The UK’s biggest shale gas company has been given leave to take action in the High Court to enforce access to the National Trust’s Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire.
INEOS Upstream wants to carry out seismic testing in the Grade I historic park as part of its exploration for shale gas in the East Midlands.
The National Trust, which has refused access, has accused INEOS of failing to follow the “proper planning process”. It said the company had not demonstrated why the surveys were necessary. Friends of the Earth accused INEOS of “bully-boy tactics”.
INEOS said in a statement today the Oil and Gas Authority, acting for the Government, had granted permission for the case to go to the High Court.
A judge could force the National Trust’s to allow access for INEOS’s surveys.
Lynn Calder, Commercial Director of INEO Shale said:
“Legal action has been the last resort and we have used powers which prevent landowners from blocking projects which benefit the wider community and the nation as a whole. These surveys are both routine and necessary across the UK, including on National Trust land.
“The National Trust’s position is very disappointing as we have had positive relationships with a range of stakeholders and landowners during surveys. We have addressed a variety of stakeholder concerns in the past and are sorry the National Trust wouldn’t even have discussions with us in this case owing to a political objection to shale gas.”
The National Trust responded:
“Our founding principle is to protect the beautiful places in our care, and we believe Ineos has not yet followed the proper planning process, which would involve them fully considering the potential environmental impacts.
“Clumber Park is a Grade I listed park and gardens, much of which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and visited by over half a million people each year. In our view, Ineos haven’t demonstrated to the Trust why it is necessary to carry out any surveys here or addressed our other reasons for refusing to grant access.
“We have no wish for our land to play any part in extracting gas or oil. We are already seeing the impacts of climate change at many of our places, and we have launched a programme to dramatically cut our own fossil fuel usage at our properties.
“We’re disappointed by the OGA’s decision but due to the legal status of the case we can’t comment any further at this stage.”
Guy Shrubsole, Friends of the Earth campaigner, said:
“A huge fracking firm suing the National Trust to test for shale gas within the historic Sherwood Forest area will make people wonder what is sacred anymore.
“The spirit of Robin Hood will be bridling at these bully-boy tactics. INEOS’ fracking activities threaten to industrialise our green and pleasant land and people everywhere will be horrified.”
Clumber Park covers about 3,800 acres, much of which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It is home to internationally-protected species including bats, woodlark, nightjar and great crested newt.
In January, the park’s general manager, Beth Dawson, wrote to INEOS, saying:
“We cannot prevent you from taking legal action, but I do also believe that you are reasonable people who recognise how much we as a nation love our countryside and heritage.
“That’s why I’m asking you to reconsider your approach and withdraw your application to survey at Clumber Park.”
At the time, INEOS responded that it was “happy to visit” but the legal action would continue.
In a document to Nottinghamshire County Council, INEOS said it had excluded other SSSIs from the seismic survey area. That document also excluded Clumber Park.
In January, DrillOrDrop asked INEOS whether it planned to carry out seismic testing in the Clumber Park SSSI. The company did not respond. We’ve put that question to the company again today and will update this post with any response.
We also asked what would be the total survey area in Clumber Park if the SSSI were excluded. INEOS did not respond to this question either and we’ve asked it again.
“Long-term potential of shale”
INEOS repeated today that seismic surveying was regarded as “non-intrusive”.
Lynn Calder said the company’s “continued investment in shale represents the confidence that it has in its long-term potential”.
If shale proved to be successful, she said, it would provide the UK economy with “highly competitive energy” and “enormous levels of investment and jobs in the North of England where they are desperately needed.”
She said “recent figures” estimated that the shale industry was expected to bring in £33 bn of investment into England in the next two years.
This figure is from a 2014 report by EY, itself based on a 2013 study by the Institute of Directors using US data and assuming 4,000 wells. More recently, a 2016 report for the cabinet office suggested only 155 shale gas wells were likely in the UK by 2025 (DrillOrDrop).
- INEOS is already involved in two public inquiries over planning permissions, due to start in May and June, as well as possible case in the Court of Appeal over its injunction against anti-fracking protests. It is also seeking a judicial review against the Scottish Government over its ban on fracking.