A formal complaint has been made to Cheshire Police against the exploration company, IGas, over the eviction of a protest camp from land earmarked for drilling.
Chester resident, Ben Dean, argued that the eviction from the Dutton’s Lane site at Upton in 2016, at a cost of about £500,000, was unnecessary.
He said he has evidence that before the eviction IGas was no longer planning to drill for coal bed methane in the licence area.
Cheshire Police confirmed the force was looking into the complaint. Sgt Eleanor Atkinson said:
“I can confirm that Cheshire Constabulary have received a complaint in relation to this matter which is currently being reviewed.”
IGas has disputed the basis of Mr Dean’s complaint.
A protest camp occupied the Duttons Lane site in April 2014.
The residents had promised to leave the camp and clean up afterwards when the planning permission for coal bed methane exploration expired on 27 May 2016.
But in November 2015, IGas went to the High Court for an eviction order.
The eviction on 12 January 2016 involved 175 police officers from four forces, at a cost to Cheshire of £200,000. It resulted in 11 arrests. Mr Dean estimated the court costs totalled around £300,000.
Just over three weeks after the eviction, IGas issued a statement, on 5 February 2016, saying that it no longer planned to drill for coal bed methane at Dutton’s Lane, following the results of seismic surveys. IGas statement 5th February 2016 (pdf)
The statement said:
“Having considered some early results from this recently-acquired 3D seismic survey and following a review of its coal bed methane exploration work programme in the area, IGas has concluded that the sites at Duttons Lane and Salters Lane do not meet its criterial for commercial CBM development. IGas has therefore decided not to progress with these CBM exploration wells under the current planning permissions.”
The Cheshire Police and Crime Commissioner, John Dwyer (left), demanded IGas pay the policing costs of the eviction (DrillOrDrop report).
But IGas refused. Its chief executive, Stephen Bowler, said:
“We could not have made this decision and communicated our intention to key stakeholders, including the council, any earlier than we did.”
IGas confirmed to DrillOrDrop that this remained the company’s posuition.
Mr Dean’s complaint to Cheshire Police centres on whether IGas knew the area was uncommercial for coal bed methane before the eviction.
His evidence is a witness statement by a former IGas executive, submitted in an unrelated case at the High Court. Mark Youngs witness statement 26 October 2016
Mark Young, the then Technical Director, said IGas’s technical department began a review of coal bed methane prospects after the takeover of the Dart Energy group. The acquisition was announced in May 2014 and completed in December 2014 after approval by the Competitions and Markets Authority.
Mr Young said in his witness statement:
“IGas was concerned as to the viability of further CBM prospectivity, based on its experience in respect of other licences held within the IGas group of companies.
“The preliminary results of this review indicated that prospectivity was insufficient to justify solely focussing on CBM exploration on PEDL189 [the Upton licence area] and other licence areas.
“As a result, IGas focussed primarily on evaluating the shale gas exploration opportunity for these licence blocks.”
Mr Young said 3D seismic surveys of the area had been carried out in September-November 2015.
In September 2015, more than three months before the eviction, IGas was discussing plans to switch to shale gas with the licence regulator, the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA). Mr Young’s witness statement said:
“We discussed possible changes to the programme with the Oil and Gas Authority at a meeting on 23 September 2015, which I attended. At this meeting, OGA was supportive of our proposed plans to change the emphasis to shale gas exploration.”
He said IGas had another meeting with the OGA on 16 December 2015, a month before the eviction, at which proposed variations to commitments in 13 licences, including the one covering Upton, were discussed. The meeting also talked about a preliminary report on coal bed methane prospects.
These two paragraphs were a key part of Mr Dean’s case. DrillOrDrop put them to IGas. A spokesperson for IGas said:
“You have selectively quoted from Mr Young’s witness statement. I would point you to the following comment also made in the witness statement:
‘The OGA requested that the preliminary CBM prospectivity report should be completed and published, which was completed in April 2016.’
“As the planning application at Duttons Lane was due to expire at the end of May 2016 we expedited the section of the 3D seismic data pertinent to the area which was already being reviewed as part of the CBM prospectivity report, which was completed in April 2016, an exercise we had undertaken following the acquisition of Dart Energy.”
Asked if the company wished to comment further, the spokesperson declined.
Ben Dean responded:
“The most important evidence is the preliminary CBM prospectivity report handed to the OGA at the December 2015 meeting. This must have advised the OGA that CBM was not viable. The planning permission that expired in May 2016 was for a CBM exploration drill to 800m only.
“IGas cannot say that I have selectively quoted from Mark Young’s witness statement. It provides conclusive evidence that the Upton Camp was not evicted to get a drill in. The drill was not arriving as IGas had no intention of implementing their CBM planning permission.
“It appears from Mark Young’s Witness Statement that IGas had no intention, as early as October 2014, to implement the CBM planning permission at Duttons Lane, Upton, Chester. After acquiring Dart Energy it was only interested in shale gas exploration. From Mark Young’s Witness Statement there is no other conclusion that could be interpreted.
“The eviction of the Upton Community Protection Camp was therefore unnecessary and at the cost to Cheshire West and Cheshire ratepayers.”
Mr Dean added:
“A 3D seismic survey does not provide information on prospectivity resources. To claim results from the 3D seismic survey were required to determine the viability of CBM prospectivity is an interesting interpretation of the 3D seismic survey results.”