Council planners have recommended the West Newton-A gas exploration site in East Yorkshire should be allowed to continue until 2021.
In a report to county councillors published this afternoon, officials backed Rathlin’s Energy’s application for a second thee-year extension of planning consent at the site.
Rathlin has carried out no work at West Newton-A since 2014 when the well was tested. In four months that year there were at least 14 breaches of the environmental permit conditions at the site, including a release of gas from the well head and failures of record keeping and monitoring (see DrillOrDrop report).
If the planners’ recommendation is approved by East Riding of Yorkshire Council next week, West Newton-A will remain a well site for five years longer than had been intended in the original consent granted in January 2013. (DrillOrDrop report)
Rathlin said this latest extension of planning permission would allow it to drill a second well at West Newton-A. This had been delayed by the regulatory process and previous low oil and gas prices, it said.
The application has been opposed by parish councils at Withernwick and Ellerby. Withernwick councillors were quoted in the planners’ report as saying the application was “a cynical attempt to circumvent the planning process”. They reportedly said:
“[Rathlin] have failed to demonstrate what a further three years would achieve, given the site has been idle for greater than the past two years.
“Granting yet another extension would clearly set an unacceptable precedent, where temporary extensions would become long term and normal, thereby undermining the planning committee’s ability to exercise due control.”
There were more than 100 other objections to the application from members of the public, the planners said. Their concerns included the operational record of the company and its failure to restore the site to farmland as required under the planning permission.
The planners’ report said there were no objections or responses from all the other statutory consultees. They said there were no reasons to object to the application on the following grounds: landscape or visual amenity, groundwater protection, highway safety, residential amenity, heritage protection, nature conservation and ecology.
The report concluded:
“Whilst it’s accepted that the drilling rig, in particular, would introduce a feature generally uncharacteristic to this landscape, it would only be on site for a relatively short period of time.”
It said the relative isolation of the site would reduce any potential impact of noise and visual amenity on nearby properties.
The officers recommended 17 conditions. These included a requirement that the site be restored to farmland after 36 months from the date permission was granted. Other conditions included:
- The drilling rig should remain on site for a maximum period of 12 weeks, unless agreed in writing by the authority.
- The site should not be used for associated hydraulic fracturing as defined by the Infrastructure Act
The application will be discussed at a meeting starting at 2pm on 15 November at County Hall, Cross Street, Beverley, East Yorkshire.
More local delays
The proposals for West Newton-A appear to mean more delays at Rathlin Energy’s other local site, West Newton-B.
In a letter to East Riding of Yorkshire Council this week, Rathlin said it would drill the second well at West Newton-A “without delay” if the extension of permission were approved.
It had previously indicated that it would drill first at West Newton-B. That site, granted permission in 2015, has seen no construction work or drilling.
The company’s agent wrote:
“drilling the appraisal well from the existing West Newton A wellsite offers an opportunity to prove commerciality without the additional surface disturbance associated with building the approved West Newton B site.
“Whilst Rathlin continues to believe that West Newton B represents a very good and viable site, after further evaluation, it has determined that the merits of drilling the second well from West Newton A are significant and represent the best option to move the project forward.
“If the application … is granted for West Newton A site, Rathlin is prepared to commence operations for the drilling of the second well at West Newton A without delay.”
The company said in the letter delays in securing an environmental permit at West Newton-B had contributed to the delays on the second well at West Newton-A.
New investment in licence
The investment company, Reabold Resources, announced on 5 November 2018 it had taken a £3m stake in Rathlin’s exploration licence that includes the West Newton-A well site.
Rathlin Energy said the money would fund the drilling of the second well at West Newton-A, scheduled for the first three months of 2019. The investment gives Reabold a 37.08% interest in Rathlin.
The news coincided with an announcement from Union Jack Oil plc that it had signed its farm-in agreement with Rathlin Energy. The agreement gives Union Jack and its investment partner, Humber Oil Ltd, 16.665% interest each in the licence area, PEDL183. Rathlin will remain the licence operator.
David Bramhill, executive chairman of Union Jack, said:
“The drilling of the material West Newton conventional appraisal well, where success is expected to deliver a significant onshore gas development project, will be transformational for Union Jack.”
He said the farm-in would add 5.3 million barrels of oil equivalent contingent resources to Union Jack’s existing portfolio. It also has interests in the Wressle oil site and drilling at Biscathorpe, both in Lincolnshire.
West Newton timeline
15 November 2018
Planning meeting on second application for 36-month extension
4 September 2018
Rathlin Energy application for a further 36-month extension at West Newton-A
26 November 2015
Planning consent for West Newton-A extended for an additional 36 months (decision date 21 December 2015)
4 June 2015
Planning consent for West Newton-B site for 24 months (from start of work)
Well testing completed at West Newton-A
First well test at West Newton-A
Drilling completed of well at West Newton-A
Site construction began at West Newton-A
17 January 2013
Original planning permission for West Newton-A granted for 36 months