Councillors deciding Third Energy’s fracking application in North Yorkshire were given “misleading” information about bats flying over the wellsite, Friends of the Earth said today.
The county council’s planning committee granted permission for the proposal at Kirby Misperton in May this year after being told by officers the site was “devoid of bats”.
But a survey carried out for Third Energy after the approval recorded five species of bats at the site and on some nights counted more than 100 flight passes.
Friends of the Earth said the survey findings exposed failures by North Yorkshire County Council to assess the impact of fracking on wildlife. The council is standing by its approach.
Bats are protected under UK and European law. It is an offence to: disturb them when they are sheltering; damage or destroy a place used by bats; or obstruct access to a bat roost.
Calls for survey
Earlier this year, Friends of the Earth, Yorkshire Wildlife and Frack Free Ryedale argued that the council should not grant planning permission for fracking at the KM8 well until a proper bat survey had been carried out.
Yorkshire Wildlife Trust told the council:
“The lack of surveys for both bats and great crested newts means that the authority does not have full information on the impacts of the development before making a decision.”
But a report by planning officers to the committee deciding the application stated:
“Bats … have not been identified within the applicant’s submitted planning application as either being present or their habitat affected by the proposed development.”
It also said:
“The development as proposed would be undertaken within an area known to be devoid of bats.”
“The applicant’s ecologist and the County Council’s own adviser are satisfied, having considered the evidence, that there are no bats present on the application site”.
The report concluded that a survey was not necessary and on 23 May 2016, the planning committee voted by seven to four to approve the application. DrillOrDrop
Since then, Third Energy has been required, under a condition on the planning permission, to produce a Wildlife Protection Method Statement. This included a baseline survey of bats by AECOM in June-September this year.
The survey comprised walked transects and records from two remote detectors on the edge of the wellsite.
It concluded there was:
“generally low activity across the survey area”
“The low levels of bat activity found at the site supports the conclusions of the ecological impact assessment, which appraised the survey area to be of low value to foraging and community bats”.
But AECOM recorded five species of bat: common pipistrelle, soprano pipistrelle, brown long-eared bat, noctule and an unidentified Myotis bat species (More on bat species here).
And the data for the survey shows that the remote detectors recorded more than 100 bat passes on individual nights in June, July and August.
While activity was assessed as low and sometimes very low during most of the survey, AECOM categorised activity as low-moderate at one location in early June.
North Yorkshire County Council said in a statement today:
“The Council notes that the Wildlife Protection Method Statement required by the Planning Conditions, concludes on Page 12:
“The low levels of bat activity found at the site supports the conclusions of the ecological impact assessment, which appraised the survey area to be of low value to foraging and commuting bats.”
“The ecological impact assessment was appropriately considered by the Planning Committee and therefore the Council does not accept the Committee had adopted the wrong approach.”
Simon Bowens, Yorkshire and Humber campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said
“The council and the public were told that the fracking site was devoid of bats. This was vital information, now shown to be inaccurate. How could it not have been misleading, now that surveys show hundreds of bat movements?
“It’s clear that the council adopted the wrong approach – as pointed out by consultants as well as Friends of the Earth and this latest evidence exposes council failures to assess the impact on wildlife.”
A spokesperson for Third Energy said this afternoon:
“It is worth remembering that this wellsite has been operating for thirty years. The public can be confident that the mitigation measures proposed for operations which will take less than three months at the KM8 wellsite are designed to avoid disturbance to bats that commute or forage in the area around our wellsite.”
The spokesperson added:
“The survey findings were consistent with the assumptions made in the Environmental Statement, in respect of the site itself; it has negligible suitability for foraging and roosting bats as it consists of existing hardstanding and parts of the site are lit at night. The surveys also assessed bat activity in suitable habitats in the vicinity of the KMA wellsite and recorded generally low activity across the survey area – whether by static detectors, observation or recordings.”
Next week, Friends of the Earth and Frack Free Ryedale seek a judicial review of the way North Yorkshire County Council approved the Kirby Misperton application.
A judge at the Royal Courts of Justice will decide on Tuesday 22 November whether the judicial review should go ahead. If the answer is yes, the case will be heard immediately.
Updated at 16.10 to include statement from Third Energy