Egdon Resources has lost its appeals against refusal of planning permission for long-term production at its oil site at Wressle, near Scunthorpe.
In a decision released this evening, planning inspector Keri Williams dismissed two challenges against the refusals of consent by North Lincolnshire Council last year.
He said Egdon had not shown that unacceptable adverse impacts to groundwater and water courses would not arise from the development.
A third appeal to extend the time limit on planning permission was allowed. Egdon must now restore the site by 28 April 2018.
The decisions followed a six-day public inquiry in November 2017 at which the risk to groundwater was a key issue.
North Lincolnshire Council argued that the company had failed to carry out a ground condition report before constructing the site. The council’s evidence also raised concerns about the depth of stone layer covering the geosynthetic clay liner, intended to create an impermeable seal.
Egdon Resources said it was “highly disappointed” given what it called the strong case presented at the inquiry. It said it was reviewing its options and would update in the next few days.
Frack Free Lincolnshire, which had opposed the application and took part in the inquiry was celebrating tonight.
Elizabeth Williams, speaking for the group, said:
“Good sciences and duty of care seem to have prevailed.”
Egdon had applied twice for long-term production of oil from the Wressle site. Its applications included the option to use acidisation and a proppant squeeze to stimulate the well.
North Lincolnshire’s planning committee rejected both applications on 11 January 2017 and 3 July 2017. The reason was lack of sufficient evidence about the impact of the development. On both occasions, councillors overruled the recommendation of planning officers.
In his decision notice, Mr Williams criticised Egdon for the lack of a ground condition report. He said:
“I consider this to be a serious omission, particularly as the site would operate over a very long period.”
His report also questioned how this omission had been dealt with by the Environment Agency, which had granted an environmental permit for oil production at Wressle.
Mr Williams said:
“Nor is it clear from the Environmental Permit (CDG2) decision document that the absence of the necessary ground condition report was addressed through the Environmental Permitting process.”
Egdon had suggested at the inquiry that a ground condition report could have been carried out retrospectively. But Mr Williams said:
“There are no details of how that would be done and its results are uncertain. Nor would it be fully addressed by a condition requiring ongoing monitoring and management of the soundness and integrity of the GCL [geosynthetic clay liner].”
On the stone covering the liner, Mr Williams said:
“The appellant’s evidence on the precise structure of the layers overlying the GCL was somewhat confused.”
The inquiry had heard that the depth of stone layer was 300mm but guidance recommended depths of 600mm in areas with frequent traffic.
Mr Williams said:
“The appellant’s evidence is not sufficient to show why a thicker layer of stone is not required over at least part of the site.
“It has not, for example, been demonstrated that the effect of the geotextile layer in distributing pressure would be sufficient to reduce the depth needed to that now in place.
“This is a serious deficiency in the appellant’s case given the long period over which hydrocarbon production would continue and the important role of the material overlying the GCL in ensuring its continued integrity.
“This is not a matter which would be fully addressed by the draft GCL monitoring and management condition discussed at the Inquiry.”
Mr Williams said he did not accept arguments made against the development at the inquiry on climate change, visual amenity, air quality and concerns about acidisation.
He said he had given great weight to the benefits that would arise from the development, including securing energy supplies during the transition to a low carbon economy.
He said he also took account of the Environment Agency’s primary role as regulator in the protection of water resources.
But Mr Williams said:
“These matters do not outweigh other considerations.”
“Having regard to my conclusions on the absence of a ground conditions survey report and of sufficient evidence on the adequacy of the GCL covering, it has not been shown that unacceptable adverse impacts to groundwater resources and water courses would not arise during the life of the development.”
As a result, he said, the development did not meet the requirements of local planning policies.
Mr Williams allowed the third appeal on an extension to the duration of the planning permission. He said the new condition sets a date of 28 April 2018 by which the site must be restored.
Mark Abbott Managing Director of Egdon Resources plc, said in a statement issued on 5 January 2018:
“The decision of the Planning Inspectorate is clearly highly disappointing given the strong case presented at the inquiry, the previous positive recommendations of North Lincolnshire County Council’s Planning Officer in respect of the applications and the issue of an Environmental Permit for the proposed development which was determined after an extensive and thorough review of our proposals.
“The Planning Inspectorate’s decision to uphold our appeal for the extension of the original Wressle exploration well planning consent gives us some time to consider our next steps.
We will now take the opportunity to consider in detail the reasons for the refusals as contained in the decision notice and review the options available to us. We will provide a further update in the next few days.”
Elizabeth Williams, of Frack Free Lincolnshire, said:
“This decision must empower all campaigners and local councillors up and down the country to stand up and be counted against the harmful and invasive oil and gas developments onshore.
“The whole country will feel a sense of joy and empowerment at this news. Good science and duty of care seem to have prevailed.”
She said the time extension would allow “a proper restoration of the site”.
Chris Crean, Midlands Campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said:
“This is a fantastic result for local campaigners who have worked tirelessly on these applications and have gone through two planning meetings and the planning inquiry.
“It also vindicates the grounds on which the planning committee twice refused planning permission.”
Impacts on partners
The decision could have serious implications for Egdon Resources and its partners in the Wressle site.
The licence which includes the Wressle site, PEDL180, is shared between Egdon (25%), Europa (30%), Celtique Energie (33.3%) and Union Jack Oil plc (11.67%).
According to Egdon’s accounts for the year to July 2016, the Wressle well was forecast to produce 500 barrels of oil equivalent peer day for all the partners. If permissions were granted, the company said production was expected to begin during 2018.
Celtique Energie’s accounts published in 2016 said:
“As this is one of the last remaining licences held by the Group, if there are delays in the development, the development is unsuccessful or production is less than forecast, the Group and/or Company may not have sufficient funds to repay shareholder loans or settle their liabilities as they fall due.
“The Group may also not be able to achieve the expected disposal of the licence”.
“These conditions indicate the existence of a material uncertainty that may cast significant doubt about the Group’s and the company’s ability to continue as a going concern.”
Another partner, Europa Oil and Gas, had signed a deal to assign a 10% interest in PEDL180 and PEDL182 to Upland Resources. But this was dependent on planning approval for the Wressle production application. The deal was worth £1.3m in cash to Europa and the issue of more than 23 million shares in Upland Resources.
DrillOrDrop reported from both planning meetings and the public inquiry. These reports were made possible by individual donations from DrillOrDrop readers.