Live updates from the final scheduled day of the public inquiry into plans by Egdon Resources to produce oil from its site at Wressle in Lincolnshire.
Today’s session is expected to hear closing arguments from the company, North Lincolnshire Council and public speakers.
Egdon is appealing against refusals of planning permission by North Lincolnshire Council in January and July 2017. The company is seeking permission for 15 years of production at Lodge Farm, Clapp Gate, Appleby. The proposals include the use of two production techniques, proppant squeeze and acidisation.
14.54 Closing the inquiry
Keri Williams, the inspector, closes the inquiry. He thanks participants for their cooperation.
Closing statements – Egdon Resources
1.35pm Richard Glover, for Egdon Resources
Reasons for refusal
Mr Glover refers to the council’s reason for refusal that there was insufficient information to decide the application.
He says the company undertook a significant amount of pre-application discussion. It submitted everything that the council asked for and provided additional information voluntarily. The total volume was significant and sufficient when the council made its decisions in June and July 2017.
Mr Glover says the council could have asked for more information and this would have been met by Egdon. By failing to adopt this approach, the council did not act reasonably when refusing planning permission. If this had happened, the appeals and significant costs would have been avoided.
There was no link when the decisions were made between a lack of information and an unacceptable impact on local residents, the community and local economy. A precautionary approach is not valid in this case and is not supported by national or local planning policy, Mr Glover says.
At least two members of the planning committee were motivated by distrust of the Environment Agency. This was not valid behaviour.
When the council decided to refuse the applications, there was no valid basis to justify the reasons and the council’s attempt to retro-fit the decisions does not work, Mr Glover says.
“It remains a mystery as to why the members made the decisions that they made.”
Mr Glover says a full and proper risk assessment was undertaken. The baseline data was appropriate for the scale of the development. Additional data would not have changed the risk assessments. Gaps in data are refuted, he said. But if there were, it would not have made any difference to the outcome of the risk assessment.
The council chose to ignore or overlooked the role of the management of the site and tanks and bunds to mitigate any spills at the site. This has been built into the design of the Wressle wellpad, Mr Glover says.
“The company has an excellent track record in terms of managing this and other sites under its control a fact that has not been questioned by any evidence submitted to this inquiry”.
The Environment Agency would maintain an ongoing review and oversight of operations. A rigorous level of monitoring can be expected during the production phase, Mr Glover says.
The site liner
The assessment of the proposed developments by the council’s expert, Susan Wagstaff, is fundamentally flawed, he says.
The council has provided no evidence that the integrity of the liner may have been compromised by compaction of the stone cover. The liner has been tested by Egdon. No compaction has occurred, Mr Glover says.
The council failed to take account of the assessment undertaken by Elliotts Associates before the installation of the liner. Elliotts are very experienced in civil engineering, Mr Glover says.
The council also fails to take into account the protective properties of the layers of geotextile fabric, above and below the Bentomat liner.
The stone layer on the liner was approved as part of the 2013 planning application and by the Environment Agency, Mr Glover says. The absence of a quality control report on the installation does not support the suggestion that it might not fit for purpose.
He refers to questions about the suitability of the Bentomat liner. Evidence was presented that it would take many months for spills to pass through it, Mr Glover says.
He says spills would not be allowed to remain on the surface. Bentomat has a self-healing property and is used in the oil and gas industry.
A new Bentomat liner will be installed with a revised draiinage system and approved interceptor, Mr Glover says.
“These proposed improvements to the various levels of containment are important”, Mr Glover says. The risks in a production phase are similar, but not greater than, the exploration phase, he says.
Egdon has proposed a condition requiring a plan to be submitted and approved by the council to assess regularly the soundness and integrity of the existing membrane. Mr Glover says the company has also agreed to install an extra two additional groundwater monitoring boreholes, which the council said did not cover the whole site.
Commenting on the new conditions, Mr Glover says:
“This would guarantee complete protection of groundwater”.
A suitable interceptor, under another new condition, would address any concerns of the council. Mr Glover says.
“This condition provides a complete and utter answer to any of those concerns raised”.
Mr Glover says Egdon “strongly disputes” the council’s concerns about the existing monitoring boreholes. But he says the new condition would “fully address these concerns”.
The council’s concerns about mitigation measures are “not supported by any evidence before the inquiry”, Mr Glover says.
The council’s expert misunderstood the mitigation or failed to consider the measures in their entirety, he says. This is compounded by failing to consider the comprehensive management procedures that will be followed during production. She also completely ignores the fact that the embedded mitigation has been considered in detail and approved by the Environment Agency for the exploration and production phases.
Mr Glover says Egdon’s consultants dispute the council’s case that it had properly described the groundwater system or proved the existence of a capping layer above the Lincolnshire Limestone aquifer.
He says a more detailed conceptual model would not have changed the risk assessment. The company stands by its case that there is a capping layer above aquifer.
The council has not produced any evidence to support its argument that the risk assessment have any gaps that could lead to a different outcome. Mr Glover says the risk assessment is full and complete. The council’s criticism is disputed, he says.
Environment Agency views
Mr Glover says the council is obliged to give serious weight to the views of the Environment Agency and have strong and definitive evidence to support its counter-opinion before deciding not to follow the advice.
Mr Glover suggests the council’s planning witness failed to give the Environment Agency views any weight. This undermines her evidence to the inquiry, he says.
The Environment Agency did not just rely on information provided by Egdon, Mr Glover says. The agency did not highlight any gaps to the information and raised no objections to the applications.
Mr Glover says there is a shift in the council’s case on the issue of harm. He says the council refused the applications on the basis that there would be harm. But it is now relying on the possibility of harm.
This is a welcome and serious concession and this undermines the grounds for refusal, Mr Glover says.
At no stage, does the council’s hydrogeologist say there would be unacceptable impacts on local residents, community and economy, he says. She assumes, Mr Glover says, “a series of increasingly improbably events”, occurring in succession, which could lead to contamination of groundwater close to the site.
Turning to the precautionary principle, used by the council to support its case, Mr Glover says this is not supported by the National Planning Policy Framework or any national or local planning policy, he says.
“Nothing put forward by the council suggests there is no good reason to believe that harmful effects may occur as a result of the proposed development.
“The council has not produced any evidence that the proposed development would have an unacceptable impact on local residents, the community or the local economy”.
Licences Mr Glover says Egdon is the operator of PEDL180 and PEDL182. The site is in PEDL182 and the bottom of the well is just within PEDL180.
“This is in fully in accordance with the licences issued to the appeallant by the Oil and Gas Authority.”
Processes Mr Glover says the operations proposed are not new or novel.
“Similar techniques have been used in well site sin the UK over many years and are therefore tried and tested.”
The proposed development does not involve high volume hydraulic fracturing, he says. A proppant squeeze would be on a completely different scale, he says. It does not count as unconventional oil production.
Faults Mr Glover says the well does not intersect any fault structures and production would not affect any faults
Air quality Mr Glover says there were no objections on emissions from the council’s environmental health officer or the Environment Agency
Traffic The council’s highway officer raised no objection to the proposed development.
Ecology Mr Glover says there were no objections from the council’s ecologist, Natural England or Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust
Climate change Mr Glover says hydrocarbon production would not contribute to climate change or global warming to any material degree. It would help reduce reliance on imports of oil and gas from overseas.
Regulation Oil and gas is a highly regulated sector. The regulators are sufficiently resourced and experienced to carry out inspection and enforcement.
The council said the development did not comply with four policies as reasons for refusal. Mr Glover says the council’s policy M23 permits oil and gas production provided that environmental mitigation measures are adequate to mitigate impacts. He says this is demonstrated by the Environment Agency permit and the agency’s lack of objection to the scheme.
The imposition of proposed conditions fully address any concerns and it is difficult to see how the council can continue to suggest that there is not compliance with this policy, Mr Glover says.
Policy DS13 applies to land drainage, rather than groundwater protection and so the production plans do not breach this policy, he says.
Policy D15 prohibits development that would adversely affect the quality and quantity of water resources, unless measures are taken to reduce the impact to acceptable level. Mr Glover says the council has not put forward evidence to show the scheme would adversely affect the quality of water resources.
On policy CS18, on sustainable development, Mr Glover says the council has not shown which of the 13 elements of the policy which the Wressle plans conflict with.
Mr Glover says the production scheme fully meets national energy policy. Paragraph 144 of the NPPF states that great weight should be given to the benefits of mineral extraction.
The Committee on Climate Change has confirmed the continued use of oil is compatible with the UK’s climate change commitments, Mr Glover says.
The proposal would benefit local economy and national revenues, he adds.
Mr Glover says the planning balance by the council’s witness is flawed, Mr Glover says. He says the balance by Paul Foster, the company’s witness, should be preferred.
Mr Glover says Egdon submitted sufficient information to allow a full and proper assessment of the proposed development.
We have no idea what the council thinks is missing. There is some criticism from the council’s hydrogeology expert but they don’t make “a jot of difference”, Mr Glover says.
“We can’t see any gaps in the evidence.”
Mr Glover calls for the appeals to be allowed and planning permission granted.
“The refusals were unreasonable and entirely without justification.
“The council’s attempt to justify the decisions is without substance.”
Mr Glover says Egdon has not decided to apply for costs
“This is because the Appellant wants to build a stronger and more positive relationship with the council with a view to promoting the proposed development and realising the significant benefits that it will bring at a local and national level.”
Mr Glover adds that Egdon hopes that the council and its members have:
“Learnt from this experience and will in future give proper regard to the specialist advisors that it has to hand when determining future planning applications as well as undertaking a proper assessment of evidence that is provided to it by applicants.”
The inquiry resumes at 1.35pm
Closing statements – North Lincolnshire Council
11.48 Alan Evans, barrister for North Lincolnshire Council
Mr Evans says Egdon has failed to come to terms with the appeal information and has excessively concentrated on what has gone before, rather than the position as it is now.
Any inspector is entitled to deal with the application as if it was made to him and have regard to all the evidence available to him, including the council’s groundwater experts.
The council says the refusal of the applications is justified on the basis of the evidence that it has now produced during the appeal, Mr Evans says.
Mr Evans says the planning decision should be made on the basis of adequate and accurate information. It should be sufficient and correct information, he says. The NPPF says the right information is crucial to good decision-taking. Adequate site investigation made by a competent person should be provided, planning guidance states, Mr Evans says.
“The council says there were material gaps in the information provided at the time of the first and second applications, that there were material errors in that information and that there remains an insufficiency of information.”
“The council’s concerns about the information supporting the proposals have now been identified to Egdon, and they have had the opportunity to respond.”
Mr Evans says the council is not bound to leave relevant issues to the Environment Agency. It can take a different view provided it has appropriate evidence to substantiate that course of action. The same applies to an inspector at an appeal.
Mr Evans says paragraph 109 of the NPPF makes it clear that potential pollution impacts is a material land use planning considerations. Paragraph 120 says planning policies and decisions should concern themselves with pollution effects.
Paragraph 122 of the NPPF and paragraph 12 of the Planning Practice Guidance Minerals provide a guide to potential practical division of responsibilites of regulators, not to say that pollution impacts are not a material planning consideration. Paragraph 13 of PPGM says planning authorities should address surface and groundwater issues. Paragraph 112 of PPGM says groundwater risks should be appropriately identified and mitigated by the local plan.
Paragraph 112 of PPGM says local planning authorities can rely on other regulators – but it doesn’t say it has to, Mr Evans says. This was confirmed by the Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association judicial review, which ruled that matters of regulatory control could be left to the statutory regulator.
Environment Agency guidance for the oil and gas sector says the impermeable membrane are a matter for it and the planning authority.
Insufficient information: the liner
Mr Evans says information from James Dodds has proved to be inaccurate and careless. In his evidence, he was wrong about the thickness of the stone on the liner, compounded by an erratum which continued to state incorrectly there was a layer of sand.
The Envireau Water hydrogeological risk assessment wrongly relied on an incorrect upward hydrogeological gradient, Mr Evans says. This had been disproved by groundwater monitoring boreholes, which showed there was a downward gradient.
On the site liner, Mr Evans says there is insufficient information about the underlying ground conditions to support retention for production. Aground investigation, which wasn’t carried out, was later admitted by Egdon to be helpful, Mr Evans says.
Mr Evans says there is insufficient information to allay concern about the depth of stone cover on the liner. Recommended 600mm of layer, compared with 300mm actually present, was set out in guidance. The council also has concerns about the size of the stones used in the liner cover.
No calculations were submitted to demonstrate what would be the rate of leakage through the liner, Mr Evans says.
There are serious concerns about the containment measures are the site. A membrane investigation management plan would help to address the concerns but would not be sufficient to overcome them. No information on testing the limestone had been put before the council.
Insufficient information: Artesian conditions
Mr Evans says Egdon relied on a claim that artesian conditions in the Lincolnshire Limestone could protect the aquifer. This was a “primary bulwark” of the Elliott report, submitted by Egdon to the council, Mr Evans says.
“No information in the Elliott May 2016 report to justify the conclusion that there were artesian conditions in the Lincolnshire Limestone”
This report lacked in information but was also put forward incorrect information, Mr Evans. The incorrect information about artesian conditions continued to be stated at the time of the second application.
“There is no excuse for the error given that, by this time, the records of the monitoring boreholes installed on the site in February 2017 had clearly shown that there were not artesian conditions.”
Insufficient information: Kellaways formation
Mr Evans says that a Egdon report, which claimed that the Lincolnshire Limestone was capped by clay in the Kellaways Formation, was not substantiated. There is no sufficient information to show that partial coverage could provide an effective cap, Mr Evans says. The monitoring boreholes had been installed and drillers’ records demonstrated no clay material.
The council submits that there is inadequate information to show that any clay capping layer would prevent downward travel of contaminants. Egdon claimed that geology which gave rise to past artesian flow must still obtain now. But the council says that an impermeable seal is not needed to create artesian conditions but simply a contrast in permeability, Mr Evans says.
“Grey clay” referred to in Egdon drillers’ logs is not sufficient to demonstrate a sealing layer of clay which would prevent the downward travel of containment to the Lincolnshire Limestone, Mr Evans says. He says the materials produced by the borehole had been damaged by rotary drilling and had not been analysed by a geologist or hydrogeologist. There had also been no permeability testing of the “grey clay”.
Insufficient information: screening process
Mr Evans says the information presented to the appeals by Egdon were not sufficient to justify the screening out of the Lincolnshire Limestone and the British Steel boreholes from the risk assessment process. The Lincolnshire Limestone can’t be screened out by the site liner, he says. This has been rejected by Environment Agency guidance. There is also insufficient information about the site liner, Mr Evans says.
The risk assessment failed to recognise a pathway for contamination through the base of thee wellsite during production. The Lincolnshire Limestone should be regarded as a high, not a moderately, sensitive receptor.
The British Steel boreholes should have a default source protection zone of 500m, which would take in the site, because of their yield. Further steps should also have been taken to identify private water supplies, Mr Evans says.
Insufficient information: Fault
Two reports for Egdon asserted that the principal aquifer was “isolated hydraulically from the site by a fault.” This was put before the council but there was insufficient information to support the claim, Mr Evans says.
Insufficient information: Conceptual modelling
Mr Evans says there should have been a conceptual model. Egdon’s information did not represent sufficient hydrogeological conceptual model.
Insufficient information: monitoring boreholes
Mr Evans says the existing monitoring boreholes cover only half the site. Three shallow boreholes don’t reach sufficient depth so denser or heavier pollutants would not be picked up. A condition has been proposed on this issue.
Insufficient information: interceptor
There has been insufficient information about the ability of the inceptor to deal with all potential hydrocarbons constituents of crude oil. A condition has been proposed on this issue.
Egdon has claimed that the council has not demonstrated there will be actual harm from the site. Mr Evans says the insufficient information is enough to justify refusing appeal. He adds that risk of harm is also reason for refusal.
Mr Evans says this is supported by paragraph 109 of the NPPF and paragraph 112 of PPGM. The Environment Agency considers the precautionary principle is appropriately applied in the absence of adequate information with which to consider a risk assessment.
“There is no reason in principle why that should not also be an appropriate approach if a mineral planning authority is considering the issue of groundwater risk.”
Mr Evans says there is no principle of acceptance of hydrocarbon production at Wressle. He refers to paragraph 147 of the NPPF and paragraph 120 of the PPGM. Local planning policy supports this guidance, Mr Evans says.
Mr Evans says the proposal is in conflict with policy M23 in the local plan, which deals with minerals production. He says this is more far-reaching on the issue of impacts, rather than policy M1, which is not referred to in the reasons for refusals.
Mr Evans says policy DS13, also used to justify refusal, includes groundwater protection in its title. Egdon had said the policy dealt with land drainage. The council maintains that the policy is relevant to groundwater protection, he says.
DS15, also used to justify refusal, deal unquestionably with groundwater protection, Mr Evans says. The final policy, CS18, also applies to groundwater, he adds.
Mr Evans says
“Insufficient information has been provided to address concerns in relation to contamination of water, particularly groundwater, and to allow the conclusion to be drawn that the risks to it that relevant local planning policies seek to guard against are adequately mitigated.
“The proposals are contrary to the development plan and other materials considerations do not outweigh that conflict”
“The council respectfully submits that the first and second appeal should be dismissed.”
Closing statements – public
11.35am Elizabeth Williams
Ms Williams says the Egdon’s plans are harmful at human biochemical and global meteorological levels.
“It has been disheartening to hear Egdon’s counsel to dismiss human health ipact assessments.”
Oil and gas wells routinely emit a range of toxins, including through flaring and traffic exhausts. At Wressle, the risks are increased by the use of acid and proppant squeeze.
Egdon admitted proppant squeeze has not been used onshore in the UK before, but the company’s planning statement to the council says it “is a proven” technique that has been used widely onshore, including at Crosby Warren. The fracturing will happen a few tens of metres.
This is surely technical frackinginto sandstone, not shale, Ms Williams says. It does propose well stimulation. It is far along the continuum of conventional-unconventional techniques.
Acid squeeze is a different level of what was used at Crosby Warren in the 1980s. Objectors were dismayed by the vagueness of acidisation.
The presumption of joined-up decision-making is not justified, she says.
She draws attention to what she calls a “catalogue of errors” by Egdon consultant, James Dodds on groundwater reports.
Thousands of workers, represented by Unite at British Steel, are concerned about the impact of the development on their livelihoods.
It cannot possibly meet planning sustainability criteria, Ms Williams says. It fails to meet everyone of the environmental sustainability criteria, she says. On improving air quality, the Egdon says the impact will be limited because of the temporary nature (15 years) of the development.
Well testing is likely to have a negligible impact on air quality, the company had claimed, Ms Williams says. This is highly questionable, she says. Consultant reports fail to take account of cumulative impacts.
Broughton Woods is a much-needed and appreciated oasis of tranquillity. It is a water vole habitat and yet water from the site will be discharged into it.
We implore the inspector not to allow the appeal, she says. Don’t let north Lincolnshire to be subject to experimental oil and gas techniques.
“Please let this be a paradigmatic decision”, she says.
11.32am Jean Turner
Ms Turner says
“I have been deeply concerned that there are so many errors that need rectifying.
“The consultants’ report were sent to the Environment Agency and they accepted them without question which compounds the mistakes and an environmental permit was granted.”
She says she is not reassured that drinking water and air will not be contaminated by the development.
“These applications place residents, employees and British Steel at a huge risk and as such they are unacceptable.”
11.24am Andrew McLeod
Mr McLeod says if we don’t solve climate change soon “we don’t solve it.”
Every new oil and gas well locks us into another 10, 15, 20 years of putting more fossil carbon into the atmosphere. We are in a race against time, and in this race, winning slowly is the same as losing. Right now, we&’re not even winning slowly.”
Mr McLeod refers to the council’s core strategy 11.16, which which states that North Lincolnshire “must take steps to reduce the cause of carbon dioxide”
Wressle’s two million barrels of oil and up to 10 tonnes a day of gas will increase by over a million tonnes the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, he says.
On the day the inquiry opened, Professor Kevin Anderson reported there was no role for bring additional fossil fuel reserves into production, Mr McLeod says.
“The appellant has no answer to all of this, except to say that Wressle’s oil will contribute a tiny credit to the UK’s carbon bookkeeping by virtue of avoiding some shipping emissions which will most likely be emitted anyway somewhere else. This will amount to nothing in terms of avoiding dangerous climate change; to help with that, Wressle’s oil must stay where it is down”
Mr McLeod questioned the reliability of decisions made by the Environment Agency because of errors in reports submitted by Egdon. He also says Egdon may have breached planning permission by drilling into PEDL180 and this should be tested before a decision was made on the appeal.
11.19am Geraldine Clayton
Mrs Clayton says Egdon Resources has underplayed the significance of its oil production plans. She says the site would have been in production years ago if, as the company said, the industry was interested in it for years. Development depends on new techniques from the US, she says.
She says no waste treatme
nt facilities have been identified during the application or appeal processes. She also drew attention to different responses from the Environment Agency in Sussex to a similar project compared with their opposite numbers in north Lincolnshire.
Mrs Clayton says the costs of renewable energy have come down faster than had been predicted. The era of carbon is over, she says.
11am Inquiry resumes
Inspector, Keri Williams, says he visited the site this morning.
Drafts of final conditions discussed yesterday afternoon are handed in. Conditions that have changed following discussions include:
- Designated transport route
- Working hours
- Wheel-washing facilities
- Restoration and aftercare timing
- Surface water interceptor
- Inspection and testing of the impervious membrane
- Additional groundwater monitoring boreholes
- Highway condition survey
This report has been made possible by individual donations from DrillOrDrop readers