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. If the 10 pads in 100 sq km goes through this is effectively saying, with multiple laterals extending from each pad, that practically every field in the area can be fracked under. I find it hard to believe the NY planners have really considered the implications. Unbelievable.

  2. Alan
    What are the implications of fracking under many fields ( woods, houses, rivers, roads and so on ), as opposed to one or two?
    Clearly, the more well pads and wells per 100 sq km, the more traffic, emissions, visual impact and so on, but as what you do deep down does not have much affect on what is directly above the frack, I do not see what the planners have missed in this case.
    Unlike coal mining where taking coal out causes subsidence directly above the extracted coal ( such as lowering the Major Oak as was done a few times ).

    • From what little I know, Im aware that both drinking water was impacted for a period.. and a tremor occurred near Preston New Road. the number of chemicals plugged down there for the process.. good chance of infecting the actual water reserve. the evidence on health of new borns, in places long fracked, is also significant. Just a few of the concerns. Statistics I believe were gathered on medical anomalies in certain parts of the world. As a basic rule of thumb, ‘mess too much with nature, there are always repercussions’. whether they get noted later or earlier is the only variable.

  3. And, Alan, we have MPs like Julian Smith (Con, Skipton & Ripon) toeing the party line & saying that he sees no conflict between his stated positions of supporting both fracking *and* the tourism & farming industries in the area! Unbelievable.

  4. Funny how at least 0.5 BILLION TONNES of material is going to be taken from under the North Yorks Moors, and has all been agreed as being perfectly feasible, not conflicting with tourism or farming! Unbelievable.

    Sorry RG, but this whole area has already been discussed in great detail over the last decade and Julian Smith’s position has already been proven-indeed, there will be quite a few farmers becoming very wealthy from it and good jobs are already resulting. However, I do understand that the whole thing has to be revisited by some, but do expect others who have already been involved to use their experience gained. Believable.

    • In 2011 Cuadrilla hydraulically fractured the Preese all well in Lancashire. It went wrong. Substantial seismic activity and a damaged well. The fracking treatments that caused those events used less than 10,000 cubic metres of fluid.

      In 2015 a new ‘rule’ is added to the infrastructure act saying that less than 10,000 cubic metres is now not a frack.
      So any development after 2015 using the same volumes as Preese Hall is now not a fracking development.

      The industry is running scared.

      It can’t face the problems that fracking shale would bring so it hides. It avoids EIA’s and HRA’s whenever it can and now hides behind legislation that came into being purely to cover the mistakes it has made and will continue to make.

      The ‘Gold standard’ it preaches is obviously worthless as the industry already seeks to avoid recognising the fact that low volumes of fluid can cause serious issues (as noted in the official report for DECC)

      The industry is no match for a well organised community. Every step of the way the industry has been met by people determined to protect their health their environment and their assets.

      Shale will fail regardless of how the planning system is manipulated.

    • The potash mine is one site, albeit large, that will create 1000 permanent jobs and by use of an underground conveyor system the impact of HGV traffic will be greatly reduced. The potash mine received hundreds of letters of support, many from people living in the local communities. Compare that to a fracking site every mile or so, dotted across the countryside. Each site causing noise, light pollution, heavy HGV traffic, disturbance, contributing to climate change and creating very few permanent skilled local jobs. Fracking brings a heavy industrial process and pollution close to communities and impacts far more people. The people that oppose fracking are not anti everything, they oppose fracking for very sound reasons. I am sure had the potash mine development been opposed, you would have just accused locals of being complete NIMBYS and of being anti everything.

  5. Fracking’s opponents are engaged in damage limitation in seeking to put strong limits on this toxic industry: what we really want is a ban on fracking. What the industry want is a toothless plan that allows them to do what they like, wherever they like, and maximise their profits. Any enforced limits on them hurts the bottom line. Why should fracking be allowed carte blanche in areas protected from industrial development in the Ryedale Plan? And fracking is the most heavily industrial activity Ryedale has ever known: huge HGV movements, high air pollution as soon as workover rig got to work at km8, lights at night time that can be seen over 5 miles away in an otherwise dark country area. To name just 3 we already have from our first frack pad. Increased incidence of low birth weights near fracking sites await us unless decent set back distances are set in stone, if evidence from a million birth certificates in Pennsylvania is a reliable evidence of similar risks here. Fracking has huge opposition locally and nationally amongst all sections of society, and very little support. 2018 will be the year we sink fracking, economically and politically.

  6. The majority nationally in the UK do not oppose fracking, so perhaps best to start with that as a starting point rather than manipulated data.

    What the industry wants is a standard form of controls across the country which allow them to develop within those controls in a timely manner to reflect the investment they make in acquiring the authorisation to do so. You just want it banned, or to conduct illegal activities to prevent it happening.

    What will stop fracking is if the process is uneconomic, but that will only be established if test fracking happens-so, it will. Naming “just 3” which obviously occurred in the past when the site was first drilled will only get the wider public thinking that new Nimbys have moved in since, who should have conducted searches more thoroughly.

    Perhaps Pennsylvania should spend some time investigating the influence of nutrition upon birth weights? Just as likely. May even be possible the huge fall of snow upon Pennsylvania recently had nothing to do with fracking either-but some will say different. That’s Giggle for you.

  7. So, one anti posts “damage limitation” and another picks up the baton that it is fact! Ahh, now I see how fake news is made.

  8. Well done John. Admitting communities will protect their assets. Yes, paid the money straight into their Barclays accounts, ready to operate the direct debits for the higher gas and electricity bills being received. Meanwhile until the injunctions kick in the communities will have to put up with the antisocial behaviour of those largely from outside their communities but not for much longer.

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