Regulation

Planners back IGas test proposals for Ellesmere Port gas well

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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.

Background

Ellesmere Port Portside well site

IGas site at Ellesmere Port (outlined in red). Source: IGas planning application

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.

Objections

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.

Key issues

Explosives business

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”.

Health

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.

Wildlife sites

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.

Conditions

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.

IGas reaction

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” 

26 replies »

  1. Fantastic news. And, guess what? Almost next door there is an ammonia/fertiliser production plant that desperately needs a low cost, secure, domestic feedstock. I hope iGas every success in this venture and I hope that they sell the gas to CF Fertilisers in order to secure hundreds of jobs and create hundreds more new jobs too.

        • repeat after me….The company has not sought to carry out high volume hydraulic fracturing or any deepening of the existing well

        • Jack

          Interesting stuff

          The linked article speaks mainly to the problems of dealing with drill cuttings and NORM. There is a fleeting comment on waste frack water at the start, where it notes that wages such as drill cuttings, flowback, produced water, scale and filter socks are not suitable for ordinary landfills.
          Certainly produced water and frack water is not suitable for popping into a landfill site, if indeed anyone does or did.

          The UK has been dealing with the waste from drilling HC wells for many years, likewise NORM and produced water.

          High volume fracking brings a new set of problems, but I do not think the article talks to that risk.

          • Haven’t they drilled a lot deeper than planned hewes62 (for some reason)? Looks like iGas may be exploring several potential zones, and the Bowland shale interleaves with the Pentre Chert as well – in some places. Meanwhile I’ve seen acid washing described as a form of fracturing (by a petro-chemical source/site), to stimulate by opening fractures or etch/dissolve pathways for gas to flow. I’m not making a big deal of it but some pressures have to be involved to counteract the pressures, and sometimes the heat found in deep wells. All interesting stuff.

            • Phil
              Yes, they drilled through the coal measures and shale to the Pentre Chert, although I expect they were interested in the shale as well. I guess they planned to drill for it to see how deep it was.

  2. well, assuming the question about jobs is serious – (I was going to put an image from Google Maps here, but it seems I can’t post an image?).

    Perhaps this link will work?

    https://www.google.co.kr/maps/place/CF+Fertilisers+UK+Ltd/@53.297565,-2.8231376,13z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x487ae14869c32a89:0x295dd3237236c07!8m2!3d53.2826862!4d-2.7913802

    You “should” see CF Fertilisers mid-left of the map. From the left of this map, on the south bank of the River Mersey, round past Runcorn, is the remnants of what was the second biggest chemicals manufacturing site in the UK. To the left of CF Fertilisers is Essar Stanlow refinery and round towards Runcorn is the remnants of the large ex ICI works. The decline in chemicals manufacturing that has set in since the mid 1980’s in this area is almost 100% due to the cost of gas. Up to the mid 1980’s ICI and other companies had access to huge amounts of cheap gas as a feedstock and as a fuel. since back then, the industry has shrunk and moved to areas of the world where the cheap gas still exists. A notable region is the south eastern United States where there is a massive, unprecedented increase in petrochemicals and down stream manufacturing taking place as a result of their tight gas development programme. Prior to the tight gas becoming available, the industry over there was suffering like our has (but not so badly). The point is, given plentiful, cheap gas resources, the industry WILL come back to the region. UK jobs will be created, UK taxes will be paid and imports will fall as UK made chemicals again become a major export earner for the UK economy. Just like they were for maybe 70 years in the 20th century but are no more. The UK is actually very, very good indeed at this stuff. It is highly regulated, safe and employs highly skilled and highly paid people both indirectly and directly. If iGas anmd others are as successful as I hope they are, the impact on the regional and UK wide economy could be truly transformational. Just like it has been/is going to be in Texas and Louisiana.

  3. Jolly good although planning officers don’t count for a lot these days as in the case of Wressle but a tick in the right box nevertheless.

  4. I think you will find Jack that this application is not for fracking, as indicated in Ruth’s text. I know it is confusing when the anti organisations quoted are anti fracking ones, but that is quite normal.

    • Not factually correct Martin … Ruth states “The company has not sought to carry out high volume hydraulic fracturing ” – that’s not the same as fracking per se. I think you’ll find what they’re looking at is acid fracturing of the deep limestone formation. Easy to get confused though.

      Jack may have jumped the gun on this on the wastewater issue but if the iGas explorations indicate further potentials for gas extraction then HFHV could well be on the table next – or even coal-bed methane extraction (an even riskier prospect).

  5. Great to see that “the Parish” have their own climate change agreement. That’s local planning on a big scale 🙂

    • I know you were being ironic AI (sarcastic even?) but yes it was good to see them take those climate change commitment seriously, as I imagine all councils are obliged to – at least pay lip service to – as appeared to be the case here. Pity they couldn’t bare more teeth on that front. In America it’s amazing to see how many cities, states and councils have defied the edicts of Donald-of-Orange and declared their ongoing allegiances to the Paris Climate agreements.

  6. Yes , I would expect companies like Igas will be very careful not to use the F WORD, where possible, in any application, as they know this is a nasty word which brings the wrath of the public against them. ( re- Igas Barton Moss )

    BUT you, me and every man and his dog knows that in the real world with controversial/ objectionable applications of ANY sort . ……. To get approval , the application MAY start small, offering ” sugar and spice and all things nice ” to the public . Then in the future , the goal posts are moved .

    WILL THIS BE SUCH A CASE ???

    As far as jobs go Fred , well we know that Caudrilla are expecting to employ 11 full time staff , how many of them will be security guard jobs ?? We are certain the hundreds of jobs will not be created by Igas. As far as jobs in the chemical industry go , what you are quoting is pure speculation and guesswork on your part.

    Although I do agree, it would be nice if hundreds of well paid jobs could be created with a large company relocating , or starting up in the area .

    • Let’s call it a guess then eh? What I have told you about the decline of the North West downstream industry is 100% correct, any one from the area will confirm. It is all about the gas price and the availability.

      You have the gas? Then new companies will come and existing ones will invest and grow. It is a fact that tight gas resources are transforming the economic outlook for many parts of the USA and industry is being re-shored back to the US from overseas as the US is now a low cost, plentiful gas source.

      The knock on effect of these developments is actually multi faceted and large, since indirect employment resulting from increasing economic growth and prosperity is seen in all parts of the economy. Hotels and restaurants do well. Shops can move up market and new ones move in. House builders have more work. Gardeners have more gardens to tend. Car dealerships sell and service more cars. Folks use a decorator rather than do it themselves. Women who return to work use a nursery etc….. All this is true.

      A bit nearer to home, in the UK, there are indeed signs that US tight gas is even encouraging regrowth and investment in the industry. In the UK and in Europe. INEOS is investing in bringing on line mothballed capacity at Grangemouth and there are plans for investment at INEOS Oxides in Hull too (yes, Hull is connected to Grangemouth by a pipeline). Sabic at Teesside is also upping production at its olefins plants too. Early signs, but they are based on tight gas derived ethane imports from the US. This is good news. But – IF iGas (Cuadrilla etc) were to be successful in growing a significant UK on shore gas industry I think it is a pretty safe guess that this growth will be multiplied across the UK centres of chemical production. Everyone will benefit from economic growth and prosperity. That’s how it works.

  7. If the goal posts are to be moved, then the company has to apply again to do so. Sorry, trying to scaremonger that something today will mean something different tomorrow is just speculation, and your logic would be likely to prevent any marriages occurring within the UK! Now, that would reduce employment by a long way.
    If more capacity is required to treat waste water, it will get treated via more capacity being added. The 300 extra houses in my village will require increased capacity for waste treatment, so that’s what will happen. There will not be raw sewage running down the street. Extra employment resulting will depend locally on what is required to achieve that extra capacity. Every part of the UK, and every industry, deals with these issues every day of the week.

  8. Acid frack, 80 days of flaring, benzene, people, wildlife and an explosives factory nearby … what could possibly go wrong? Can I buy the movie rights? 🙂

    • Phil

      According to plan, there is an acid wash, in Chert, not limestone ( which would be below the chert ).
      The wash is below the fracture pressure so is not fracking.
      Should they wish to frack the chert later for that or another well, we shall find out in due course I guess.

  9. Movie rights..
    Apparently Martin gets hit [edited by moderator] by one of the 1000 vehicle movements, witnesses said he didn’t see it coming. A bit like everything else that goes on in his reality, even the driver said he looked ‘a sheep at the wheel’.

    • ‘A sheep at the wheel’ hehe … sounds quite Aardman-esque. Did you mean ‘asleep at the wheel’ Frederick? That would be more Martin-esque.

  10. Yes , I agree Martin ,

    Planning permission would be required if the goal posts were moved …… BUT as most of the public and probably all on this forum will be aware.

    ONCE the first leap is acheived and initial planning permission granted , the inching of the goal posts is a much easier process….. Then and only then do the public really get to see the true colours of the beast , by this piont , it can almost be impossible to stop ..

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