This post has live updates from the closing of the public inquiry into plans by Ineos for shale gas exploration in the Derbyshire village of Marsh Lane. Today’s session will hear more on conditions and the final arguments from Derbyshire County Council, Eckington Against Fracking and Ineos.
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 at the inquiry on the grounds of traffic, noise and harm to the Green Belt.
The hearing in Chesterfield is now on its eighth day. You can catch up on news on the inquiry at DrillOrDrop’s Marsh Lane inquiry page
Reporting from this inquiry has been made possible by individual donations from DrillOrDrop readers
- Ineos says its Marsh Lane scheme should be approved because it is supported by the local development plan, government policy and other “material considerations”
- Derbyshire County Council says the Marsh Lane plans will have substantial effect on the openness of the Green Belt and is inappropriate development with no “very special circumstances to excuse the harm”
- Eckington Against Fracking says the scheme should be refused on traffic grounds alone. Shale gas and tourism cannot co-exist. The listening well plans turn the proposal into appraisal as well as exploration.
- Ineos says it is not seeking costs against the council
12.45pm: Inquiry closed
The inspector thanks people for their time and submissions.
She says she will not accept any more documents on the appeal.
Ineos confirms it is not seeking costs.
11.55am: Ineos closing statement
Gordon Steele, the Ineos barrister, begins his closing arguments. He says there are 49 pages.
Mr Steele says Ineos is seeking only an exploration and listening well. Concerns about fracking are not relevant, he says.
He says the proposal should be allowed because there is a presumption in favour of oil and gas schemes in the development plan.
He says there is government support for shale gas exploration and production. Natural gas is absolutely vital to the economy, he says, and there are benefits from shale gas exploration. Mr Steele says great weight should be attached to government policy.
Mr Steele the inspector should rely on other regulators that the scheme can be delivered safely. The duration of the scheme is for five years – not very long at all – he says.
He says county council planners do not object to the scheme on traffic, Green Belt or noise grounds. He says the green belt will not be harmed in any way and that the site would be returned to normal.
The proposal is strongly supported by the development plan, government policy and other material considerations, Mr Steele adds.
Mr Steele says the company called a range of witnesses to address concerns of local residents.
He says Ineos witnesses are very experienced and credible.
The proposed rig is very straightforward, he says. There are many advantages to drilling at the proposed Bramleymoor Lane site.
“This is the best place to drill an exploratory well in PEDL300.”
Mr Steele says the nearby 1987 well makes “this makes the location not just ideal but unique in PEDL300 and in the East Midlands”.
Mr Steele says the company provided evidence that there was no justification for a health impact assessment. There was also evidence of sufficient surface water storage on site.
On noise, Mr Steele says the noise standard adopted by the council, which takes account of background noise, was not appropriate. Ineos has taken all measures to acquire a quiet rig, he says.
A limit of 42db will be translated to a limit of 27db at an noise sensitive property and would be lower if windows were closed. This could not conceivably cause sleep disturbance, he says.
“There is no justification for refusal on noise grounds”
He says Ineos stands by the limit of 42db for nighttime noise.
On badgers, Mr Steele says there are no active badger setts near the site. Mitigation would be in place when the development started, he says. The site would be surveyed for badgers just before development began.
Mr Steele says:
“There is no evidence before the inquiry of severe impacts.”
He says there is no reason to refuse permission.
Very special circumstances
Ineos does not accept there is encroachment on the Green Belt.
But it presented “Very special circumstances” to support the operation. They included the geological reasons for the well site and the support for shale gas exploration in the May 2018 Written Ministerial Statement.
Mr Steele says an Ineos witness accepted there was a technical breach of the local development plan through encroachment on the Green Belt but that the scheme complied with the plan as a whole.
Mr Steele says there should not be an unreasonable burden on Ineos to reduce nighttime drilling noise from the site.
He says there will no income from the site. A requirement not to drill at night or the cost of noise reduction equipment would be unreasonable, especially when the proposed noise limit meets World Health Organisation limits, he says.
Mr Steele says the likely cost of drilling would be £6m. An additional expense of £2m would achieve a modest reduction for three months. But this would be unreasonable. No nighttime working would cost £2m and reducing noise from the top drive would be £1m.
There would also be safety issues from preventing nighttime drilling, Mr Steele says.
He urges the inspector to accept a nighttime noise limit of 42db.
Mr Steele says great weight should be given to the approval of shale gas exploration at Common Road, Harthill. This is also in the Green Belt and a very similar scheme.
Mr Steele says the inspector at that inquiry ruled that shale gas exploration was not inappropriate development in the Green Belt. There was no previous development at Harthill, he adds.
Mr Steele says the duration of the Marsh Lane scheme – five years -is also relevant.
Critique of council case
Mr Steele says council officers advised before the inquiry that the traffic reasons for opposition should be dropped. It was a “firm opinion, not wishy-washy”. Independent consultants says there were no reasons for objecting the inquiry.
Mr Steele says two councillors who gave evidence on traffic had limited knowledge of the proposed lorry route.
Mr Steele says council officials did not oppose the application on noise grounds.
He says a noise consultant for the council relied on a British Standard which Ineos opposed. That standard took into account the background noise level. But Mr Steele says previous appeal judgements on oil and gas sites did not use this British Standard but instead relied on the standard used by Ineos.
There is no possible reason for objection on noise grounds, Mr Steele says, particularly because of the duration of the development and government support for shale gas exploration.
He says the noise witness did not have experience of oil and gas developments.
Mr Steele says the council’s proposed condition for a nighttime limit of 35db. This was unreasonable, he adds.
Green Belt impact
Mr Steele says the inquiry must consider the duration of the development and the fact that minerals can be worked only where they are found.
He adds that the council’s witness is not a properly qualified landscape architect. The evidence was a “desperate” attempt to oppose the development, Mr Steele adds. County council officials who are experienced in landscape did not oppose the development
Critique of Eckington Against Fracking evidence
Mr Steele says he welcomes the contribution of local people to the inquiry. But he says the Eckington Against Fracking group is opposed to fracking. All concerns about fracking are not relevant to the inquiry, he says.
Detailed criticism by EAF of the noise monitoring amounted to “not very much” and was not relevant, Mr Steele says.
EAF traffic evidence did not take account of a review by AECOM that addressed previous criticism, Mr Steele adds.
Mr Steele criticised an EAF witness for posting online concerns about the effect on horse riders from site traffic.
He adds that concerns about venting on the nearby airfield were dismissed. He says there is no possibility of venting
Mr Steele describes the local MP as an unsatisfactory witness. He refused to answer questions, Mr Steele says, and it was inappropriate to introduce new evidence during re-examination.
Mr Steele dismisses evidence of Professor Peter Styles (not an EAF witness) because it related only to fracking, he says.
Every single aspect of the application has been subjected to. The action group should be thanked for putting the application to that test.
Evidence concludes beyond doubt that policies in the development plan show that the scheme should be approved.
Government support should be given great weight.
He says the application should be granted consent.
The inquiry resumes at 11.55am to hear the closing statement from the Ineos barrister, Gordon Steele QC.
1.05am: Derbyshire County Council final statement
Richard Kimblin, barrister for the council, tells the inquiry the main issues are:
- Impact of nighttime noise on local people
- Impact of development traffic on the safety and convenience of the highway
- Effect of the development on the openness of the Green Belt
- Whether very special circumstance outweigh potential harm to the Green Belt
Mr Kimblin says the scheme will add many sources of noise into the open countryside and nearby homes.
He says the area is tranquil. People who chose to live in Marsh Lane did so for that reason, Mr Kimblin says.
It was unfortunate, he says, to have an arid technical debate about standards. It would have been simple and straightforward for Ineos to have agreed that all the guidance and standards.
“Ineos has “attached itself, limpet like, to an absolute standard of 42db (for night time noise)”
Mr Kimblin says the background noise level at night is very low. Nighttime noise from the development would be 13-19db above the background noise level, he says. This is substantially more than the 10db background standard in British Standard 4142.
Ineos argued that this difference was not significant because the noise source was not a fixed installation and for a short duration. Mr Kimblin says both are “misconceived”.
He says it is “extraordinary” that constant drilling of the 2.4km borehole does not amount to a fixed installation.
“It is not credible to content that the standard of assess industrial noise sources does not attach to a substantial motor operating an enormous machine.”
He says Ineos would apply the standard if the rig were in a building.
“It is a wholly vacuous and forensic point without any merit at all”, Mr Kimblin says.
“it is a game of seeking to distinguish guidance documents which should be understood to be there to assist decision-makers who fully understand the nature of the assessment being undertaken.”
He says this should not be a mechanistic process but an assessment of the likely effects of noise near where people live, work, rest and sleep.
The inquiry had heard that the council proposed using BS4142 to assess the impact of noise. Ineos disagreed.
It would be wrong to conclude that this standard – which compares background to development noise – has not application, Mr Kimblin says.
“It is self-evidence that the acoustic guidance is to be considered sensible, as guidelines, not tramlines, and applied intelligently, to the particular circumstances.”
There is nothing in planning guidance that do not apply BS4142, Mr Kimblin says.
There would be a “substantial increase of the raising noise level above the background and it would be a wrong step not to take that into account”, Mr Kimblin says.
Mr Kimblin says planning guidance requires developers to minimise the impact. The impact has to be understood with reference to the background. The Ineos approach makes no sense, Mr Kimblin says.
Ineos is seeking to gain the maximum flexibity for its commercial operation, Mr Kimblin says.
But he adds:
The Guidance does not provide for the developer to obtain the maximum flexibility. Rather, it deals with the concept of “unreasonable burden”. Its purpose is to protect people, not the operator.
Ineos accepted that it had not presented evidence to the inquiry on the cost of reducing noise.
All that was offered is that it would be operationally more difficult to start and stop the operation on a daily basis, Mr Kimblin says of Ineos.
Mr Kimblin says the British Standard on which Ineos relies on, BS5228, is not relevant to Bramleymoor Lane and reliance based “entirely on the annexes”.
Mr Kimblin says if the inspector approved the application she should impose a nighttime limit of 35db or prevent any nighttime drilling.
Mr Kimblin says the council’s traffic case is not based on expert evidence but “the longstanding experience of the members of its planning committee”.
They were concerned about the lack of public footpaths, the increased number of HGV traffic, the current evidence of vehicles running on on verges and the use of rural lanes by pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders.
Encroachment on the openness of the Green Belt would need “very special circumstances”, Mr Kimblin says.
The Ineos landscape evidence accepted that there would be “substantial visual effects over considerable distances”.
He says the impacts include:
- 8m of hedgerow would be removed for the access road
- Stripping of 2,700m3 of topsoil to create a 9,0002
- Bunding to a height of 2-5.5m
- 115m2 of car parking spaces
- Erection of 360m of security fencing to a height of 2m
- Creation of well head area measuring 400m2
- Erection of site cabins and storage
- 60m drill rig, visible up to 10km
Mr Kimblin says the site has a “particularly open character”.
“It is self-evident and obvious that the introduction of the industrial forms of development set out above would give rise to an unnatural landform and have an urbanising effect which results in substantial harm to the open character of the Green Belt. This harm increases to a greater level during the time that drilling rigs are present.”
Mr Kimblin says the buildings and the access road will be on site for most of the five-year development.
Mr Kimblin says:
“The exploration which is proposed here is not merely the bringing of a drill rig onto a site along with ancillary equipment for it to then be removed leaving a muddy patch in a field a few months later. What is proposed is a substantial piece of built infrastructure in the open countryside.”
He says the structures count as buildings under the legislatioin.
“It is plain that those buildings are inappropriate development in the Green Belt.”
Mr Kimblin rejects the Ineos suggestion that the inspector should follow the opinion of the inspector in the Harthill inquiry on a similar shale gas scheme also in the Green Belt.
Mr Kimblin the inquiry must consider alternative sites for the scheme. He says:
“The Appellant [Ineos] has the benefit of the PEDL licences over a very considerable area of land. PEDL 300 is itself very large but it is also contiguous with many other PEDL licences for which Ineos has the benefit.”
Ineos has not given evidence on alternative sites outside the Green Belt. He says Ineos made a “substantial and important error” by doing this.
He dismisses Ineos evidence that a borehole was drilled in 1987. Mr Kimblin says this borehole stopped at the top of the limestone – not the target three shales below that Ineos now seeks to explore.
“It is quite impossible to justify the location of this exploratory drilling exercise by reference to the 1987 borehole on the basis that the 1987 borehole tells you something about those deeper parts of the stratigraphy which is proposed to be explored. The point has no logic at all. The 1987 borehole does not provide any assistance because it simply did not go there.”
This is a “misconceived” and “desperate” point by Ineos, Mr Kimblin says.
Very special circumstances
Encroachment on the openness of the Green Belt requires “very special circumstances”.
Mr Kimblin says the shale is over a large area and a large area “cannot possibly be special, still less very special”.
Nor can government support for the industry be regarded as “very special circumstances”, he says.
The reality is that the Secretary of State has provided no relaxation in respect of the Green Belt for shale gas exploration. Rather, very substantial areas of land are available for exploration and within them normal planning policy principles apply.
Mr Kimblin says Ineos has not identified any special circumstances for Bramleymoor lane, except the 1987 borehole.
Mr Kimblin described the development
“It is a project which would bring with it substantial built development, as the application drawings show, which would persist on the land for a period approaching five years. The assessment of effects is largely uncontroversial. Those effects are equally substantial, both in the magnitude of the effect and the area over which the effects would be felt.”
He says there are very substantial areas of land are available for exploration, and within them normal planning policy principles apply.
Mr Kimblin adds:
The reality is that the Green Belt in this prominent and elevated area would be subject to a substantial impact upon its openness, and the purpose for which it was created, for a period of five years.
It is therefore inappropriate development in the Green Belt which does not benefit from any very special circumstances to excuse that harm, and any other harm which arises, such as the agreed landscape and visual impacts and any residual noise impacts which would remain.”
He says it is contrary to national and local planning policy.
“For these reasons, the planning authority invites you to dismiss the appeal.”
Applause from the public gallery. The inspector, Elizabeth Hill, says:
“Applause is not appropriate, unless you are to applaud the appellant in the same nature”
10.40am: Eckington Against Fracking final statement
David Kesteven, of Eckington Against Fracking, says the group had learned a lot from the public inquiry.
“We came here, unpaid and in our own time to win, to protect ‘out little piece of paradise’ from a voracious company who seek to exploit the previously inaccessible fossil fuel reserves under our land for their own profit.”
Mr Kesteven asks the inspector to dismiss evidence from Ineos on health, hydrology, well design, waste permitting, corporate strategy and geology.
The most chilling thing the community learned was about the listening well operation.
“We learned that this will be listening to the fracking of a horizontally drilled well on or within 500m of the proposed well pad.”
Mr Kesteven says it’s not right that Ineos has not included figures and drawings for this stage of the well, possibly on the same site.
Mr Kesteven says the proposal fundamentally conflicts with the local planning policy GS2 – not technically conflicts as Ineos says.
Local policy GS1 requires all development proposals to maintain or improve the quality of life of communities.
“I can assure you we do not feel that this is a development that will maintain our quality of life, let alone improve it. “
Mr Kesteven says the development would also conflict with policy GS6 because of noise and intrusion into the countryside.
Mr Kesteven says
“We have no wish to return to the scarred landscapes and scared health of the past. Not when the cost of wind and solar is falling and the cost of battery storage is plummeting.”
He says the group’s evidence shows that the scheme would not be environmentally acceptable.
Site and cost
Mr Kesteven says the reason for the selection of the site is all about cost. If Ineos were prepared to pay more they might be able to explore shale gas reserves outside the Green Belt. They have made a choice not to, he says.
Ineos say it is unreasonable to reduce the noise from drilling at night to below 42db, but they don’t live next door, Mr Kesteven says.
Mr Kesteven says the listening well proposal means the scheme is not exploratory any more.
It is appraisal and another local planning policy that deals with the development of oil and gas infrastructure should be considered, he says.
Mr Kesteven says the permissive attitude taken by Derbyshire County Council planners on traffic issues was based on false data. He says:
“Now we know that the listening stage will generate as much traffic again, this is no longer a stand-alone development.”
Peaceful area and nighttime noise
Mr Kesteven asks the inspector to remember the noise of a motorbike on a local road during the site visit.
Please imagine that noise continuing through the evening and then into the night and all night for three months, he says
Mr Kesteven adds that the community does not believe that the noise will be the hum of a fridge.
“We don’t believe that they can drill in that field and we can sleep simultaneously. It will make us ill then, it’s making us ill already.”
Mr Kesteven says there is a clear hazard to the nearby airfield from the 60m drill rig directly in line.
He says the group has proposed conditions to try to keep the airfield open but should the listening phase come about the listening well would be near or closer to the airfield, with a flare stack making operation of the airfield impossible.
Mr Kesteven refers to a strategy for the area promoting sustainable jobs in tourism. Ineos said the two industries could co-exist and that the shale gas scheme would not intrude into the landscape. He says:
“Commonsense will tell you that the shale gas industry and tourism cannot co-exist and anyone who says differently is on their payroll.”
Written Ministerial Statement
Mr Kesteven complains that Ineos had raised this issue in the re-examination of the planning witness, Stephen Bell, when the opportunities for more questions was over. He asks:
“Is this normal or accepted behaviour at a public inquiry?”.
He says the WMS said there was a national need for domestically sourced shale gas. But shale gas was not included in the Clean Growth Strategy or a report on energy security, he says.
Mr Kesteven says there are no carbon capture and storage scheme sin the UK, even though this is needed to meet climate obligations according to experts, he says.
He adds that gas processing facilities would be significant in cost, size and environmental impact and would be compulsory to meet the correct specification for gas to enter the national system. But Ineos says the Marsh Lane scheme is the first step in acquiring domestic fuel and feedstocks.
“With this in mind the WMS says nothing of relevance in respect of this planning appeal”
Mr Kesteven says the timing of the WMS was interesting. It was published five days before the deadline for proofs of evidence yet it had been quoted at length in the written evidence of an Ineos witness.
Mr Kesteven says:
“If I had the same outlook as Mr Harry Barnes, our ex MP who spoke on coal mines, I’d say we’ve been nobbled.”
Mr Kesteven says he hates to be called a NIMBY. But to win planning issues, the local concerns are the only ones that count.
He says concerns go beyond Marsh Lane and local traffic issues. They also concern climate change.
The UK government has a legal obligaiton to meet its CO2 emission targets. It does not have a legal obligation to support the plastics industry, Mr Kesteven says.
Mr Kesteven adds:
“It has been an interesting experience watching well paid experts arguing over our little patch of paradise: trying to work out what is meant by harm, encroachment, temporary.”
Mr Kesteven urges the inspector to make the “right decision and dismiss the appeal.”
Applause from the audience.
10.40am: Closing submissions
The inspector invites people to make closing arguments. Eckington Against Fracking go first.
10.32am: Payment for road damage
The council solicitor says the authority wants to replace a formal legal agreement with a voluntary payment from Ineos. This would cover repairs to roads for damage from the development’s delivery vehicles. The solicitor says condition would fund any highway work needed.
10.21am: Condition on restoration and aftercare
The company and council continue to disagree on this condition. The council wants more detail on the landscaping when the site is restored. It wants the land to be returned to pasture. The company does not agree the wording and says part of the condition is not needed. It said yesterday what would be planted should be up to the landowner.
10.18am: Nighttime noise condition
Ineos wants a nighttime noise limit of 42db. The council is proposing 35db. Eckington Against Fracking wants no nighttime drilling. The inspector is to make the final decision on this condition.
No agreement has been reached on whether vehicles visiting the site should have white noise alarms. Ineos says this isn’t justified. The council says that the alarms are often fitted as standard to heavy goods vehicles.
9.55am: Inquiry resumes discussion on conditions
Ineos says it is ready to proceed on conditions. The council and the company discuss revisions to around 50 conditions that would be imposed if the scheme were approved.
Eckington Against Fracking asks for an diversion route in case of an emergency.
Agreement is reached on the height of hedges near the site entrance.
The inquiry adjourns until 9.55am for the parties to talk about revisions to conditions.
9.33am: More on conditions
The inquiry hears that agreement has been reached between Ineos and the council about some conditions discussed yesterday. Gordon Steele, barrister for Ineos, says the company side has not received the revisions.
9.30am: Inquiry resumes