North Yorkshire plans to use a different definition of fracking than the government, despite lobbying by the shale gas industry, it emerged today.
The county, which is likely to see fracking this year, approved the final wording of its joint minerals plan, setting planning policy until 2030.
Opponents of fracking feared the council would adopt the definition used in the Infrastructure Act, even though it didn’t have to.
The act defines associated hydraulic fracturing by the volume of fluid used. For an operation to qualify, there must be at least 1,000 cubic metres of fluid per fracking stage or a total of 10,000 cubic metres for all fracking stages.
The definition excludes Cuadrilla’s fracturing of the Preese Hall well in 2011, which caused two small earthquakes.
The Oil and Gas Authority said an example using the fluid volumes quoted in the planning application for fracking at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire would also not qualify as associated hydraulic fracturing under the Infrastructure Act. Third Energy says it is inaccurate to say the Kirby Misperton frack would not meet the definition (see footnote at the end of this piece).
Today, the council stood by its wording, confirming that the following definition would remain:
“For the purposes of the Plan ‘hydraulic fracturing’ includes the fracturing of rock under hydraulic pressure regardless of the volume of fracture fluid used.”
Oil and gas companies INEOS, Third Energy and Egdon Resources, along with the services company, the Zetland Group, and the industry representative body, UKOOG, all urged the council to adopt the Infrastructure Act definition.
INEOS said the plan’s definition of fracking left it “unsound”. Egdon said the plan was “inconsistent with the statutory framework”. The Zetland Group said there was “a need for consistency with the Infrastructure Act”.
Egdon, INEOS and UKOOG said the plan’s definition would “severely restrict” or “severely limit” unrelated and existing activities.
Amendments being considered by the executive today included a reference to the Infrastructure Act definition.
Leigh Coghill, of the campaign group, Frack Free Ryedale, told the meeting this definition was a “significant loophole for the shale gas industry”.
It would allow fracking that didn’t meet the fluid limit to be carried out in protected areas, such as the North York Moors National Park and the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, she said.
Cllr Mike Potter, of Ryedale District Council, asked:
“Which hard evidence informed the definition that ‘the injection of less than 10,000 cubic metres of fluid in total’ was not really fracturing with water?”
Rob Smith, of the council’s planning department, said the current definition in the plan still stood.
He said “The amendments are to clarify differences between conventional and unconventional drilling.”
“We need a plan”
The eight-person executive voted unanimously to sign-off the plan, despite calls for more public consultation.
Cllr Chris Metcalfe, the executive member with responsibility for the plan, conceded
“It will not meet the needs of everybody but it is a plan.”
He said it was a “fluid document” and the council would continue to review but he said:
“As far as this plan is concerned we have gone as far as we can”.
He said it should now go before a planning inspector for approval.
After the meeting, Cllr Mike Potter, of Rydedale District Council, welcomed the promise to review the plan.
“It is hard to dispute that we have to have a plan. If we don’t, everything goes to the government and the energy department.”
Other key issues
The plan requires oil and gas developments in areas 3.5km from National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty to assess their impact on the designated landscapes.
Egdon said there was “no justification in planning policy grounds” for the 3.5km buffer zone. INEOS said it was “not supported or justified by national policy”. It added:
“There is no need for a buffer zone and it artificially restricts development where mechanisms already exist to afford protection to sensitive areas.”
Third Energy said:
“An arbitrary ‘buffer zone’ takes no regard of the temporary nature of any drilling and/or associated activity.”
Opponents of fracking welcomed the buffer zone but some said it should be wider and should apply to other protected areas.
The plan says hydrocarbon developments within 500m of residential buildings and what it calls “sensitive receptors” would be approved only exceptional circumstances.
The oil and gas industry also opposed this policy. In its comments on the plan Egdon wrote:
“There is no evidence that proposals for surface hydrocarbon development within 500m of residential buildings and other sensitive receptors are likely to have more adverse impact than proposals in excess of this distance.”
“The effect of screening and the specific nature of the proposed hydrocarbon development can often mean that distances of 300m are permissible.”
But Peter Allen, an opponent at today’s meeting, said:
“I can find no rationale for this distance. I have been told that 500m represents the acceptable distance between a dwelling and a wind turbine.”
He said Rob Arnott, of the Oxford Institute of Energy Studies, had told a meeting in Easingwold that 500m was the safe distance if the well were to explode. But Mr Allen said the minimum distance for evacuation zones in the US for well explosions was half a mile or 804m.
Mr Allen said:
“This plan is to last until 2030. In that time, if the industry is allowed to develop as it hopes many more areas will be covered by PEDLs. It will not sit easily with the inhabitants of Harrogate, Ripon, Thirsk, Northallerton and others that in 2017 their councillors deemed 500m as a suitable distance between their communities and unconventional gas wells.”
Another speaker, Susan Allen, said:
“There should be greater setback distances for schools, hospitals and old people’s homes. Children and the over 65s are more vulnerable to pollution than other adults. The executive might also like to consider other areas crucial to the local economy, such as major tourist attractions and racing stables.
“No planning application should be accepted unless there is a comprehensive evacuation plan in place which is subject to regular rehearsal.”
The plan proposes a maximum density of 10 well pads per 100 sq km. But Cllr Paul Andrews, a Ryedale District councillor, said this was inconsistent with policies in the adopted Ryedale Plan on protection and enhancement of landscape character. Cllr Andrews proposed reducing well density to 10 pads per 1,300 sq km.
He also criticised the minerals plan for failing to include the Vale of Pickering and Yorkshire Wolds as areas where hydraulic fracturing would not be permitted. This, he said, also made it inconsistent with the Ryedale Plan.
Planners had made 29 amendments to the published version of the plan and there were calls for a new consultation on the changes.
Cllr Mike Potter said it was “quite apparent that INEOS and Third Energy have had quite a major impact”.
But the executive approved the changes and gave council officers and the executive member responsibility for rewriting some sections.
Jim Trotter, who spoke at the meeting, said:
“The plan in its current form will not be effective in protecting residents from the many serious negative impacts resulting for the development of this industry across North Yorkshire. It lacks specifics in a number of areas and leaves too much room for future argument and policy creep in the future. This is something the industry will exploit and the council will live to regret.”
Sue Gough, of Frack Free Kirby Misperton, said there was ambiguity in the plan and this would result in fracking near schools and close to homes. She said:
“The industry will exploit any weakness”.
Brian Appleby said there multiple gaps in the regulation of shale gas and fracking and this would be exacerbated by inexperienced regulators.
John Clark, a county councillor with oil and gas licences in his Pickering ward, said:
“If you want to stop fracking the only way to do it is to change the government.”
But he urged the executive to look “a little deeper” into the plan.
Another local councillor, Elizabeth Shields, who represents Norton, said:
“The executive is following government policy. There does not seem to be a single member of the executive who was going to fight for the residents of North Yorkshire.”
In January 2016, DrillOrDrop made a Freedom of Information request to the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA). We asked whether the volumes of fracking fluid used in a real life example would amount to associated hydraulic fracturing.
The volumes were: Stage 1: 424.90 cubic metres; stage 2: 441.80 cubic metres; stage 3: 474.90 cubic metres; stage 4: 700.60 cubic metres; stage 5: 1,248.90 cubic metres (total 3,291.10 cubic metres).
The figures were taken from the planning application to frack the KM8 well at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire.
In its reply, the OGA set out the definition of associated hydraulic fracturing from Section 50 of the Infrastructure Act 2015 as below:
4B Section 4A: supplementary provision
(1) “Associated hydraulic fracturing” means hydraulic fracturing of shale or strata encased in shale which–
(a) is carried out in connection with the use of the relevant well to search or bore for or get petroleum, and
(b) involves, or is expected to involve, the injection of–
(i) more than 1,000 cubic metres of fluid at each stage, or expected stage, of the hydraulic fracturing, or
(ii) more than 10,000 cubic metres of fluid in total.
The OGA gave this response to DrillOrDrop’s question:
i) Although stage 5 would exceed the 1,000m3 threshold specified in sub-section 4B(1)(b)(i), stages 1 through 4 would not meet or exceed the 1,000m3 threshold and condition 4B(1)(b)(i) would therefore not be met.
ii) The total volume injected would not exceed 10,000m3 and condition 4B(1)(b)(ii) would therefore also not be met. As neither of the two conditions is met, the example provided would not qualify as associated hydraulic fracturing.
This is the basis of the information in paragraph 6 of this post.
Third Energy said the reference in paragraph 6 to its Kirby Misperton well was inaccurate. The company asked DrillOrDrop to delete the reference and not repeat it.
The company said the volumes of fracking fluid would not be finalised until the fracture plan had been submitted for the KM8 well.
It said the answer from the OGA could not be applied to the KM8 well because in its question, DrillOrDrop did not mention the name of the well.
Third Energy also referred to guidance from the Department of Energy and Climate Change which said the Secretary of State intended to require companies to seek hydraulic fracturing consent for any operations which used more than 1,000 cubic metres of fluid at any single stage but not 10,000 cubic metres in total.
Updated 9/3/2017 to include Footnote and text changes to paragraph 6