of British owls, as well as other unusual and threatened birds, plants and insects.
At an earlier meeting of the committee In October, councillors heard that a restrictive covenant on the SSSI prevented any noisy or noxious activity that would disturb wildlife.
Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, which owns the SSSI, argued that this was a material planning consideration and councillors should take it into account when making their decision. Friends of the Earth warned that in approving the application, the council could be allowing IGas to commit illegal acts.
The meeting was adjourned until today for the committee to take legal advice. The council’s legal officer, Rachel Clack, said the covenant was a private matter and should not be considered. She told the committee it was not the council’s concern if IGas could not implement the permission because of the covenant.
At today’s meeting councillors were also given a seven-page letter from the vice-president of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, retired planning barrister Graham Machin. He challenged he council’s interpretation of national and local planning policy on the threat to the SSSI.
Planning officers, who recommended approval, had acknowledged there would be an impact on wildlife. But they said these would be outweighed by the benefits of the development. The officers said they placed what they called “great weight” on the fact that Natural England had not objected to the application”. And the officers stressed that Natural England believed any impact would be temporary.
But Mr Machin said the “proper application” of planning policy compelled that the application be refused. He said:
“The grant of planning permission for this development would set at nought the Precautionary Principle and subvert the raft of policies designed to deflect harmful development away protected nature conservation sites”.
Officer report “flawed”
After the meeting, Janice Bradley, the trust’s head of conservation, said:
“We still think there were flaws in the officers’ report in the interpretation of the National Planning Policy Framework and in Natural England’s view of temporary damage. There is a difference between temporary in duration of the development and temporary in terms of damage.”
She added that the Trust believed Natural England’s concerns about the development had not been fully relayed to the committee. She said:
“It is a shame that we are now in the situation where we will test this technology right next to one of our SSSIs.”
“Huge step for the community”
Jayne Watson, of Misson Parish Council, said she was disappointed that concerns raised by councillors during the debate did not count as material considerations in the decision. Several councillors had said they wanted more information about how IGas had chosen the Mission site when alternatives would not have damaged the SSSI.
Asked whether the village would consider a judicial review of the decision, Mrs Watson said:
“That is a huge step for a community to take. We are not saying we are prepared to go down that line. We need to go home and think about what we might do in the future. We need a little more time to think about this.”
She said fighting the application for the past two years had been exhausting.
“You feel so powerless in what you can and cannot do in the planning system. But you have to try.
“It seems that whatever you throw at the planning officers they come back with a response that makes everything seem fine.
“As far as I can say we are not happy. We are not convinced.”
She had this message for IGas:
“The community will ensure that IGas do what they say they are going to do: that they carry out operations with best available techniques. We will ensure that the Environment Agency and Nottinghamshire County Council also do their job. We will enforce the conditions.”
“Proposal should have been refused”
Chris Crean, of Friends of the Earth, said:
“This proposal failed to comply with many requirements and should have been refused for the negative impacts it will have on the wider environment, including the protected wildlife site of the SSSI.
“Just a couple of weeks after the Paris Climate Accord came into force pursuing extreme methods to get oil and gas out of the ground is completely wrong.
“We are also really concerned that after a six week adjournment the council still assumes it does not have to take account of a restrictive covenant that exists to protect the nature reserve which would prevent IGas even drilling at the Misson site.”
Brian Davey, of Frack Free Nottinghamshire, was concerned about whether the conditions could be enforced. He urged the council to be open about the details including the restoration bond, so that local people could be involved.
Asked whether today’s decision opened up Misson to fracking he said:
“Had it been for fracking it would have been opposed. Virtually everyone on that committee would not have wanted fracking.
“The real dangerous of this situation is if it ever did get to fracking it would be impossible for the committee to vote against it.”
IGas ambitions for Misson
John Blaymires was asked by journalists about his ambitions for the site. He said:
“The purpose of this application is to drill exploratory boreholes to confirm our understanding that there is shale rock beneath this site and that it potentially contains gas.
“First we need to prove that and establish that is the case.
“If the results from those wells, once we’ve analysed them, are encouraging then we would seek – and we’ve always been clear about that – the logical thing then would be to seek consent to apply to test that to establish whether or not gas could be produced at commercial rates.”
Mr Blaymires said a producing site would probably have 10 wells that would produce for 20 years. If all the drilling was done in one go, he said, all that would be left of the site for 20 years would be 10 wellheads, each measuring 8ft tall. It would be less intrusive than other activities in the area, he said.
DrillOrDrop asked him how a 20-year production site could be squared with Natural England’s approval of the application on the basis that impacts on the SSSI would be temporary.
Mr Blaymires replied:
“We are talking about an exploratory site here. Whether this becomes a development, full-time producing site, we’re jumping a long way ahead. Where I’m talking about development sites, assuming we approve the commerciality of shale gas, those sites would be there for 20 years. I’m not necessarily, specifically talking about the Misson site. That is subject to a raft of other issues that would have to be addressed”.
Asked about the restoration bond, Mr Blaymires said:
“We are very well funded. We have $30m in the bank.”
He said four companies with financial interests in the site would share responsibility for the cost of restoration.
On the covenant, he said
“I hope that the wildlife trust can recognise that we can be beneficial.
“There are ways in which we can support them. We have our own community fund where we support local communities. That, for example, could be areas where I think we could find ways of helping to benefit that site.”
He said monitoring of water levels would help understanding of the ecology.
On the choice of Misson, Mr Blaymires denied the site had been selected largely because it could be easily secured against protesters. He said it was further away from Misson village than the alternatives and because there had been industrial activity in the area.
He had this message for the community, Mr Blaymires said:
“Local people have our promise. We are very experienced. We have operated oil and gas facilities for 30 years safely and responsibly. We understand their concerns. We commit ourselves to working through the liaison committee and being a good part of the community. We will operate this site safely and environmentally responsibly.”
- The IGas share price closed up 0.5p at 12p.
- A second IGas application for shale gas exploration at Tinker Lane, near Blyth, is due to be considered by Nottinghamshire County Council next month (December 2016)