Planning officers have recommended approval of Ineos proposals to drill an exploratory shale gas well on the edge of the south Yorkshire village of Woodsetts.
The scheme comes before Rotherham council’s planning board next week (Friday 7 September).
The board voted unanimously in March 2018 to refuse an almost identical application on highway safety and ecological grounds. Officers then had recommended refusal because of lack of information about the impact on wildlife.
Ineos wants permission for five years to drill a 2,800m vertical coring well, using a 60m rig. The application also seeks consent to use the borehole as a listening well for future fracking in the area.
Neither this, nor the previous, application at Woodsetts included hydraulic fracturing. But Ineos has made a commitment to drill and frack a horizontal well in the exploration licence area covering the village by 2021.
The proposed 1.8ha site, on farmland off Dinnington Road, is in the green belt. It is 500m from bungalows for elderly and vulnerable people. The edge of the site is 25m from Dewidales ancient woodland, a local wildlife site.
This is the third Ineos application for shale gas exploration in the East Midlands and South Yorkshire.
Two other sites, at Marsh Lane in North East Derbyshire and Harthill in Rotherham borough, were approved by planning inspectors after public inquiries this year. Ineos appealed over what it said was unacceptable delays in deciding those applications.
On the Woodsetts scheme, Ineos said:
“This application has been re-submitted to offer an opportunity to rectify [the previous refusal] and thus to avoid the potential for a second appeal, and the associated costs claims that may be made in light of the lack of evidence behind the reason for refusal.”
An 82-page report by planning officers, published today, referred to the appeal decision on the Harthill scheme where the planning inspector gave great weight to national government support for shale gas exploration. The officers said:
“The Inspector’s appeal decision has been taken into consideration during the assessment of this revised application.”
Since the first application, the government has revised the National Planning Policy Framework. The officers’ report said this has made “test drilling more favourable compared to the 2012 version”.
What people said about the application?
The council received 650 public objections to the proposed development. There were also objections from Woodsetts, Letwell and Firbeck Parish Councils, Woodsetts Against Fracking, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, Rotherham Ramblers and the Campaign to Protect Rural England.
The officers reported:
“Compared with previous application, a much higher proportions of objections were from Rotherham Borough and particularly from the Woodsetts area. Objections were generally longer and with a greater level of detail.”
The officers said there was a very high level of detail from Woodsetts Against Fracking.
The following consultees did not object to the application, though some raised concerns, added comments or recommended conditions: Public Health England; Health and Safety Executive; Environment Agency; Civil Aviation Authority; Traffic England; Natural England; Historic England; South Yorkshire Mining Advisory Service; South Yorkshire Police; South Yorkshire Archaeology Society; Yorkshire Water; South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue; Severn Trent Water; Sheffield Airport; Rotherham council departments; and Bolsover council.
Opponents of the scheme raised concerns about an increase in traffic volume, including heavy goods vehicles, estimated at up to 60 a day. There were also concerns about: pedestrian safety; the need for parking restrictions; unsuitable roads; disruption to residents and bus services; damage to road surfaces; congestion and obstructions at site entrance; vehicle emissions and noise.
Woodsetts Against Fracking questioned the accuracy of the traffic baselines used by Ineos. The group estimated the increase in HGV numbers would be 300-600%, not 3-19% as Ineos claimed. It said the company’s traffic management plan was “vague and repetitive” and the swept path analysis did not guarantee how a vehicle would behave.
The council officers referred to the Harthill appeal decision which concluded that the proposal was not unacceptable on transport grounds.
The officers added:
“the Woodsetts application site does not pose the same potential access problems as the Harthill site (which has a network of narrower roads, a number of which are single track with passing places)”.
Opponents raised concerns about the effect of the site on wildlife including skylarks, great crested newts, five species of bat, midwife toads, hares, deer, partridge, quail and slowworms.
They said the proposed 30m buffer around the edge of the site nearest the ancient woodland was insufficient. Natural England’s standing advice now specifies a buffer of 50m to protect ancient woodland from disturbance. Yorkshire Wildlife Trust said no breeding bird surveys had been carried out on the adjacent ancient woodland.
The planning officers said “ecology and biodiversity should not be considered opposing factors in granting planning permission”.
They said wildlife habitat that would be lost by the scheme could support ground nesting farmland bird, including quail, a protected species. But added:
“Given the low numbers likely to be affected, and the extent of similar habitat in the surrounding area, significant effects on birds are not predicted”.
The officers also said:
“The woodland and hedgerows [of the adjacent Dewidales Wood Local Wildlife Site] will not be directly affected and the site design includes a buffer zone of 30m from the perimeter fence to the wood to reduce the risk of secondary effects.”
On badgers, the officers said Ineos had not shared survey information with the council so the distance between badger setts and the site was not known. But their report added that the development could continue with a licence from Natural England even if setts could be disturbed.
The report acknowledged that the upper parts of woodland edge facing the site may be illuminated by site lighting.
Visual and landscape impacts
Objections included the visual impact of a 60m drilling rig; light pollution from a 24-hour industrial facility; loss of open countryside; and loss of residential amenity. Opponents complained that the proposed size of the site and the fencing were not in keeping with surrounding area and would be visually intrusive. There would be an industrialisation of the rural green belt and a loss of tranquillity, landscape quality and dark skies, they said. The scheme would also devalue an Area of High Landscape Value, they added.
The council officers acknowledged that there would be substantial adverse effects during site development, drilling and coring, workover of the well and use as listening well. These impacts would affect people living 1-1.5km away from the site. There would be a moderate adverse impact at 1-3km away from the site.
Ineos has proposed to screen the site using soil bunding and 34 site cabins stacked two high. But the officers’ report said:
“their very presence is incongruous to this rural setting and as such are likely to result in “Moderate adverse effects”.
“This will result in a noticeable deterioration in the landscape character of the area and its enjoyment by the local community, as is noted by the strength of local objections raised. However, the Council’s Landscaping Team have not raised a formal objection to the proposals on visual amenity grounds due to the temporary nature of the development.”
The officers noted that inspectors at the Harthill and Marsh Lane inquiries had concluded that visual harm was not a sufficient reason to dismiss appeal when balanced against benefits of potential future energy supplies.
Objections raised concerns about noise, and traffic and site pollution to air, soil and groundwater. Opponents said the local school and vulnerable residents would be downwind of any emissions.
The planning officers concluded that “significant effects to air quality are not anticipated”. They added:
“Subject to conditions to ensure mitigation is in place they would have no objection to the development.”
On noise they said:
“Given that noise has also been identified as a potential source of concern by the local community, it would be prudent for the applicant to ensure that the local community is kept up to date with progress on works and to provide advance warning (as far as possible) of any particularly noisy periods.”
On groundwater, they said:
“the majority of any potential ground contamination issues will be safeguarded through the Permitting Regulations outside of this planning process. Subject to any additional planning conditions, this element of the proposal is acceptable.
“hydrogeology should not be an opposing factor in granting planning permission”.
There were complaints that the scheme could lead to the loss of a local bridleway and footpath. Woodsetts Against Fracking said even if the paths remained open residents would not be able to use them because of noise, dust and an “intimidating environment”.
The officers said the scheme would not compromise safety of path users and rights of way officers had not raised objections. They added:
“any number of public rights of way coexist with development, working farms and private vehicle access as well as busier adjacent roads such as the M1.”
Opponents said the scheme would increase greenhouse gas emissions because it would encourage the continued use of fossil fuels.
The officers said:
“The potential contribution of the proposal to national greenhouse gas emissions would be negligible.”
“from a planning standpoint it is not considered that there are any specific objections to this proposal on climate change grounds”.
Opponents said the people living locally had already suffered stress from the application. They suggested this would continue, along with sleep disturbances and the health risks from emissions from the well.
The officers said the Environment Agency and council environmental health department had not objected to the application.
Historic England raised concerns about the impact of vibration on listed buildings. But the officers concluded:
“it is not considered that the proposal would have any adverse effect on heritage or conservation aspects and it is not considered that a refusal on these grounds could be justified.”
Opponents said they were concerned about the proximity of the site to homes. The distance was smaller than at other shale gas sites, including Misson and Tinker Lane. There were also objections about potential damage to homes, increased insurance premiums, reduction in property values or saleability.
Local opposition and company engagement
Letwell Parish Council said there was overwhelming opposition to the scheme in the village. A recent survey had found that more than 90% were against it. Woodsetts Against Fracking said it did not consider that Ineos had fully engaged with its members or the local community. The group said:
“Insufficient notification periods have been given in advance of intended additional survey work, leading to further confusion in the community”.
South Yorkshire Police raised concerns about potential protests at the site. Local residents also objected to a potential influx of protesters, along with policing costs, disruption and impact on insurance premiums.
The impact of drilling on old mine workings and faults was raised during discussions on the previous application. It featured in comments on the second application. Woodsetts Against Fracking asked the council to seek advice from experts on technical points raised by the Coal Authority. The council should also carry out seismic testing at suitable local sites to monitor any induced activity before drilling starts, the group said.
Ineos is not seeking in this application to frack at Woodsetts. But Woodsetts Against Fracking said the test core well was “inextricably linked to the intention to hydraulically frack and this should be taken into account”.
Four shale gas schemes have been approved in the area (Misson Springs, Nottinghamshire; Tinker Lane, Nottinghamshire; Marsh Lane/Bramleymoor Lane, Derbyshire; Harthill, South Yorkshire).
The officers acknowledged these developments but said:
“these sites are at least 10km from Dinnington Road.”
They added that inspectors in the Harthill and Marsh Lane appeals “did not raise this as an issue of concern.
“This application is considered to be a singular project that is a discrete proposal that could proceed independently.”
The officers commented:
“The numbers of jobs created is not explicitly specified by the applicant and it is not possible to quantify the numbers of jobs. At a regional and national level this is a growing industry and in future years this is likely to contribute to an increasing proportion of the wider UK economy.”
The Rotherham Council planning board meets at 9am on Friday 7 September 2018 at Town Hall, Moorgate Street, Rotherham. S60 2TH. The meeting is expected to hear from representatives of Ineos and opponents of the scheme.