A tenant farmer has joined the National Trust in its challenge to the shale gas company, Ineos, in a court case over land access.
Ineos is demanding it be allowed to carry out seismic testing at the National Trust’s 3,800-acre historic Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire.
Seismic testing is used to establish the most suitable places to drill and frack for shale gas.
The National Trust has refused access to Clumber Park on climate change and planning grounds. If it holds to this position, it faces a five-day trial at the High Court.
The case took another step forward at a procedural hearing this morning.
The court official, Chief Master Marsh, confirmed that the case should go to trial, in the period March-May 2019. He said it should be classed as a category A case – one of great substance or of public importance – and would be heard by a High Court judge.
Today’s hearing was told that an unnamed tenant farmer was joining the case in opposing access to Ineos. Another 30 tenants of the Clumber Park estate would also to be notified about the case and given the opportunity to join the objections.
The trial is likely to focus on:
- Was the refusal for access unreasonable?
- Was Ineos’s need to access the land in the public interest?
Ineos has argued that it is required to carry out seismic testing by 2021 as part of its work commitment for Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence 308.
The National Trust has said previously that Ineos did not follow proper planning processes, which should have involved fully considering the potential environmental impacts. It has also said it had no wish for its land to “play any part in extracting gas or oil”.
Site of Special Scientific Interest
Another key issue is likely to be the impact of seismic testing on the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), which covers more than 1,300 acres (500ha) of Clumber Park. This was referred to in a witness statement by Lynn Calder, the Chief Executive of Ineos Upstream, the hearing was told.
Scott Lyness, the barrister for the National Trust, said it may submit evidence on the consequences of seismic testing on the lake in the SSSI.
Master Marsh said:
“Miss Calder’s witness statement said they [Ineos] could avoid the SSSI altogether. The question is whether they would avoid the SSSI.”
Ineos was ordered to provide its evidence by 31 October 2018 and the National Trust by 14 December 2018. Another procedural hearing is to be held in mid-late January 2019.
Master Marsh told both sides:
“I do not expect you to call a panoply of witnesses, nor do I think it is necessary”.
James Hanham, for Ineos, said the National Trust should be required to demonstrate “what was going on internally when the decision [to refuse] was made”. He said:
“What was written down doesn’t necessarily reflect what was going on behind the curtain and the other party is entitled to know”.
But Master Marsh replied:
“It doesn’t matter what they were thinking. It is what they were expressing”.
Mr Hanham also asked for the right to apply to move the timetable forward if Ineos felt there had been “no material progress”.
Master Marsh allowed the request but said:
“There is nothing to stop you submitting [your evidence] earlier. You would have to have served your evidence. It would not be viewed very sympathetically if you applied to the court before then.”
Oil and Gas Authority
Today’s hearing also removed the Oil and Gas Authority, an industry regulator, from the case. It had been listed as a party because it gave permission to Ineos to bring the case against the National Trust.