A shale gas company seeking to do tests on council land will have waited at least a year by the time it gets a decision.
INEOS Shale, which holds exploration licences in Nottinghamshire, wants access to seven county council sites for seismic surveys.
The company wrote to the council in November 2016, with the offer of a bonus if the authority agreed quickly to allow access.
Councillors had first been expected to discuss the issue at a meeting in spring 2017 and a decision was thought likely at a meeting next week. But the access question has been delayed again and the next opportunity for a vote will not be until 15 November 2017.
DrillOrDrop invited INEOS to comment on the delay. This post will be updated with any response.
Seismic testing gives oil and gas companies an image of rock types and densities and helps decide where to site exploration wells. It creates the image using vibroseis trucks or by burying small explosive charges.
INEOS wants to do surveys at these parks and open spaces in Nottinghamshire:
- Park at the former Shireoaks Colliery
- Former Manton Pit Colliery
- Land to the north of Manton Pitt Colliery
- Park in Worksop, North of Manton Pit Colliery
- Shirebrook Wood and Shirebrook Miners Welfare Angling Club
- Gorsethorpe Meadow
- Warsop Vale Colliery
All the sites are owned by the council, except Warsop Vale, which is on a 55-year lease:
A decision on access to council land has to be made by the county council’s policy committee. It appeared on the committee’s work programmes in June, July and September.
Opponents of shale gas exploration had expected the committee meeting on Wednesday 18 October would vote on a general policy on seismic testing on council land. A protest rally had been arranged outside County Hall in West Bridgford.
On 2 October 2017, the leader of Nottinghamshire’s opposition Labour group, Cllr Alan Rhodes, recorded a short video film calling on the council to ban seismic testing and fracking on its land.
“These are beautiful natural areas, areas which should be used for generations to come for activities and for people to enjoy our lovely environment here in this county.
“Let’s protect our lovely countryside for generations to come. Nottinghamshire County Council should say no to seismic testing and fracking on their land.”
But papers released in advance of the meeting indicated another delay and a change of approach:
“INEOS Seismic Surveys – item removed from October 2017 – reports to undertake seismic surveys will be brought to future meetings of Policy Committee on a case by case basis to enable each request to be dealt win on its own merits.”
The issue was discussed last night at a parish council meeting in the Nottinghamshire village of Shireoaks, near one of the seven sites.
Parish Councillor Mike Wild said the meeting heard that the county council’s legal team had advised against a general policy and recommended decisions were made on a site-by-site basis.
Cllr Wild said:
“I argued that a policy should cover all NCC land and that it is our land and they [county councillors] are stewards while in office.
“There seems to be a view that if land is degraded or used for industrial purposes that is OK for potential fracking. If it is Country Park etc it should be protected.”
A Freedom of Information request revealed that chartered surveyors, FGP, acting for INEOS, sent letters to Nottinghamshire County Council on 28 November 2016 requesting access to land.
In December 2016, an email from FGP referred to licence agreements covering the proposed access. And in January 2017, FGP invited council officers to a meeting.
FGP said it had already had a similar meeting with a neighbouring authority:
“Derbyshire County Council were extremely grateful for this, it assisted them in making a decision and I am meeting with them next week to agree a licence agreement. I really do think it would be beneficial if we could hold a similar meeting which would also assist with your report.”
Steve Rippey, from Nottinghamshire County Council’s planning department, declined the offer:
“Unfortunately I have been advised that at present we are unable to meet with you due to the political sensitivity of the matter. My Group Manager has a weekly meeting with the Chair of the Finance & Property Committee & he will be speaking to him next week. As soon as I have any more information regarding how we are going to proceed, I’ll be back in touch.”
In April 2017, Adrian Smith, the council’s Corporate Director, said in a statement:
“Agents acting on behalf of INEOS Upstream have contacted the County Council with regard to accessing a number of Council-owned sites to carry out seismic testing.
“Given the sensitivity of this issue we will be referring the matter in a report to elected members for consideration which will allow any decision to be taken democratically and transparently.
“The report will acknowledge that if the County Council does not provide consent, it is possible that INEOS may use legal powers contained within the Geological Survey Act 1845 to challenge any refusal in the courts.”
The issue had been expected to be discussed at a meeting of the committee in April 2017. But the decision was deferred for a report and recommendation by officers.
In the meantime, INEOS says it has been carrying out seismic surveying in an area bordering Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Rotherham since June.