The High Court has begun hearing a legal challenge to the approval of fracking in North Yorkshire.
Mrs Justice Lang, sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, said this morning she would hear arguments in the judicial review sought by Frack Free Ryedale and Friends of the Earth.
The two groups argue that the approval of planning permission granted by North Yorkshire County Council to Third Energy was unlawful. They say the council failed fully to take account of climate change impacts of the application or protect the area from long-term damage.
In May this year, the council’s planning committee approved the company’s proposal to frack the existing KM8 well at Kirby Misperton and produce shale gas for nine years.
The application made clear that gas from the well would be burned to generate electricity at Third Energy’s nearby power station nearby at Knapton, which opponents argue is old and inefficient.
The morning’s evidence focussed on how the council took account of the estimated greenhouse gas emissions from the project and electricity generation at the power station.
David Wolfe QC, for Frack Free Ryedale and Friends of the Earth, said the council had acknowledged in a scoping opinion that greenhouse gas emissions and contribution to climate change were relevant in deciding the application.
But he said when planning officers recommended approval of the scheme they underestimated greenhouse gas emissions by taking account only those from the KM8 project but not from electricity generation.
Dr Wolfe pointed to a key paragraph in the officers’ report, which said greenhouse gas emissions from the project would have only a neutral or slight impact on climate change. This was not a reasonable reason to refuse the application, the report said.
The report used information from Third Energy that emissions from KM8 would be from vehicles visiting the site, equipment and fugitive methane from the well. The emissions would amount to 2,602 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e). This, the council said, represented a contribution to UK greenhouse gas emissions of only 0.00014% on 2013 levels.
Planning Committee members were told:
“For the purposes of the determination of this individual planning application Members should note that to determine its contribution in the wider context of climate change as material would be unreasonable in the circumstance of the calculation of the predicted emissions of the proposed development at a maximum of 2,602tCO2 equivalent representing a contribution of 0.00014%.”
The report continued:
“It would be unreasonable to sustain an argument of refusal of the proposed development on this ground alone.”
But Dr Wolfe said opponents of the scheme argued that the “lion’s share” of the greenhouse gas emissions would be from the burning of gas at Knapton and this had not been included in the calculation.
There was no suggestion, he said, that Third Energy would not burn the methane from KM8 at Knapton Generating Station and send it somewhere else.
He said the power station was a closed system, taking gas only from Third Energy wells in the Ryedale field. Opponents of the scheme had advised the council that the company’s other wells were running out and that Third Energy needed gas from KM8 to keep Knapton running.
Dr Wolfe said North Yorkshire County Council had not followed rules on what was required in an environmental statement on the impact of an application.
“The local authority has identified CO2 emissions and the climate change effects [as an issue that should be considered]. They therefore needed to have, as a minimum, data.
“The advice [to the committee] is specifically predicated on figures calculated on too tight a basis.
“At the very least CO2 emissions from the indirect or cumulative effects at Knapton Generating Station should have been taken into account.”
Just before lunch, Dr Wolfe began addressing the other argument made by the opponents: that the council failed to require Third Energy to pay a financial bond to cover the costs of site restoration or damage. There will be more on this when the court resumes at 2pm.
The case is expected to continue to tomorrow (23 November 2016), when the court will hear from Sasha White, QC for North Yorkshire County Council. Third Energy is represented by Nathalie Lieven QC. She represented Cuadrilla at the public inquiry into its Lancashire sites earlier this year.