The UK’s biggest shale gas company, INEOS, has suffered another vote against its exploration plans.
A packed public gallery at Rotherham Town Hall this lunchtime watched as councillors unanimously opposed the company’s application for a vertical coring well in the village of Woodsetts. See DrillOrDrop live updates
This is the second unanimous vote against INEOS by Rotherham councillors in six weeks. It means that all the company’s schemes going through the planning system have now been opposed by local authorities. It brings to five the number of onshore gas applications rejected by planning authorities this year.
At Woodsetts, a local campaign group submitted a 76-page objection to the INEOS scheme. After the meeting, members said they were “elated” and “thrilled, thrilled, thrilled” with the result.
Woodsetts Against Fracking spokesperson, Richard Scholey, said:
“By the turn-out you can see the overwhelming support and the passion with which people spoke. It means so much. People feel we are fighting for our community and our way of life.”
INEOS said this afternoon it was disappointed by the vote. It said its application, to take core samples, was no different from those drilled by the coal industry locally in previous decades. It also said the shale gas industry could bring energy security and lower fuel prices. (See full statement below).
“Bigger picture is petrochemicals”
The company did not ask for permission to frack. But its application said INEOS depended on a supply of raw materials for its chemicals business. And speakers at the meeting appeared in no doubt that they thought the Woodsetts scheme was a precursor to fracking for shale gas to supply INEOS plants.
Mr Scholey said:
“There is a bigger picture here. The shale gas industry is not about keeping the lights on, as Theresa May keeps saying. It is about making money for the petrochemicals industry.”
He said of INEOS:
“This is a company that came to the north thinking they can roll on through and we are a small community that cannot stand up to a large company. We have proved them wrong.”
Rotherham councillors voted in line with the recommendation of planning officers to refuse the application on ecological grounds. The officers said there were deficiencies in surveys submitted with the application on bats, breeding birds and badgers. They were also concerned about the lack of evidence about possible impacts on ancient woodland 25m from the site.
Councillors also added a second reason for refusal: the impact on highway safety of the increase in heavy goods vehicles. Planners had said these issues did not justify refusal.
“We’re ready for the inquiry”
Woodsetts against Fracking expects INEOS to appeal against the refusal and the application to go next to a public inquiry.
INEOS has already appealed against Rotherham Borough Council over its failure to decide a similar scheme at the village of Harthill by the target date. Another appeal is underway against Derbyshire County Council for the same reason over the company’s shale gas plans for the village of Marsh Lane.
Deborah Gibson, of Harthill Against Fracking, attended the meeting and said afterwards:
“The councillors were totally unanimous in their decision on Harthill and they were totally unanimous for Woodsetts.
“I think INEOS is running out of places to go.
“We are ready for the inquiries for Harthill and Marsh Lane. We expect this decision will go to an inquiry and it looks as if Woodsetts are ready too.
“It gives me heart. We feel we are right in the middle of all this.”
A spokesperson for Frack Free South Yorkshire, said:
“Once again, a Minerals Authority that understands its own area and the wishes of its people has rejected exploration for shale gas. There is an increasing demand for a sustainable and clean energy system locally and across the UK to meet our carbon targets and stave off the consequence of global warming. And that means greater efficiency and more cost-effective renewable energy and storage. Shale gas and fracking will not achieve that.”
“Victory for local democracy”
Chris Crean, of Friends of the Earth, said:
“This is an example of what local people can do to stand up to this dirty industry. This is a victory for local democracy.
“It’s deeply significant that Rotherham Council rejected a second INEOS test drill application in as many months.
“Along with Derbyshire’s rejection of the Marsh Lane application last month and Rotherham Council rejecting the Harthill application in January, which now makes three INEOS applications rejected by local councils in short succession already this year.
“Surely it’s time for would-be frackers to accept that this risky technology is not needed, not wanted, won’t address the challenge of climate change, and their best bet is to stop throwing good money after bad, and invest in popular, clean energy alternatives instead.”
Also this year, Lancashire County Council unanimously opposed Cuadrilla’s shale gas fracking plans for Roseacre Wood near Blackpool on traffic grounds. At Cheshire West and Chester, councillors voted to refuse IGas plans to test a gas well at Ellesmere Port.
“INEOS has not covered itself in glory”
There were moments during today’s meeting when discussions verged on bad temper.
Minutes before the vote, INEOS’s operations director, Tom Pickering, said he wanted to make some extra points.
But the planning board chair, Alan Atkins, said:
“I am chairing this meeting and I am chairing. INEOS has not covering itself in glory over this application or the last one. I am not having anyone ride roughshod over our planning.”
Earlier, the meeting heard that INEOS believed further ecological surveys would not alter the company’s approach to mitigation.
One member of the planning board accused the company of “cutting corners”. He retracted his comment when Mr Pickering interrupted saying:
“You need to be very careful about the accusations you have made.”
Cllr Clive Jepson, who represents Woodsetts on the borough council, said the community had been “subject to bullying by INEOS” and the company had shown “how not to carry out a public consultation”.
“INEOS Shale is disappointed by the news that Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council officers have refused the application for test core drilling at Woodsetts. We feel that that the plans presented offer the right amount of ecological mitigation as part of what is straightforward application. The fact that a majority of external statutory consultees agree that this is the case, exemplifies this point.
“The application allows for the drilling of a single vertical core bore well to gain scientific knowledge of what is below the surface, which has been agreed by many Councils many times in the past to support the coal industry. This is no different. It is important to note that a completely separate application must be made for the extraction of gas.
“Shale gas is a resource that is of strategic importance to the UK and issues of energy security always have to be factored in. As last week demonstrated, the UK’s energy supply is in a much weaker position than many believe, with sudden adverse weather events bringing the UK to the brink of running out of gas. Not only does this have a knock-on effect on industry, there is the real potential that domestic consumers will be unable to heat their homes in times of energy stress. Shale gas is offering us the potential to have our own native natural gas industry, strengthening our security of supply and making us less reliant on countries such as Russia or the middle East.
“Rotherham relies on manufacturing jobs at places such as at Liberty Steel, but these are not secured or created without investment and there is precious little investment in the North of England in manufacturing at the moment. Recent figures on jobs and investment estimate that the shale industry is expected to bring in £33 billion of investment into England alone over the next two decades. Furthermore, shale gas offers the potential to bring down energy prices. High energy costs are badly affecting businesses up and down the country and was one of the reasons cited in the recent near closure of Liberty.
“The resources beneath our feet can be used to create jobs, heat our homes, go a long way towards self-sufficiency and improve our balance of payments and the environment all at the same time.”