North Yorkshire prepares for crucial battle that could shape fracking policy across England

171005 KM Jonny Linehan

Protest near Third Energy’s fracking site at Kirby Misperton, North Yorkshire, 5 October 2017. Photo: Jonny Linehan

Future planning policy for fracking in England could be set in the coming months in the rolling hills and copses of North Yorkshire.

The county, which hosts what’s likely to be the UK’s first high volume hydraulic fracture since 2011, is preparing for a crucial battle.

This is much bigger than the fight over a single site. And the outcome is vital to the industry and its opponents. Both sides are expected to use whatever they have to support their cause.

The battle focuses on the role of fracking in North Yorkshire’s long-term mineral strategy. The county is the first in England to produce a minerals plan that includes policies on high volume hydraulic fracturing.

The draft document for North Yorkshire, developed over the past four years, will be reviewed by a Government planning inspector during a hearing, known as an “examination in public”, probably in February or March.

The final document will set policy for the county until 2030 and is expected to be used as a template by other authorities across England.

A local campaign group opposed to fracking, Frack Free Ryedale, has made 21 responses, which it says will strengthen the draft plan. It is trying to raise £27,000 to employ a consultant to represent it at the examination in public (EiP). The group is seeking £10,000 from a national campaign because it believes the North Yorkshire plan will be a blueprint for fracking in the rest of England.

Frank Colenso, for Frack Free Ryedale, said:

“Naturally we do not want fracking anywhere or at any price.

“However, the EiP is our last opportunity to limit the impacts of fracking on local residents and the industrialization of our countryside.

“Based on industry responses to the consultation, we can expect Cuadrilla, INEOS, Third Energy and others to throw every resource at the EiP in order to loosen the planning regulations and to seek to allow fracking just about everywhere.

“We will defend the responses to ensure the plan provides adequate yet robust protections to existing communities and businesses from the recognised adverse and cumulative effects of this industrial development.”

Next week (11 January 2018), Ryedale District Council has called an extraordinary  meeting to decide whether it should brief consultants to represent the council at the EiP. Details

171010 KM8 Leigh Coghill 2

Heavy goods vehicle transport equipment to the Third Energy fracking site through Kirby Misperton, North Yorkshire, 10 October 2017. Photo: Leigh Coghill

Defining fracking

The draft plan, written by North Yorkshire County Council, City of York and the North York Moors National Park Authority, has already revealed where at least some of the battle lines will be.

A key issue is likely to be the definition of fracking. The version of the plan submitted to the inspector has a different definition to that in the Infrastructure Act.

“For the purposes of the Plan ‘hydraulic fracturing’ includes the fracturing of rock under hydraulic pressure regardless of the volume of fracture fluid used.”

The shale gas companies, including INEOS, Third energy, Egdon Resources, and the industry umbrella group, UKOOG, have argued that the plan should use the Infrastructure Act definition.

This defines what is called “associated hydraulic fracturing” by the volume of fluid used: 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 in the final North Yorkshire plan would be crucial if the government introduced legislation to implement an election promise to treat “non-fracking drilling” as permitted development.

Permitted development rights currently allow proposals to be carried out without the need to go through the full planning system.

This could mean that shale gas exploration wells where fracking is not planned – like those to be drilled this year by IGas in north Nottinghamshire – need not go through a public consultation and get permission from a council planning committee.

Similarly, proposed fracking operations using volumes under the limit in the Infrastructure Act could also avoid the full planning process. In North Yorkshire, there are concerns that this could mean that fracking operations using less than the Infrastructure Act limit could avoid the ban on hydraulic fracturing in the North York Moors National Park.

During the consultation on the draft, INEOS said the plan’s definition of fracking left it “unsound”. Egdon said the plan was “inconsistent with the statutory framework”. The drilling services company, Zetland Group, said there was “a need for consistency with the Infrastructure Act”.

Frack Free Ryedale said this week:

“The benefit to the fracking industry is a reduction in the need to apply for planning permission for more than an estimated 50% of wells. Frack Free Ryedale considers that ‘a frack is a frack’. The impacts on local residents, businesses, the environment and the landscape are significant, irrespective of any arbitrary volume.”

Well density

171216 KM Eddie Thornton

Drone image of Third Energy’s fracking site at Kirby Misperton, 16 December 2017. Photo: Eddie Thornton

The draft plan proposed a maximum density of 10 well pads per 100 sq km. Some opponents of fracking have called for this density to be reduced to 10 pads per 1,300 sq km to comply with policies in the local Ryedale Plan.

The industry is seeking to remove any limits on well density. According to an article in this week’s Sunday Times, INEOS is looking to build 10-15 pads in a 10km by 10km area and drill up to 10 wells from each pad. DrillOrDrop asked INEOS three times to confirm these numbers but it did not respond to our questions.

Bans on fracking

The draft plan banned fracking in the North York Moors National Park and the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty but not in the Vale of Pickering or the Yorkshire Wolds. Cllr Paul Andrews, a Ryedale District councillor, said this was inconsistent with the local Ryedale Plan.

Setback distances and buffers

The draft plan proposed that hydrocarbon developments within 500m of residential buildings and what it calls “sensitive receptors” would be approved only in exceptional circumstances.

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.”

Setback distances for fracking in some US states are half a mile or just over 800m, although in other states they are much lower.

The draft plan also required 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.

Opponents of fracking have said this buffer zone should be wider and apply to other protected areas. Third Energy, in its response to a consultation on the draft, said:

“An arbitrary ‘buffer zone’ takes no regard of the temporary nature of any drilling and/or associated activity.”

This week’s Sunday Times said INEOS planned to lodge planning applications to drill up to 10 exploratory boreholes around the southern edge of the North York Moors.

Asked by DrillOrDrop whether this was accurate or imminent, INEOS did not respond. But it did say:

“INEOS Shale believes in the proven safety of shale extraction. Therefore whilst drilling will never take place in a National Park we can frack underneath without impact on the surface above. In support of this activity we want to do a geological survey in 2018 to build a 3D picture of the rock strata before drilling test wells to establish the best places for extraction.”

171014 KM KMPC

Drone image of Third Energy’s fracking site at Kirby Misperton, 14 October 2017. Photo: Kirby Misperton Protection Camp

What happens next?

The Secretary of State has appointed the planning inspector, Elizabeth Ord, to conduct the examination in public of the North Yorkshire plan.

Her role is to determine whether the plan is sound and complies with all the legal requirements, including whether the plan’s policies are positively prepared, justified, effective and consistent with national policy.

Other mineral planning authorities – county councils, unitary authorities and national park authorities – are expected to watch closely the process in North Yorkshire as they develop fracking policies for their own new mineral plans.

At the time of writing, the date and venue of the examination had not been set. DrillOrDrop will be reporting from examination.

More information

Details on the minerals plan examination

Frack Free Ryedale fundraiser and case and link to video

Sunday Times article on INEOS plans in North Yorkshire

30 replies »

  1. Nice link Sherwulfe. Gives the opportunity for anyone to check and see that the majority of the UK, as/if represented by that poll, are not against fracking-as I stated, but could not be bothered with the link.
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  2. The emerging Minerals and Waster Joint Plan (MWJP) will be the strategic plan that informs all decisions on fracking applications for the next 15 years in N Yorkshire and it is therefore important that it is sound and legal in every way. Even if the govt calls all decisions in as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP), the MWJP should carry some weight as a legally passed and fully consulted policy. Just as importantly, as the government, its agencies and others, such as PHE, HSE, EA, have claimed that fracking can be done safely as long as it is well regulated, the MWJP represents an important part of that regulation. I should add that regulation is only effective if it is also policed and enforced robustly. As this will be the first MWP to include fracking, it’s vital that the controls and regulation within it are also robust enough to regulate the industry as promised. It’s inevitable that other authorities nationwide approaching the same strategic plan will ‘cut and paste’ what they know will be acceptable and sound, so I would advise anyone interested or concerned about fracking to take a close interest in this terminally dull process.
    NYCC will be responsible for most aspects of what happens ‘on the surface’, such as traffic, waste water, set back distances from ‘receptors’ (that means you and yours), well density and cumulative effects. These are the things that directly affect everyone who will live near a frack pad, assuming the industry ramps up to full commercial production. The well densities being discussed mean virtually everyone in a PEDL will live within about 1.5 miles of a fracking site, so that probably means you. We can only hope that strong representation and sound evidence will control the inevitable onslaught from the highly paid legal teams and consultants of the industry who will attempt to push back on every aspect of the regulation. Bearing in mind the risks of blowouts (yes, Methane is highly flammable), known health risks particularly to pregnant women, the young and the old, unsuitability of many small lanes and bridges for HGVs, the problems, transportation and high cost of treating waste water, it’s in the interest of most people in the north of England that NYCC get this right.
    You may even feel it’s worth contributing to the cost of consultants to defend the plan as it stands against an industry that has very deep pockets in other people’s trousers.

    • The reason they need to frack the wells is because the porosity and permeability is so low that the well won’t flow naturally. I therefore don’t undestand how you think a blowout might occur.

      • Al
        The potential for a blowout while drilling the shale is certainly negligible as there is nothing to blow.. However, once fracked the probability increases as the flow rates are then higher. However the consequence is a lot lower than for higher flowing conventional gas wells, or wells connected to a gas storage reservoir ( for example ).
        The lower flow rates for frac wells mean lower consequence for both ignited and unignited blow outs. Indeed, unignited blowouts ( or large leaks ) may cause more trouble than immediately ignited ones as the gas sets off to cause trouble elsewhere, especially if it is high in SO2.
        As noted in past posts, higher pressure gas and therefore risk is found post compression, ie in the UK gas grid and so far UK shale gas is not high in Sulphur Dioxide.

  3. Equally, blowouts have been a potential for the majority of wells around the world but the industry has become pretty adept at mitigating against. Shall we ban all vehicles as their tyres could possibly suffer a blowout? And, as for coal mining that will have to go-sorry, Mrs. Merkel.
    “Let’s ban everything we don’t understand” would even get rid of the wheel.
    I suspect any final plan will be more focused on getting it right, than on scaremongering. If it isn’t, it will be easy fodder for challenge and costs awarded if flawed. Remember who is the key exploration company here.

  4. Perhaps ‘blowout’ was the wrong terminology to use. However, the extraction and transportation of highy flammable methane requires the risk of fire or explosion to be mitigated against and planned for. Even mitigated against, the risk increases proportionately to the number of wells and wellsites. The safe distance from such an incident must surely have been identified by now, given the number of such events at fracking sites around the world. A ridiculous approach of saying ‘lets ban everything we don’t understand’ or ‘don’t worry, it’ll never happen’ (note Grenfell Tower) is nothing to do with sound regulation. Assessing and reasonably mitigating the risks of what we know about is the modern way of not killing vast numbers of miners or other workers in high risk industries, or even those that live close by. While some may condone lowly employees, miners, fracking site employees, nearby residents etc being dispensible, I don’t. And that’s why we’ve been promised sound regulation of the industry, in the same was that it’s been promised in every country where fracking is now commonplace. I wonder why our regulators and govt therefore refuse to use the evidence from those places?

  5. Oh well, that’s the Calor gas drivers out of a job then, Mike, and the UK poultry industry employing tens of thousands down the pan.

    Why is it the antis always fall back upon the very old, and tired, scaremongering that little old UK has no hazardous material to deal with now and therefore should not allow either on shore drilling for oil, or fracking for gas? You stated in an earlier post this plan is only part of the overall picture where many other agencies are involved, and that is certainly the case. If you think this plan will counter already examined and agreed principles I suspect you are in for a surprise. If it does do that, I think it will be a futile exercise because it will be overturned.

    Sound regulation, yes. But, when we have thousands working in the North Sea who are managing the same type of risks in much more difficult circumstances, and have been doing so for decades, I think you are trying to create demons where there be none. Every town I drive through contain. fuel stations dealing with highly flammable materials. Maybe some will be interested in donating funds to put forward such arguments but any of the commercial companies will have the experience to destroy such an approach. Ineos operating numerous refineries, chemical plants, gas/oil reserves, gas tankers etc. etc., will have all that at their fingertips, and the experts to detail it.

    • Neither I, nor the MWJP, is remotely interested in the regulation of Calor gas deliveries, egg or chicken production (should that be chicken or egg?) or any other industry/plant/petrol station that you try to deflect the argument with. Neither are we interested in offshore O&G production in places remote from most receptors and already regulated.
      I’m referring only to the production of a sound and valid MWJP. That plan needs to assess the risks involved with allowing the surface activity of the fracking industry to proliferate with a network of wellpads, built across every PEDL and rather close to large numbers of receptors, aka people, children, animals. It must then put regulations and conditions in place to ensure that those risks are mitigated against sufficiently to not kill, injure, unreasonably inconvenience or cause ill health to those receptors. Is that an unreasonable process/goal Martin? You say you approve of sound regulation – presumably you want that to include policing and enforcement? Isn’t that what the planning process is about – mitigating the potentially damaging effects of what one person or industry wants to do, balanced against the wants and needs of the people and places it will affect? Sometimes, however, we find the regulation fails to adequately address the risk (I’m thinking again of Grenfell Tower), so I’m hoping that the MWJP can strike the right balance and not be pushed back too far by the industry’s legal team – no doubt the best sombody else’s money can buy. Are you hoping for the same Martin? It’s all rather disconcerting to me, when those in authority refuse to take account of any existing evidence from the fracking industry worldwide. Doesn’t that mean we start from scratch and learn from future distasters, or compare the apples of a process new to the UK with the pears of North Sea production?
      Now onto your oft repeated word of scaremongering. How are you defining that Martin? Are you implying that I’ve been saying things that just aren’t true? Please be more specific and provide the essential evidence and proof to back this. Are you saying that the fracking industry worldwide never has and will not in future create a risk of fire, explosion, death, health problems, water and air contamination, birth defects and prematurity, heavy traffic, problems with waste water treatment and disposal? If that’s the case, why do we need any regulation? And why are so many intelligent, well educated and articulate people concerned enough to spend years of their lives in determined opposition? Don’t even get me started on the bottom line – climate change. Or people that put short term profit as their sole priority.

    • KatT
      Yes, it is best to get experts in for well blow outs that are out of control. This is a global approach, so nothing new for the USA. Indeed, as you can get the guys there within 24 hours and any equipment in a similar time frame, it’s better than having less trained and experienced personnel trying to deal with an ignited blow out.

      For the first link, yes, if it’s an ignited blowout and the on site team have done all they can to isolate the source of hydrocarbons but cannot, then you need Wild well or other expertise. It is good to see that local firebrigades are getting first responder training. Offshore you do not have this luxury, so the operators are trained in first response, and the experts arrive later.

      The second link looks like a flange leak while fracking and an uncontrolled release of frack fluid, not hydrocarbons per se. Hence the term, well control failure. There is an argument over there in 2011 as to which regulatory agency has primacy. The company say it seems that the spill did not reach a watercourse. Maybe there is more information on this incident….I must have a look.

      The third link is about a gas well, where it seems they had a pipe work failure leading to an ignited gas release. No drilling was in progress. Looks like a process safety incident which would not be an issue for Wild well etc, but one for the local operators and fire brigade, as is the case at a number of our gas Terminals in the UK ( and WYF ).

      All interesting stuff.

  6. Mike-why are you so interested in following others? If that was imperative the UK would not allow the Burka, and would still implement the death penalty!

    Just Giggling selected references from USA which are in most cases spurious in terms of science is not the solution. I know of many cases where fracking has been conducted, the results have been very successful, local populations have benefitted and the world oil price has declined, helping the most needy the most. Perhaps the “authorities” are aware of the same, and believe they can achieve those benefits and preclude any downsides? I do not see any scientific reason to ban fracking, even Scotland didn’t, the majority of the UK population don’t, but that is what the antis want. Not an effective control system but an excuse to ban even before small scale tests have been conducted, and the reason is obvious, as there is a fear that small scale tests could actually disprove the scaremongering and may even prove economics. For those of us who wish to see that we are labelled immediately as “investors” which just about sums up the silliness being used when the companies currently involved are largely insulated from that motivation. Another case of throw some mud and see if some of it sticks, and swing from scaremongering about huge industrialisation of the countryside, nuclear waste disposal and then back to it will be uneconomic! Those tactics are very obvious and have been tried already in N.Yorks. and have failed, and yes, I am an investor there so do know what I am posting about.

    You referred to 3 “problems” at KM which obviously were experienced also when the site was first established,( which many locals referred to as a sound development, good neighbours and with no significant issues when commentating during the planning process for fracking), and exactly the same “problems” seen currently during the building of a housing development a short distance from my property, and a solar farm built last year (although only a small rig there to thump thousands of supports into the ground).

    Yes, a control system but it will need to be balanced and based upon facts, not the one sided system you seem to favour to effectively preclude the process.

  7. While the anti facking protesters continuously refer to the impact on residents & local businesses. I have not seen any explanation of what these perceived impacts are anyone care to enlighten us

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