Planners have recommended approval of plans by IGas to test its gas exploration well at Ellesmere Port, despite more than 2,000 objections and a warning about a nearby explosives business.
In a report published today, officers at Cheshire West and Chester Council said the proposals would “not give rise to unacceptable adverse impacts on the natural environment and human health”.
They recommended members of the council’s planning committee grant planning permission when they discuss the application next week (25 January 2018).
But they acknowledged that a nearby explosives facility could see its capacity “significantly reduced” if the gas well were approved.
IGas welcomed the recommendation this afternoon.
The IGas well at Portside North was drilled in 2014 to a depth of more than 1,900m. DrillOrDrop reported in August 2017 that this was about 1,000m deeper than the figure given for the average depth of the well in the original planning application.
But the planners’ report said today that the well was drilled in accordance with permissions from the Oil & Gas Authority, Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive.
IGas now wants to test gas production in the Prentre Chert rock formation at a depth of 1,795-1,849m. If approved, the scheme would involve more than 70 days of flaring and a total of nearly 500 heavy goods vehicle movements. The company has not sought to carry out high volume hydraulic fracturing or any deepening of the existing well. DrillOrDrop report on the application
The council had said the testing plans did not require an Environmental Impact Assessment. This was challenged in a request to the Communities’ Secretary. He confirmed on 5 January that he did not consider the proposals to be EIA development.
The planners’ report said there had been more than 1,400 objections, though opponents of the scheme said earlier this week the figure has topped 2,300. 1,044 people had signed a petition against the scheme.
There were also objections from Frack Free Upton, Ellesmere Port Frack Free Community, Friends of the Earth, the Cheshire Branch of the CPRE and Food and Water Europe.
The reasons for objections included:
- No meaningful public consultation before submission of the application
- No updated environmental impact assessment to take account of the change from coal bed methane to shale gas
- Insufficient and inaccurate information provided with the application
- Potential impact on the Mersey Estuary designated wildlife sites
- Risk of air and water pollution
- Impact on health of local residents
- Noise disturbance
- Failure to accord with the Parish climate change agreement
- Contradicts the council’s guidance on oil and gas development
- Unacceptable cumulative impact from other developments
There were two comments in support who complained about what was described as distorted facts and a “vociferous ill-informed minority” campaigning against the application.
There were no objections from Natural England and the Environment Agency. An environmental permit for the proposed operation was issued in November 2017.
The IGas operation, if approved, could put a nearby explosives business in jeopardy, the report said.
The Health and Safety Executive had commented that if planning permission were granted the Explosives Inspectorate would review the licence of the explosives facility.
This review may result in the facility’s explosives capacity being significantly reduced, possibly putting its commercial viability in jeopardy, the report said.
The planners said any commercial impact would be “time-limited”.
The report said:
“It is considered that there are no immediate impacts on human health given the site’s location 600m from the nearest residential property in an established industrial area on an existing wellsite.”
It said noise and air quality impacts would be more far reaching.
Noise from road traffic was expected to be limited and noise from the operation was expected to be mainly from flaring during the Drill Stem Test. This would be time-limited and could be subject to appropriate conditions, the report said.
The council’s environmental protection officer said the level of benzene from the flare during the Drill Stem Test was higher than expected. The officer recommended “comprehensive air quality monitoring” during the operation.
The Ellesmere Port site is close to important wildlife sites, the Mersey Estuary Special Protection Area (SPA), designated for birds, and the Mersey Estuary Ramsar site, designated for wetland wildlife.
The report said the council concluded there would be “no adverse significant effect, either alone or in combination upon the conservation features and integrity of the Mersey Estuary SPA and Ramsar site”.
Benefits of mineral extraction
The planners said “great weight” was given to the benefits of potential mineral extraction that may arise from the tests.
The tests comprise a Drill Stem Test, initial analysis of hydrocarbon composition and flow characteristics, and an extended well test, looking at the flow characteristics for a longer period.
The report recommended 10 conditions on any planning permission. These include a three-year limit on the development, air quality monitoring and controls on lighting, noise and working hours.
In a statement this afternoon, the company said:
“IGas is pleased that the Planning Officer has recommended that Chester West and Chester Council’s (“CWaC”) Planning and Licensing Committee grant planning consent for the application to carry out further tests on the rock formation encountered in the Ellesmere Port-1 well, drilled in late 2014, called the Pentre Chert, including a flow test, to better understand the volumes of gas it contains.
“IGas was granted the required environmental permit by the Environment Agency in November 2017.
“IGas businesses have been drilling wells and producing oil and gas safely and in an environmentally responsible manner for over 30 years and we will continue to uphold the highest standards in the future.
“The Company will await the Councillors’ decision on this application currently scheduled for 25 January 2018.”
Planning committee meeting
The meeting of Cheshire West and Chester Council planning committee starts at 4pm on 25 January 2018, in Room G1, HQ Building, 58 Nicholas Street, Chester, CH1 2NP. Link to meeting agenda
A short march and demonstration by Ellesmere Port Frack Free and Frack Free Dee Coalition starts at 3pm at Chester Town Hall, Northgate Street, Chester CH1 2HJ and finishes at the council headquarters.
- Planners in Rotherham today recommend refusal of the INEOS application for a shale gas well at Harthill. Also today in Lancashire planners recommend refusal of the Cuadrilla proposals to drill and frack at Roseacre Wood. Links to DrillOrDrop reports on Harthill and Roseacre Wood.
17/1/18 Edit to change the number of days flaring to “more than 70”