This post has live updates from the opening day of the public inquiry into plans by Ineos for shale gas exploration in the Derbyshire village of Marsh Lane.
Ineos is seeking to drill a 2.4km deep vertical coring well using a 60m rig on land off Bramleymoor Lane. The company appealed against what it said was an unacceptable delay to the decision on the application by Derbyshire County Council. The council voted by nine to one to oppose the application.
The hearing in Chesterfield, is expected to last for eight days. It will hear from representatives of Ineos, Derbyshire County Council and the local campaign group, Eckington Against Fracking.
Reporting from this inquiry has been made possible by individual donations from DrillOrDrop readers.
Key issues from Day 1
- The expected nighttime drilling noise would be at least 17 decibels above the present background levels, says council expert
- Nighttime noise at the four nearest properties to the drilling rig would have a significant adverse impact, the council says
- Council witness says limits on development nighttime noise should take account of the background levels.
- Ineos says the British Standard which proposes this method has been rejected by three planning inquiries
- Residents tell the inquiry the scheme breaches their human rights
3.40pm: Inquiry adourns
The inquiry adjourned early because two council witnesses were not available this afternoon. It resumes at 9.30am tomorrow (Wednesday 19 June 2018).
3.18pm: Re-examination of council noise expert
Richard Kimblin QC (right), for Derbyshire County Council, reviews the evidence of Keiran Gayler (left).
Mr Kimblin ask Mr Gayler what are decision-takers meant to do under the planning guidance. Mr Gayler says it is to establish appropriate nighttime noise limits at noise-sensitive properties.
Which is more useful, the National Planning Policy Framework or the PLanning Practice Guidance on Minerals, Mr Kimblin asks. The Guidance, Mr Gayler replies.
Mr Kimblin asks whether there is anywhere that says do not use British Standard BS4142. No, says Mr Gaylor. Nor does it say use World Health Organisation limits (as Ineos has done).
Mr Gayler says the guidance requires nighttime noise to be kept to a minimum, below an absolute upper limit of 42db.
Mr Gayler had told the inquiry he relied on BS4142 to assess industrial noise at nighttime. This takes account of the level of background noise. On the Preston New Road fracking inquiry, the inspector did not refer to BS4142, Mr Gayler said.
2.34pm: Cross-examination of council noise expert
Gordon Steele, barrister for Ineos, cross-examines Keiran Gayler, the noise expert for Derbyshire County Council.
Mr Steele puts it to Mr Gayler that he is here because the planning officers did not object on noise grounds.
“You are only here to voice the opinions of the councillors who objected to the scheme despite the advice of their own officers, aren’t you?”
Mr Steele asks how many times has Mr Gayler appeared as an expert witness in a minerals case. Mr Gayler says he has not previously appeared. “You have no experience of exploratory drilling”, Mr Steele says. Mr Gayler says he has experience of noise effects but not of exploratory drilling.
Mr Steele puts it to Mr Gayler that the National Planning Policy Framework allows for short-term noise disturbance. The issue is unacceptable adverse impacts on human health, Mr Steele says. There may be adverse impacts, Mr Steele adds. Mr Gayler agrees.
Any unacceptable noise should be mitigated at source, Mr Steele adds. He says planning policy gives great weight to the benefits of minerals extraction and allows for higher levels of noise than might be allowed for other developments. Mr Gayler says this doesn’t necessarily apply to the Ineos scheme.
Mr Steele says planning policy requires that daytime and evening noise limits should not be more than 10db above background levels. On nighttime noise, he says planning policy does not set a relationship to background levels. This is because background levels are not relevant, Mr Steele says. He says the key issue is sleep.
Mr Gayler says sleep is one issue, not the only one. He says the guidance says nighttime noise should be reduced to a minimum to avoid adverse impacts.
Mr Steele says planning guidance requires that that the maximum limit for nighttime noise at a noise-sensitive property does not exceed 42db Mr Gayler agrees.
Mr Steele suggests that British Standard 4142, on which Mr Gayler relies, were shown not to be relevant, then his evidence would be irrelevant and his conclusions could not be relied upon. Mr Gayler agrees hypothetically.
Mr Steele refers back to the inspector’s report on the Preston New Road inquiry. This said the British Standard, on which Mr Gayler relies, did not apply to the Preston New Road site. That was the single most important sentence in the whole decision, Mr Steele suggests. Your evidence flies in the face of that ruling, Mr Steele adds. Mr Gayler said the British Standard 4142 is the appropriate way to assess nighttime noise at Marsh Lane.
You think the inspector at Preston New Road was wrong, Mr Steele suggests. It doesn’t set a precedent, Mr Gayler says.
Mr Steele refers to the view on noise at the Harthill inquiry. Mr Gayler says noise was not a reason for refusal at that inquiry. He did not rely on BS4142 either, Mr Steele says. Mr Gayler says there is no reference in the inquiry report on whether BS4142 applied. It misses an important of the noise environment, Mr Gayler adds. This is an assessment that would have been useful that has not been undertaken, he adds.
Mr Steele says another appeal decision, for Calow, also did not rely on BS4142. This means three appeal decisions have ruled on this issue. Mr Gayler says BS4142 is the method for assessing industrial sound at nighttime. This allows the assessment of issues other than a threshold level. This is the way I approach the issue, he says.
Mr Steele says the issue of tonality by a condition. This means it would be incorrect to add 2db to take tonality into account. Mr Gayler says the ability to deal with tonality by engineering means is no reason to ignore it at this stage.
Mr Gayler is asked about whether be a reduction in noise if there are windows, rather than walls on the facing side of a house. He says he hasn’t seen the models and can’t say. “You’re an expert”, says Mr Steele, “help me out. I don’t understand these things”. Mr Gayler says there could be a reduction in noise of about 3db but it would depend on orientation.
Mr Gayler is asked about whether the nighttime noise would be long-term or short-term He replies that three months of nighttime noise at 17db above background is a long time. He accepts that the proposals comply with the World Health Organisation guidance and Planning Practice Guidance Minerals.
Mr Steele puts it to Mr Gayler that it would be an unreasonable burden to install an acoustic fence for the period of nighttime drilling. Mr Gayler says there is no evidence before him to make that judgement.
1.59pm: Council noise expert
Richard Kimblin, for Derbyshire County Council, introduced Keiran Gayler, the council’s noise expert.
Mr Gayler says the Minerals Practice Guidance says mineral planning authorities should take account of the existing noise levels and what effect the noise from a development would have on the area.
He says Ineos focusses only on the World Health Organisation guidance and the maximum level in the Minerals Planning Practice Guidance. He says this ignores the impact against the existing noise environment. This is particularly important at Marsh Lane because it is a quiet rural area.
This misses the reality of the situation because the maximum guideline noise limit will be much higher than the existing noise. One of the nearest properties, has a nighttime noise limit of 24 decibels. There are not many locations that would be quieter than this, Mr Gayler says.
Guidance requires industrial noise should be compared with the existing background environment, he adds. The proposed maximum nighttime noise limit of 42db expected by Ineos does not do this, Mr Gayler says.
10 decibels above the background level is considered a significant impact, Mr Gayler. says.
At the four nearest properties, nighttime noise would have an adverse significant impact, Mr Gaylor says. This is above the unacceptable level, he adds.
Any nighttime noise above 42db would be unacceptable, Mr Gayler says.
Referring to the inquiry into drilling and fracking at Preston New Road in Lancashire, Mr Gayler said the inspector there concluded that 35db should have been the lowest-observable nighttime noise level.
At Marsh Lane, Mr Gayler says this should be 24db. The limit that would avoid adverse impact would be 35db, he says, or about 10 db above the current background level.
Mr Gayler says most planning authorities would not allow developers to operate machinery, even for a three month period, at 20db above background levels. Generators and refrigeration units, for example, are not permitted to run at these levels, he says.
Planning guidance says there should not be an unreasonable burden on a developer. But Mr Gayler says this is not designed to prevent unacceptable impacts on the quality of life of nearby residents. He concludes there would be an impact on residents from the noise of nighttime drilling.
1.55pm: Inquiry resumes
The inquiry resumes at 1.55pm.
12.42pm: Derbyshire County Council opening statement
Richard Kimblin QC, barrister for the council (above), describes the application.
The council will argue that Ineos has taken a misconceived approach on nighttime noise. The increase above the background limit is not acceptable, Mr Kimblin says.
The authority does not agree with Ineos’s stand that it is unreasonable to require it do more to mitigate nighttime noise levels. The impact would be significant adverse at several homes. The Ineos assessment has been carried out to suit the company, he says.
The Ineos highway assessment does not consider safety of horse riders or other road users.
On the green belt, Mr Kimblin says the development would cause harm and is therefore inappropriate development. The visual amenity of green belt is an important part of assessing the value of the landscape, he says.
No adequate consideration has been given by Ineos to alternative sites for the exploratory well, Mr Kimblin says. A substantial proportion of the licence area is not in the green belt, he says.
The planning balance is firmly against this exploratory well, Mr Kimblin says.
12.33pm: Eckington Against Fracking opening statement
David Kesteven, chair of Eckington Against Fracking, says there are so many people attending the inquiry because they don’t believe Ineos will go away “and leave us in peace” after drilling the well.
Tom Pickering, for Ineos, has stated it is feasible that the site may be suitable for appraisal or production, he says.
The well could be restored after six months – rather than four and a half years – if it were not for the listening well operation.
Mr Kesteven says there should be little weight to temporary. Anything that is considered acceptable because it is temporary should be regarded as unacceptable.
If the proposal were in the playground of the primary, it would be unacceptable. If it were in a brownfield site with direct access from the M1 it would have been harder to fight.
Eckington Against Fracking will present eight witnesses to show it is not acceptable, Mr Kesteven says. The site is too close to homes. There should be 400m of separation. We are looking at the nearest which is 262m away.
He likens the site to hanging a motorbike from a crane in a quiet field and leave it running for three months.
“I think you’llundertand why we say that this is environmentally unacceptable.”
The site is in the Green Belt. It is on top of an active badger sites. There will be no local jobs or community benefits. If they find gas it must close in 30 years to meet our climate targets. This is not sustainable in any rational definition.
Mr Kesteven says:
“This is not about keeping the lights on but about supplying feedstock and energy to the UK’s biggest factory owned by the UK’s richest man.”
He says the inspector should give little weight to the word benefit of fossil fuels.
The one person who supported the application, the chair of the mineral planning authority, criticised Ineos for “disgraceful” behaviour, Mr Kesteven says.
12.28pm: Ineos opening statements
Gordon Steele QC, barrister for Ineos, says the application does not include fracking. Any objections based on fracking are not relevant, he says.
We only seek permission for what is applied for. It is for a very limited timescale. The development is entirely reversible.
Mr Steele says evidence will confirm that council officers do not object on traffic or transport grounds. Council officers do not object on green belt grounds. Nor do they object on noise grounds subject to conditions, he says.
I submit the proposal is strongly supported by the development, all other material considerations and the latest written ministerial statement.
11.12am: Public statements
12.24pm: Public statement – Cllr Michael Gordon
Cllr Gordon represents people living in the area on the local district council. He says it is a rural area and three homes are within 500m of the proposed site.
For three months of the proposed development, the noise levels will be around 42 decibels. This is a significant increase in noise level. It will be a change in the noise environment. It will make it different for people to sleep. There are number of people in Marsh Lane who work night shifts.
Public statement – letter from Mary Robertson
The letter read to the inquiry cites damage to a home where fracking is being carried out.
Public statement – Cllr Anthony Richardson
Cllr Richardson, a member of Dronfield Town Council. He also operates a business in Coal Aston on the proposed traffic route.
Cllr Richardson says part of the route in Coal Aston has a very narrow pedestrian pavement. It ends where the road is at its narrowest. Two buses could pass only if one mounted the pavement. Pedestrians have to cross the road at this point. The quality of local life would be diminished by the Ineos application.
12.13pm: Public statement – Mark Watford
Mr Watford, a resident of Marsh La lorry driver, says he objects to the plans.
He says his son is being treated for chronic lung disease. We moved to Marsh Lane to its open spaces several years with less road pollution to give our son a fighting chance, he says.
We are now extremely worried about our children’s health because we know about the effects of air pollution on young lungs.
Who as a parent can put their child to bed and think they are safe when they are drilling in a mined areas, he says.
He also objects on the proposed traffic route. It passes 10 schools, he says.
Mr Watford, a lorry driver, says the route is not suitable because in places the heavy goods vehicles would need to cross the central white line. The vehicles would be passing cyclists, horse-riders and motor cyclists on their way into Derbyshire.
This is a breach of our human rights not to know we are safe in our homes, not to be able to enjoy our gardens and the wildlife around us, to have this industry imposed on us.
12.06pm: Public statement – Cllr Angelique Foster
Cllr Foster, chair of Dronfield Town Council, is speaking on behalf of residents of Dronfield. The town council has opposed the application because of the impact of extra traffic on local roads. She says the council disagrees with Ineos’s statement that there will be no highway effects.
Cllr Foster says the council has recorded traffic samples on the proposed route. More than 6,000 vehicles pass the site in an hour, she says. There is also an issue of speeding and near-misses.
Ineos proposes to removed street furniture and a street refuge to accommodate the heavy goods vehicles. This is unacceptable, Cllr Foster says.
Village groups, of varied ages and capabilities, use the road that would be part of the lorry route. Children use the refuge to cross the road.
The application should be classed as having a high impact on homes and should be considered on this basis, she says.
12.01pm: Public statement – Cllr Alex Dale
Cllr Dale, a parish, district and county council for the area which includes part of the traffic route to the Marsh Lane site.
Cllr Dale says one of the junctions is difficult and unsafe. It is made worse by bus services and an increase in heavy goods vehicles would exacerbate it further.
He says the proposal would force local drivers onto two alternative roads. They are already narrow, with poor visibility and accident-prone and the knock-on increase in traffic would have a concerning impact on them.
He asks what would happen in the event of potential road closures. Diversion onto alternative routes would be totally unacceptable, he says.
11.55am: Cross-examination of Lisa Hopkinson
Gordon Steele, barrister for Ineos, puts it to Ms Hopkinson, the company is not proposing to frack or extract shale gas. Ms Hopkinson agrees.
Ms Hopkinson says Ineos has argued that exploration is an integral part of the production process. If energy security is to be taken into account then climate change is an important consideration, she says.
Mr Steele says the Harthill inquiry inspector ruled that the near-identical proposal would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Ms Hopkinson says other issues were not addressed at that inquiry.
The inspector asks the audience to respect the right of people to hold opinions they don’t agree with.
11.42am: Public statement – Lisa Hopkinson, Transition Town Chesterfield
Lisa Hopkinson says Ineos has argued that energy security should be considered at the proposals. But when it comes to climate change the company has not considered the impact of gas production. The appellant cannot have it both ways, Ms Hopkinson says.
The energy at the Harthill inquiry gave considerable weight to energy security and this inquiry may do the same. But if it does, the inquiry should also consider the climate change impacts of shale gas production.
Fracking is unlikely to reduce the country’s reliance on coal, which represents 7% for electricity generation, Ms Hopkinson says. A national grid study suggests that even with high shale gas development the UK could be more reliant on gas imports. To practically extract the amount of gas to meet this scenario would require more than 3,000 well pads.
The country should be investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency, she says. Developing home grown shale gas could increase dependence on imported supplies, Ms Hopkinson says. The inspector should not give weight to the issue of energy security she adds.
Likely fugitive emissions from shale gas make it no better for the climate than coal. This issue is exacerbated in old coal mining areas, such as north east Derbyshire, Ms Hopkinson says.
Development of shale gas is not consistent with the UK carbon targets unless three tests are met. None of these tests are likely to be met, Mr Hopkinson says. This should be considered by the appeal, she says. The potential climate impacts of the future development should be given significant weight.
11.42am: Cross Examination of Derek Ross
Ineos barrister, Gordon Steele, asks whether it would be sensible for the company to stop work if the road was closed. Mr Ross says it depends on how many vehicles will be on the road when an incident happens.
11.28am: Public statement – Derek Ross
Mr Ross is a resident of New Whittington, 1.5 miles from the proposed development.
He says his 18-year-old son was injured at a junction that the Ineos traffic will use to Marsh Lane, half a mile from the proposed site entrance. His son’s car rolled over three times when another car pulled out in front of him. The police were surprised that his son came out of the car alive.
He says the CrashMap data records 32 police-attended crashes on this stretch of road. The actual figure is likely to be higher, Mr Ross says. The police do not attend all accident.accidents.
Mr Ross says he has driven the route daily for 32 years. I have seen the near-misses, drivers on mobile phones, frustrated motorists stuck behind cyclists or farm traffic,he says.
He says he is lucky that his son and that he and his wife have escaped accident. The route is littered with hazards, he says, including a mini-roundabout, over-hanging hedges and trees and three garden centres with difficult exits used by the day by the elderly. This stretch of road is a death trap and make adding heavy goods vehicle traffic incomprehensible.
If his son had collided with a heavy goods vehicle he would probably have died, Mr Ross says.
Mr Ross says Ineos vehicles could be one every 10 minutes at peak times. The increase of 90% is not moderate, as Ineos suggests, Mr Ross says. To overtake a horse on part of the proposed lorry requires lorries to cross on to the other side of the road on a bend, he adds. Horses cannot use the grass verge in this section because there is a 4ft ditch, Mr Ross says.
Mr Ross describes “as rubbish” that the application is to provide energy. Let us not kid ourselves that Ineos will provide us with much-needed energy, he says. This is for Ineos’s own needs to produce plastics, he says. This proposed development is bad for our community and our environment. He asks the inspector to reject the development.
People in the public gallery applaud.
Inspector, Elizabeth Hill, says “these are quasi-judicial proceedings. We will have no more applause”
11.23am Cross-examination of Robert Street
Ineos’s barrister, Gordon Steele, cross examines Robert Steel on the issue of listening wells. Mr Street says he considers an Environmental Impact Assessment should have been carried out for a listening well.
Mr Steele says the county council and the Secretary of State have decided no EIA is needed for the Marsh Lane application. Mr Street says he would question whether they had considered the implications of a listening well. Mr Street says it is for the inspector to determine the matter.
Mr Steele asks whether Mr Street accepts the EIA decision by the Secretary of State. Mr Street repeats it is not for the Secretary of State to decide the application at the inquiry.
Mr Street accepts that drilling elsewhere in the area would need a planning application.
11.12am: Public statement – by Robert Street
Mr Street is speaking as a resident of Dronfield and a member of Coal Aston and Dronfield Against Fracking.
He says he wants to address the issue of cumulative impact. He says the inspector had decided the inquiry would not consider cumulative impact. Mr Street says he does not agree with this decision. The inspector says the inquiry would not consider what the application might lead to.
Mr Street says planning legislation requires cumulative impact to be considered for unconventional oil and gas applications. It is supported by Energy Minister, Richard Harrington, Mr Street says, at a Westminster Hall debate. Sites should not be considered in isolation, Mr Street adds.
Planning practice guidance on onshore oil and gas exempts exploratory phase development from consideration of cumulative impacts, Mr Street says. But the guidance defines exploration as acquiring geological data and drilling vertical and directional boreholes. A listening well, which Ineos proposes in the Marsh Lane application, does not fall within this definition, Mr Street says.
It cannot be considered a stand-alone development and cannot be considered in isolation, Mr Street adds.
Ineos proposes to drill and then suspend the vertical well at Marsh Lane for future use as a listening well. Mr Street says further drilling operations are proposed by the company within a 1,000m area of the listening well so there is therefore cumulative impact. The listening well work is 90% of the time needed by the Marsh Lane project. This application does not fit the exploratory definition and listening wells are not exempt from the cumulative impact requirement.
11.10am: Inquiry resumes
The inquiry resumes at 11.10am when it will hear from some members of the public.
10.30am: Main issues
The inspector, Elizabeth Hill, says the key issues are:
- Whether the development is appropriate in the Green Belt
- Impact on living conditions of nearby residents in terms of nighttime noise
- Impact of site traffic on rural roads
She says members of the public have mentioned many other issues, which she will also consider.
10am: Inquiry begins
The inquiry inspector, Elizabeth Hill, opens the inquiry.
The inquiry hears that Ineos is represented by Gordon Steele QC. Derbyshire County Council is represented by Richard Kimblin QC. Eckington Against Fracking’s case is led by its chair, David Kesteven. The group says it will be advised by a barrister later in the inquiry.
Ineos says it plans to call 13 witnesses. Derbyshire County Council will call four witnesses and Eckington Against Fracking nine witnesses.
The local Conservative MP, Lee Rowley and a former MP for the constituency, Harry Barnes, are also expected to give evidence. The inquiry will also hear from representatives of Friends of the Earth and the Campaign to Protect Rural England, along with about 25 members of the public.
The inspector says she has already visited the site but will make an accompanied site visit during the inquiry.
9.30am: Public take their seats
The Market Hall in Chesterfield Assembly Rooms begins to fill up. About 150 people take their seats.
9am: Campaigners gather
A rally against the Marsh Lane plans gets underway outside the Assembly Rooms in Chesterfield.
Speakers include James Eaden, of Chesterfield Trades Council, Nathalie Bennett, former leader of the Green Party and Chris Crean, campaigner with Friends of the Earth.
Reporting from this inquiry has been made possible by individual donations from DrillOrDrop readers.