The eight-day inquiry into Ineos shale gas plans for the Derbyshire village of Marsh Lane ended at lunchtime today.
The inspector, Elizabeth Hill, heard evidence from the company, Derbyshire County Council and the campaign group, Eckington Against Fracking.
Two QCs represented the council and the company.
The campaign group, Eckington Against Fracking, was represented for most of the inquiry by David Kesteven, its chair and a local gardener.
More than 30 members of the public spoke against the scheme, including the current and a former MP and the headteacher of the local school.
No-one, apart from Ineos witnesses, spoke in favour.
The inquiry concerned the first shale gas site in Derbyshire.
It was called because Ineos appealed to the Planning Inspectorate over what it said was unacceptable delays by Derbyshire County Council in deciding the application for a vertical coring well. Council officers had recommended the authority should not oppose the application at the inquiry but councillors voted by nine-one against.
The company wants to use a 60m rig to drill to a depth of 2.4km on land off Bramleymoor Lane. The purpose is to take samples of shale rock to assess whether the area is suitable for fracking. The Bramleymoor borehole would also be used as a listening well for nearby fracking. Ineos told the inquiry it was looking to source energy and raw materials for chemical businesses, including plastics, in the Ineos group.
In this review of the inquiry, we report on reaction from the three parties and look back on the key arguments and evidence from the past eight days.
A spokesperson for Ineos Shale told DrillOrDrop:
“INEOS Shale is disappointed that it was necessary for a Planning Inquiry to be held over the test drilling application at Marsh Lane – the kind of application that has been approved across England countless times before. However we are pleased to have an opportunity to discuss the science of the application and keenly await the decision of the Inspector.”
In an interview with local reporter Eddie Bisknell, Lynn Calder, Chief Executive Officer, Ineos Shale, attending the final day, said:
“We’re just standing here at the end of the two-week public inquiry from Bramleymoor Lane core well. We’re still a little bit disappointed that we had to sit in a room for two weeks, to take some core from the ground to test the geology. We don’t really think that helps anyone, dragging it out. We’d love to be back in the community talking about the development with a bit more data than we have today.
“But we’re also very pleased to have been given the opportunity to give our scientific case over the last couple of weeks and we’re also pleased that the local community had the option to have their say to the extent that they did. So hopefully, you know, everyone feels quite happy about that and now the decision is in the hands of the planning inspector.”
Asked if she was optimistic as she had been before the start of the inquiry, she said:
“Yes absolutely. We don’t want to pre-empt any decisions, obviously, and the decision is now with the planning inspector and we will respect her decision, but, yes, we feel that it has gone well.”
Derbyshire County Council
A spokesperson told DrillOrDrop:
“All parties at the public inquiry have put their case forward to the inspector and now we must wait for the inspector to weigh-up all the evidence put before the inquiry and reach a decision on whether or not the proposed development should be allowed to go ahead.”
Eckington Against Fracking
A spokesperson said:
“The appeal was about a planning application for an exploratory and listening well. The site is in the wrong place and too close to homes, schools and businesses.
“This well is a precursor to the development of massive industrialisation for the delivery of hydrocarbons that we do not need.
“A government-backed report on the security of energy supplies for the next 25 years modelled that the risk to security of supply was low.
“We need our children and grandchildren to become doctors, nurses, mental health practitioners, therapists, engineers, bricklayers, electricians and joiners, in well-paid, skilled jobs that secure our country’s sustainable needs. We don’t want them to be predominantly hgv drivers, moving toxic waste, silica sand and chemicals in order to serve an industry that is not sustainable and is toxic to humanity in many ways.
“We send a message from the many, not the few. This country belongs to the people, not the corporate giants that wish to ravish and pillage the north for the pockets of the few.”
Key issues and evidence
The Bramleymoor Lane application proposed using the borehole as a listening well for fracking elsewhere.
Ineos revealed during the inquiry that the fractured well would be within 500m of Bramleymoor Lane.
Eckington Against Fracking described this news as “chilling”. Ineos said the inquiry could deal only with shale gas exploration but EAF said the listening well meant the application was also for shale gas appraisal.
Ineos maintained that the scheme would not encroach on or be inappropriate development in the Green Belt. The company said the Green Belt would “not be harmed in any way”. It cited inquiries for oil and gas schemes at Harthill in South Yorkshire and Bury Hill Wood (Leith Hill/Holmwood) in Surrey. But if the inspector ruled that it was inappropriate development, then the company argued there were very special circumstances that outweighed any harm to the openness of the Green Belt. These included the geology of the site and government support for shale gas exploration, the company said.
Derbyshire County Council said the Marsh Lane scheme would harm the openness of the Green Belt. It would have an urbanising effect and introduce unnatural landforms. There were no special circumstances that outweighed this harm, the council said, particularly because shale rocks cover a very wide area. The Marsh Lane was inappropriate development in the Green Belt, the council concluded.
Eckington Against Fracking urged the inspector to protect what it called “our little piece of paradise” from harm and encroachment. The group said Ineos had chosen a site in the Green Belt because land was cheaper there. It had made a choice not to use non-Green Belt land, the group said.
Derbyshire County Council said there was no evidence before the inquiry that Ineos had considered sites outside the Green Belt, even though nearly half the exploration licence area, PEDL300, was non-Green Belt land.
Eckington Against Fracking witness, the local MP, Lee Rowley, said an executive of the oil and gas industry organisation had said drilling could happen in urban areas.
Ineos said this was “extremely prejudicial” evidence and should not have been raised. It said discussions with landowners about alternative sites were confidential and commercially-sensitive. The company said geologically the Marsh Lane site offered the best prospect of finding shale gas in the licence area. It could data from a former well drilled in 1987 alongside the site.
Local planning policy
Ineos evidence accepted there would be a “technical breach” of the local development plan which included a policy to protect and enhance the Green Belt. But the company maintained that overall the Marsh Lane scheme complied with the Development Plan.
Eckington Against Fracking said the proposal conflicted with local policies GS1, GS2 and GS6 that seek to protect the Green Belt, enhance the life of communities and limit noise and intrusion.
Derbyshire County Council also argued that the development was contrary to local planning policy.
Government support for shale gas
Ineos says great weight should be given to government support for shale gas, particularly the Written Ministerial Statement (WMS) issued in May 2018. This stressed the need for domestically-produced shale gas.
Derbyshire County Council said the WMS did not change policy or relax restrictions on development in the Green Belt.
Eckington Against Fracking said the Government did not refer to shale gas in its clean growth strategy and the fuel was not included in predictions on energy security. The group said the WMS was not relevant to the inquiry. The group said the UK government had a legal obligation to meet CO2 emission targets but no obligation to support the plastics industry.
Both sides accepted that the area around the Bramleymoor Lane was quiet and peaceful, particularly at night.
Derbyshire County Council said the expected night-time drilling noise would be around 17 decibels above the present background noise. It said this should be taken into account when the likely impact of development noise was assessed. If the scheme were approved there should be a night-time noise limit of 35 decibels.
Ineos The company said the background noise level was not relevant when assessing the impact of development noise at night. The company said the night-time noise limit should be 42 decibels. It cited guidelines from the World Health Organisation which said there would not be sleep disturbance below this level. The company added that 42 decibels would be reduced to 27 decibels in homes with the windows open.
Eckington Against Fracking: The group disputed Ineos evidence on background noise levels. It said the company’s data used an outdated version of sound software. EAF also produced evidence that one noise monitor appeared to have been used at Bramleymoor Lane and Harthill at the same time.
Eckington Against Fracking said if the scheme were approved there should be no drilling at night. The council pushed Ineos to improve sound-proofing around the top drive of the rig. Ineos said it had sourced the quietest rig possible and any further work to reduce noise would be an unreasonable burden, particularly because the site would not generate any money. It said drilling would cost about £6m. No night-time drilling would add about £2m and additional noise reduction measures would add £1m.
Ineos said there were no reasons to oppose the scheme on traffic grounds. It said council officers and independent consultants for the council could not support the case against the scheme on these grounds.
Derbyshire County Council said its members were concerned about the impact of increased lorry traffic on local roads used for recreation by pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders. The lack of pavement or verges on the roads were also a concern, the council said.
Eckington Against Fracking said the Ineos proposals would result in “a huge loss of local amenity” and should be refused on traffic grounds alone. It says the Ineos assessment of the impact of HGV traffic was inaccurate.
The headteacher Marsh Lane Primary relayed concerns from local parents who said they would remove their children if the scheme went ahead.
Ineos was criticised for not liaising with local people and organisations and for describing people living the site as “noise sensitive receptors”. The company denied that it had “shied away” from community engagement. It said wanted a community liaison group.
Eckington Against Fracking said the Marsh Lane scheme would not be compatible with the local strategy to promote the area for tourism, estimated to add £100m to the local economy. The two industries could not co-exist successfully, the group said. Ineos said there was no reason why the scheme would affect tourism.
Ineos said great weight should be given to the approval of its similar proposal for Common Road, Harthill, after a public inquiry. Derbyshire County Council and Eckington Against Fracking said the two sites were very different and the inspector’s decision on Harthill wasn’t relevant.
Eckington Against Fracking and Friends of the Earth said the climate impacts of the scheme should be considered. Ineos said the climate footprint of the exploration project was negligible.
The inquiry heard that the Coal Aston airfield near the site could have to close for 3-6 months during the drilling phase. Ineos discounted concerns about the effect of emergency venting on light aircraft. Eckington Against Fracking asked for a condition to protect the airfield, should the scheme be approved.
The inquiry heard concerns about the impact of shale gas developments on areas where there had been former mine workings. Ineos dismissed a presentation by Emeritus Professor Peter Styles as not relevant because it was about fracking.
- For a quick summary on each day you can visit the DrillOrDrop Marsh Lane inquiry page.
DrillOrDrop reported from each day of the Marsh Lane inquiry. This reporting was made possible by individual donations from DrillOrDrop readers.