Judgement reserved in High Court challenge over fracking in North Yorkshire


A judge at the High Court in London has reserved judgement in a legal challenge brought by two campaign groups to the approval of fracking in North Yorkshire.

Mrs Justice Lang said she had set aside tomorrow to write her judgement in the case brought by Friends of the Earth and Frack Free Ryedale. The ruling is expected within days.

The campaign groups argued that North Yorkshire County Council had acted illegally in granting planning permission to Third Energy to frack and produce shale gas at Kirby Misperton.

They said in making the decision, councillors failed to consider its contribution to climate change and failed to provide financial security against any long-term damage.

Climate change

On the climate change argument, their barrister, David Wolfe QC, said the council should have taken into account greenhouse gas emissions from burning gas from the fracked well to produce electricity at the nearby Knapton Generating Station.

He said this information should, under planning regulations, have been included in the environmental impact assessment that accompanied Third Energy’s planning application.

This morning, the barrister for Third Energy, Nathalie Lieven QC, countered these arguments. She said:

  • Any greenhouse gas emissions produced at Knapton were not part of the application for the fracked well, known as KM8
  • There were no need for any physical works at the power station resulting from the application
  • There would be no increase in capacity at Knapton if gas from KM8 was sent to the plant and no increase in the quantity of gas burned
  • The amount of gas burned at Knapton was capped by an environmental permit
  • The impact of emissions at Knapton was unknown because it was not yet known whether gas would be produced from the KM8 well

Ms Lieven added that if the council wanted to consider the emissions from Knapton it would have included it in its scoping opinion. This set out what it expected Third Energy to include in the application and took account of recommendations from consultees, such as the Environment Agency and Natural England.

She said neither the Environment Agency nor Natural England, key statutory consultees with a remit for tackling climate change, had requested that the data be included in the application.

Judge Lang asked:

“Is there anything from them [Environment Agency or Natural England] about relying on this form of energy?”

Ms Lieven replied:

“The principle of exploration and development of UK shale gas resources is strongly supported in national policy so it would be unusual for them [Natural England and the Environment Agency] to say something as direct as that about energy policy”.

She added that a ministerial statement made by the then Energy Secretary, Amber Rudd, in 2015, promoting shale gas, “would have been a very important consideration for members”.

Responding to Ms Lieven, Dr Wolfe, for Friends of the Earth and Frack Free Ryedale, said:

  • The regulations required councils to consider any indirect or cumulative impacts and this should have included greenhouse gas emissions at Knapton
  • The council had not explained why it had considered the impact of other wells in the area but not emissions from Knapton
  • There was not a cap on emissions at Knapton. It was part of an emissions trading regime and if the operator wanted to burn more gas it could buy extra allocation
  • Consultees such as Natural England and the Environment Agency did not drive the process of deciding what should be included in the application
  • The presence of the other regulators did not “carve out” this area and prevent the council from considering issues in their remit

Long-term environmental protection

The second argument of the campaign groups was that the council failed to protect the area from any long-term problems.

On this Dr Wolfe argued that councillors had been misled by an officers’ report. This said the council could not require Third Energy to pay a bond to cover the costs of any long-term problems.

Ms Lieven rejected this argument, saying the council had included a condition on the planning permission that required Third Energy to pay for the costs of any restoration and a five-year aftercare programme.

Judge Lang asked

“What would happen if a company is not in business?”

Ms Lieven replied:

“You have to consider the risk. There is extensive monitoring and checking.

“You cannot have a big pollution problem if there is monitoring all the way through. We can never say never. But likelihood is very small.”

She said other regulatory regimes required companies to be financially secure and prevented the surrender of environmental permits until regulators were sure there was no risk.

“The [risk of the] type of failure Dr Wolfe and his clients are concerned about is infinitesimal.”

Ms Lieven added

“It would have been inappropriate for North Yorkshire to require a bond from my client when there is a regulatory regime dealing with the same issues. It would be wrong in law to replicate them.”

In his response, Dr Wolfe said the wording of the officers’ report “turned members off from thinking about a legacy bond and made them think they had to fall back on other regimes.

“They should have been told ‘It is not a good idea’ but it was up to them to decide and take the risk if they wanted to.”

Dr Wolfe added

“Here we have a specific concern and there is nothing, as a matter of law, that precludes the council from dealing with it.”

What happens next?

Judge Lang said she would send her draft judgement to the parties in the case for their comments before publishing the judgement.

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

High Court fracking challenge told council “underestimated” climate impact of Third Energy plans (22/11/2016)

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

115 replies »

  1. Take a look at the history of the East Knapton generating station. Inefficient, no recycling of heat, uses twice as much electricity to run as comparable modern generating stations. Apparently in the dash for energy profits, any old thing will do. Energy companies take the profits and don’t bother to re-invest in state-of-the-art Combined Heat Power, that would guarantee heat AND electricity in a cold county that is forecast to become much colder over the next century due to climate change.

    Utter banality from international energy companies running UK energy systems with untrained uneducated government ministers from all parties failing the nation and blaming each other, term after term.

    This is what we’re up against. Short-sighted profit-hungry international companies fleecing the consumer, wasting precious resources, investing as little as possible in infrastructure while fucking up the environment.

  2. This doc shows vividly monitoring authorities brazenly avoiding and denying the very air quality and other issues that that they are responsible for:

      • Thanks Phil C. These videos confirm my views of “protectors”. I must admit there was a slight doubt in my mind that my views could be wrong and that they may actually have something useful to contribute, and could even be doing someting positive. But these videos have eliminated any doubts I may have had and my original thougts of “protectors” are accurate.

        Site has been quarried, no fracking planned or applied for, exploration only and the operator has previously advised that it will not be drilling / utilising the planning permission.

        I hope the “protectors” clean up the camp when they leave next week. Where to next???

  3. This is important, particularly the evidence of historical leaks and the economic fraud
    ( I’ve put this in parenthesis to stop it showing with the image, just swipe the middle section or remove the parenthesis after swiping it.

    Attempted false flag armed oil worker intended to discredit the protesters in the Dakota Standing Rock protest, just watch the bravery of the native protesters unarmed against someone who is there to create a violent event. This strategy to discredit protesters may be used here too.
    ( Same way of posting the link, just remove the parenthesis.

    Evidence of fracking companies simply breaking the law to achieve their aims


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