High Court fracking challenge told council “underestimated” climate impact of Third Energy plans


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.

Council defends decision to approve North Yorkshire fracking plans (22/11/2016)

Judgement reserved in High Court challenge over fracking in North Yorkshire (23/11/2016)

This report is part of DrillOrDrop’s Rig Watch project. Rig Watch receives funding from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. More details here

42 replies »

  1. What a sad and pathetic argument. This is countered simply by saying “by utilising the benefits of fracking the country will be able to reduce their reliance on coal and thus the net benefit to the climate is to be welcomed by even the Greens”.
    The loonie left really are pathetic, I suggest everyone read the Greens manifesto to see how bonkers they really are.

    • A very effective legal argument. Sad and pathetic? Anyone who opposes fracking is bonkers? Or even Green?

      That would be brilliant in the High Court. Take your sad and pathetic arse down there and get a hearing tomorrow.

    • We don’t need fracking to reduce our reliance on coal.
      Opposition to fracking is based on residential, environmental and health issues.
      It’s not a left-right issue and it’s not a party-line issue.
      People opposed to fracking are present in all the UK parties.

    • Lets start with the facts.

      Let NASA tell us about climate change

      Looks like it should be the first consideration in any planning application of any sort.

      If there are alternatives to fossil fuel we should be legally and morally bound to do implement them.

      Renewable energy,energy saving, and technologies to further exploit renewable energy sources are in the ‘National interest’ and should be brought under National Infrastructure Projects.

  2. “Protect our children” – except those with homes in fuel poverty because of subsidies for renewables. Cold homes equal an increase in childhood respiratory diseases.

    “Protect our wildlife” – except the birds killed by wind turbines.

    “Protect our climate” – except from the use of coal (currently 11.5% of electricity generation) which could be replaced by home produced shale gas to provide the back-up power when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow.

    • Mark, homes are not in fuel poverty because of subsidies for renewables. The subsidies and tax breaks offered to fossil fuel industries, and shale in particular, are far greater than those offered for renewables.

      Yes, some birds are killed by wind turbines – although this problem is much less widespread than people like you would argue due to developments in the designs used. But the impact of fracking on wildlife, due to noise and light pollution, water contamination, climate change and many other things are far greater.

      We need to be replacing the coal power stations with renewable energy, not another fossil fuel – particularly as fracking, when fugitive methane is taken into account, is even worse than coal, please see this BBC report.

      In short, your arguments do not hold water and have little basis in reality.

    • Frackers now say they’re aiming to replace LNG imports. They dumped the coal replacement argument some time ago. Do keep up.

    • Renewables represent 1% of government subsidies to the energy industry if you factor in tax incentives given to the oil and gas industry. If you must have methane gas green energy using plant material from waste land and food production waste could power over 30 million homes with a by product of organic fertiliser instead of a toxic radioactive waste water. Hydrogen gas is another option which is to be used in parts of Leeds. Until North Sea gas we used a mixture of hydrogen and methane gas so that is entirely possible. Add to that the fact that fracking is 3 to 4 times more expensive to produce and is not a sustainable supply and all this dash for gas is shown to be ridiculous.

      The gas flares can wipe out whole flocks of migrating birds so that argument is also spurious.

      I know of no-one who having looked deeply into fracking who advocates the use of coal. We are all frustrated to see the opportunities for the UK to be a leading researcher and producer of the renewable technologies, that we will one day have to embrace, slip away while our government blindly listens to the oil and gas industry.

      • Helen, the idea that we can produce enough gas to power 30m homes from food waste is frankly nonsense, the late eminent scientist David Mackay, noted

        ” I think one conclusion is clear: biofuels can’t add up – at least, not in countries like Britain, and not as a replacement for all transport fuels. Even leaving aside biofuels’ main defects – that their production competes with food, and that the additional inputs required for farming and processing often cancel out most of the delivered energy – biofuels made from plants, in a European country like Britain, can deliver so little power, I think they are scarcely worth talking about.”

        Regarding the dangers to wildlife I suspect that gas flaring and wind turbines fall into insignificance compared to the damage done by traffic and industrial farming. However I wanted to make the point that renewables do not always hold the moral high ground.

        You mention what came before North Sea gas I think you’ll find that it was coal gas, manufactured from home produced coal. Most people of my generation (60 ish) will femember that almost every large town had its own smelly gas plant marked by a massive storage gasometer.

        With regard to coal I wasn’t saying that anyone advocates coal, (though see Philip P’s comment for someone who seems to). What I’m saying is that at present we rely on coal at certain times of the year, like now, to generate electricity when renewables and other sources arn’t available or sufficient to provide a reliable supply. If that coal use could be replaced by gas as the reliable back-up then it would contribute (along with other initiatives) to reducing CO2 emissions.

      • Helen,

        Please advise details of the tax incentives provided to the oil and gas industry that equate to 99% of Government energy subsidies? Please compare the Oil & Gas tax regime with the Renewables tax regime and add in the CFDs, ROCs and FITs.

        North sea oil pays royalty tax at around 40%. Corporation tax is on top of that. Where does this 99% come in? How much tax is paid on a litre of petrol / diesel when you fill up your car – another tax for something that has already been taxed heavily.

        Electricity and gas is taxed at 5% VAT to the domestic consumer.

        Hydrogen is predominantly made using natural gas at present.

        For biomass we have already built too much capacity – we have to compete with other European countries for their rubbish and green waste. A great example a subsidy too far.

    • No a house full of people who realise that there is an energy trilemma…Energy supplies should be.

      1. Affordable.
      2. Reliable.
      3. Climate friendly.

      It’s a difficult balance.

    • So to reduce emissions in the short term we need. Get away from 26% coal and 8% other fuel sources that create the highest emissions.
      Gas for heating costs 2.2p per kW
      Gas generation is the quickest way and affordable at around 8p per KW
      Off shore wind will cost about 22p per kW

      If you were to heat and light your home purely with offshore wind it would cost £6000 per year.

      Fuel security…. We have trouble maker Trump about to upset every country. more of our own fuel would be a good thing.

  3. Pasted from the depths of a previous post (skip to the climate change bit)…

    The points about health and climate change being raised need to be taken seriously.

    The only benefit to health that could possibly come from a transition to shale gas is in areas that are heavily dependent on coal mining and coal power generation of the old, traditional type of operation. This does not apply to anywhere in the UK that I’m aware of. The final deep pit closure was last year (see excellent current BBC doc ‘The Last Miners’ covering this closure if interested). The overall atmospheric polluting effect from shale gas fields would be approximately the same, or worse, than newer cleaner coal mining & power-gen (if ever these were rebooted for Britain). As better understandings arise about the harmful byproducts of fracking processes overall: the effects of methane seeps; other more toxic emissions, and groundwater depletion and contamination, then the shale gas industry doesn’t fare so well.

    The same argument applies to climate change with respect to greenhouse gasses. In fact there is no argument left to defend shale gas as a transition fuel. There’s a couple of very good Yale sources here – one giving a balanced pro’s and con’s list on fracking issues – with links to supporting studies. It is clear that For & Against are at loggerheads but given that the ‘against’ arguments are at least as serious as the ‘for’ arguments it would make a lot of sense to have a moratorium on fracking unto the monitoring and evaluation (post hoc) is more conclusive. It is clear that fracking developments since 2007 have outpaced the regulations that are capable of ensuring its self-acclaimed safety and pollution standards are actually met:

    Sad to see so many deniers around – the arctic is showing signs of fast approaching a tipping point

  4. By law it is not the role of the country council to determine the role of climate change in their planning consideration. In fact it is illegal if they do because climate change is a central government policy and can only be determined and decided by parliament.
    Similarly with the environment damage bond issue the cost of repairing and clean up is covered by agreement under EA permit for oil and gas license.
    If the High Court decide in favour of the plaintiff then it set a precedence for climate change as a legal leavage for alot of legal process against many other businesses and organizations including the government. As well as rewriting the rule and responsibilities of government and Councillors.

      • I know nothing about planning law but if impact on climate change was a material planning consideration doesn’t that mean that overarching environmental considerations would be drawn into every planning application, for filling stations, car parks, dairy farms etc. The planning system would just clog up under such a system. In my opinion it is for democratically elected representatives at a higher level to set the policy framework and for the planning committees to operate within that policy guidance.

  5. One may also argue that the role uk production and consumption of fossil fuel climate change is unproven and contentious on scientific evidence. In fact expert agree that the solar activities are more responsible for the warming.

        • Unfortunately Philip one man’s humbug is another man’s deeply held conviction, as so amply demonstrated on this site.

          • I quite agree mark. The internet is now mirroring of those wildly different convictions, including fake news and many conflicting views. I tend to think there’s an underlying reality but with several different ways of looking at it. Time will tell as to whether the earth can sustain a human population intent on fighting over these things – with too many different ‘realities’ (which are really only ideas) … can it take the strain?

            The days of big oil and gas are drawing to an end. That dinosaur is on its deathbed but still thrashes about.

      • “Experts agree” … er, not they don’t, TW. Over 97% of climate change scientists agree that the current – and increasing – global temperatures are due to man’s activity and burning fossil fuels in particular. Most of those who dissent are funded by the fossil fuel industry with the deliberate purpose of creating a fictitious alternative narrative, much as scientists paid by the tobacco industry tried to do back on the sixties and seventies. So, this isn’t contentious at all in the scientific community – indeed, it’s rare to have such a huge consensus and the 44,000 studies already done come to the same conclusion. How much more evidence to you need? Or are you simply paid to troll fracking discussion boards

        Imagine this scenario. You have a pain in your chest that just won’t go away. You go to 100 doctors for a consultation. 97 of them say that you’re just about to have a heart attack and you need urgent treatment. Three of them say that it’s nothing to worry about and you should just go home. What would you do?

        • Actually your analogy is wrong. It’s more like 97% of doctors say you’ve got a temperature probably self-inflicted and most think it won’t be good for you but actually no-one know whether it’s the beginning of fatal pneumonia or just a minor bug that you can get over by some minor change in your behaviour.

          And, as of today, in any event it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference because a fat, blond, narcissistic American is going to breath germs all over you anyway,

      • One may argue but 97% of scientists would disagree with you. Including the scientists that Exxon Mobil tried to silence when the reported man made climate change in the 1980’s and as a result EM is now being sued. Me personally, I believe the scientists rather than an industry with a multi billion dollar stake and that is known to have acted without integrity or scruples in the past.

        • I think most will agree there has been man made climate change, how fast we don’t know, some experts think there is a feedback loop, extra co2 warming leads to extra greening of the planet, leads to more Co2 uptake from plants. I think it’s generally agreed that co2 rises in the last 15 years have not been as fast as many feared. In any event it’s not clear if climate change should be viewed as a disaster or a challenge which will bring both positive and negative results.

          • ‘And, as of today, in any event it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference because a fat, blond, narcissistic American is going to breath germs all over you anyway’ Even Trump has changed his mind about man made climate change, now it’s no longer politically expedient to deny it.
            The climate change experts know quite accurately how fast that change is happening, as climate change models are proving to be frighteningly accurate in forecasting it. They also forecast that the feedback loop will kick in very soon (if it hasn’t already) and accelerate that change as permafrost and sea ice retreat and oceans heat. In case you hadn’t noticed, the extra heat and moisture in the earth’s atmosphere has to go somewhere and is manifesting itself in more frequent and more intense storms and floods. Meanwhile we squabble about scratching out a new source of hydrocarbons from the shale as a temporary fix to add to the problem. There’s still no planet B

    • Thanks I don’t feel comfortable debating this as I’m just the chap on the Clapham Omnibus, but “the extra heat and moisture has to go somewhere”. Is it the case that some of that moisture is coming down on previously arid deserts and greening them? If so how does that benefit to humanity balance against the “more frequent and intense storms”.

      • ‘Is it the case that some of that moisture is coming down on previously arid deserts and greening them?’ Sadly not, I forgot to mention the added whammy of drought into climate change. The dry, hot and arid regions get worse, meaning they become increasingly unable to sustain life, water and crops – it’s already happening. The people have to move out. The places they move to are becoming more marginal, so the people there don’t like it…. and so on. Other areas receive the dubious pleasure of all that displaced energy and moisture. Hence ever increasing and record breaking winds and rainfall, with the damage and floods that brings. Presumably there will be a few nice islands in a fairly temperate climate, high enough to resist the rise in sea levels, where the oil barons, oligarchs and govt officials can move to and repel the boat people. The graph of global warming continues to rise higher and faster than it ever has in the history of the world. The evidence is all out there. Every country in the world accepted that in Paris and around 98% of climate scientists are in agreement (presumably the other 2% are mostly paid by the oil and gas industry). That’s an awful lot of clever people to perpetrate a hoax.

  6. There have been a number of references here to methane emissions, I thought I’d look up the data. So from the government document “2014 UK Greenhouse Gas emissions” published by the late lamented DECC on….

    Total UK methane emissions have halved since 1990 across the board, ie all sectors of the economy.

    In the Energy Supply Sector the figures for methane emissions over the years (in mtCO2e) ..

    1990 34.3
    1995 26.4
    2000 16.4
    2005 11.1
    2010 9.0
    2014 7.3

    So since 1990 a roughly 78% improvement. Why? The DECC paper says it’s the replacement of coal electricity generation by natural gas generation. Energy generation remains the biggest sources of methane emissions, about 30%, so there is no reason for complacency but I guess the data suggests if we could replace coal further we could further reduce methane emissions.

    • CO2 is the main greenhouse gas emitted by burning fossil fuels ie power stations, cars, home heating. Methane is the main constituent of gas we burn, so it only adds to the figures if released without burning. It also happens to be greatly more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. It’s also produced by rotting vegetation in wetlands and by all animals, particularly ruminants. Wetlands are generally decreasing, but possibly stabilising by now and I’m not sure about the number of UK ruminants currently. We’ve obviously done well to reduce this souce of greenhouse gas though. We therefore have a decent pre-fracking baseline. The methane figures for the US have shown a massive uplift in emissions since the fracking industry ramped up. There is no other reasonable source to explain this spike. I’m interested to know precisely what will be done differently with a UK fracking industry to avoid a similar scenario of fugitive methane emissions. Some hard data to show that the US are taking this seriously and halting their methane emissions would be encouraging, otherwise ‘don’t worry, we’ll have gold standard regulation’ is nowhere near good enough evidence.

  7. Philip I think they give the figures in mtCO2e (million tons of CO2 equivalent) so that when they compare the effect of different gases they can use the same metric.

    Not sure fracking will increase overall emissions if some of the gas displaces coal in electricity generation. By the way it’s important to remember that US figures for methane emissions may not be comparable with the UK because the gas in the US is carried over longer distances and mostly above ground, unlike the UK. Also a part of any methane emissions is from the transmission process, in other words it will occur whether the gas is shale gas, North Sea, or imported LNG.

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