Live updates: Day 6 of inquiry into IGas test plans for Ellesmere Port well

Ellesmere Port Google Earth

Map montage of IGas site at Ellesmere Port by Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton. Source: Google Earth

This post has live news updates from Day 6 of the inquiry into IGas plans to test for gas flows at its well at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire. The hearing will hear evidence on site location from Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton (FFEPU), which argues the proposal is “wrong industry, wrong time and wrong place”.

The inquiry is examining the decision by Cheshire West and Chester Council, to refuse permission for the well test scheme in January 2018. The council said the scheme failed to mitigate the effects on climate change. 

The inquiry in Chester will run until Thursday 24 January and then reconvene with a separate extra hearing from Tuesday 26 February to Friday 1 March.

Reporting at this inquiry has been made possible by donations from individual DrillOrDrop readers

Preview of the inquiry and news from each day on DrillOrDrop’s  Ellesmere Port inquiry page

Key points

Key points from today’s hearing will be added during the session

  • IGas site does not offer multiple safe escape routes for either IGas employees, or for the businesses at the end of the cul-de-sac – FFEPU witness
  • IGas told the regulators it was drilling beyond the coal measures but told the community exploration was for coalbed methane – FFEPU witness
  • The Environment Agency considered homes 700+m from the site but the nearest homes are 320m away – FFEPU witness
  • There is a lack of trust and confidence in IGas from the local community – FFEPU witness
  • Residents’ concerns are not irrational fears – as IGas claims, says FFEPU witness
  • “There is a consensus in the research that the current system and regulations are inaccurate and weighted heavily in favour of shale gas development” – FFEPU witness
  • If you have a unconventional gas development in a town that cares about changing its reputation that is going to be problematic – FFEPU witness
  • Science is absolutely clear, any increased exposure to those chemicals [for which there is no safe exposure limit] will have an impact at a population level – FFEPU witness
  • With unconventional gas extraction, the economic future of Ellesmere Port is in jeopardy – FFEPU witness

Inquiry closes

The inquiry resumes at 9.30am on Friday 24 January 2019.

DrillOrDrop is heading across the Pennines to Northallerton tomorrow for extra sessions of the Examination in Public of the North Yorkshire draft minerals plan.

But Paul Seaman will be reporting for us from tomorrow’s hearing of the IGas inquiry. Look out for his report on the evidence at the end of the session.

4.25pm Evidence from Jackie Copley, planning witness

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Estelle Dehon, for Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton, Jackie Copley, the group’s planning witness.

She has worked in planning for more than 25 years and is a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute.

Miss Copley says she has worked on a waterside regeneration project at Salford Quays.

She says she has also been extensively involved in conversations with Cuadrilla, Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive about shale gas sites at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood near Blackpool in Lancashire.

Acid uses

Miss Copley is asked whether a condition limiting the use of acid to an acid wash would reassure her.

She replies: A condition would be welcome but I still have concerns about the impact of the well test on regeneration and other issues.

Planning policies

Miss Copley says the development does not comply seven planning policies of Cheshire West and Chester Council.

Ms Dehon puts it to her that most of these policies were not mentioned in the reasons for the refusal. Miss Copley says the proposal does not comply with the other policies.

The planning inspector, Brian Cook, asks how the council decided the reasons for refusals. Miss Copley says the senior planning officer said she didn’t want to “over egg the pudding” in the reasons for refusal.

Miss Copley says the councillors were aware of the local plan policies and looked at the material considerations. From my understanding, they were very well-informed. In planning policy terms, since the original application, the situation has fundamentally changed. They raised relevant issues, she says.

Miss Copley adds:

There were a lot of unknowns with barely any reference to harm attributable to the proposal and they applied the precautionary principle which is logical.

They have to be aware of the applicant’s rights. There is also a degree of accountability – they cannot ignore local concerns.

Ellesmere Port regeneration strategy

Miss Copley confirms the regeneration plan is a material consideration and should be given substantial weight in the planning balance.

Peel Holdings, a significant landowner, has signed up to the regeneration plan, she says.

Miss Copley says the strategy aims to build on the leisure area on the waterfront and to develop the former port area. She says it is described as Ellesmere Quays, rather than Ellesmere Port.

I can’t see how the IGas scheme fits with the objectives of regeneration, which includes quality housing and employment.

There is an opportunity here. The government does place great weight on quality housing

Miss Copley says investors don’t like risk or cost. She says the waterfront area in the regeneration area is a key site, which can command higher values.

If land is not available then you set back your timescales for regeneration, Miss Copley says.

If this scheme were approved it would put a nail in the coffin for new housing in the immediate future.

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Ellesmere Port regeneration area, 21 January 2019. Photo: DrillOrDrop

4.18pm Re-examination of David Plunkett

Estelle Dehon, for Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton, reviews the evidence of David Plunkett, the group’s witness on economic impacts.

She asks Mr Plunkett whether benefits of shale gas discussed by the IGas barrister were for exploration or production. Production, Mr Plunkett says.

Are they relevant to this application for a 18-week well test, Ms Dehon asks. No, says Mr Plunkett.

4.10pm Cross-examination of David Plunkett

Giles Cannock, for IGas, questions Mr Plunkett, economic sustainability witness for Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton.

He puts it to Mr Plunkett that the rig will be on site for 35 days. Is the regeneration of Ellesmere Port so fragile that it will be affected by a rig on site in an industrial estate for such a short time, Mr Cannock asks.

Mr Plunkett says no one thing affects regeneration but he thinks 35 hours might be too much. An investor might decide to go somewhere else if it saw a rig.

Mr Cannock puts it to Mr Plunkett that government policy recognises the economic benefits of onshore oil and gas extraction. It is one of most productive sectors, Mr Cannock says.

Mr Plunkett says he would prefer to see the economy based on renewable energy and insulation.

3.45pm Evidence of David Plunkett

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Estelle Dehon, for Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton, introduces David Plunkett, the group’s witness on economic impacts.

Mr Blunkett has a Masters degree in Management from Manchester Polytechnic, now Manchester Metropolitan University. He was a programmer and systems analyst in England and Alberta.

He tells the inquiry that Ellesmere Port is part of a range of plans, partnerships and policies designed to achieve sustainable growth in the town.

Mr Plunkett says Ellesmere Port needs extra help for regeneration. He says everywhere is also trying to make itself the perfect place. It is a competitive process and Ellesmere Port must not lose out, he says.

Ms Dehon says IGas argues that its site has not stopped economic development since 2014.

Mr Plunkett says:

I don’t think economic development started or stopped at a particulate point. I think certain issues could break economic development. I don’t think the building of a housing estate is evidence of economic development.

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Homes and businesses in regeneration area in Ellesmere Port, 21 January 2019. Photo: DrillOrDrop


Mr Plunkett tells the inquiry:

Companies and organisations looking at where they may start their new developments, are wooed and pursued by the development organisations and boards above. Success breeds success.

Attracting continued growth and industry is critical, which is why governments, councils and partnerships spend so much time and effort on it.

But, companies and organisations will not re-locate if Ellesmere Port is not an attractive location. Jobs will not be created, opportunities will be missed, and development, and more importantly sustainable future development, will go elsewhere.

With unconventional gas extraction, the economic future of Ellesmere Port is in jeopardy. What matters is the sustainable future not the immediate short term.

Councils and Enterprise Zones will inevitably have a preference for clean, hi tech industries that are sustainable. These encourage links with local universities and colleges for training, and offer significant local employment options for existing residents.

Mr Plunkett says this application is stage two or three. It will be followed by unconventional gas extraction.

Asked about the impact of the 18-week well test of Ellesmere Port, Mr Plunkett says:

I don’t think a rig the size of this building and a flare will be good for Ellesmere Port

“IGas not needed now”

Mr Plunkett says the Cheshire West and Chester Councillors were far-sighted in refusing the well test.

IGas’s proposed development is not the development needed now or in the future in Ellesmere Port. It will provide fewer jobs, and the dangers it poses will make Ellesmere Port unattractive for further new employment, which is the widely recognised key to Economic Sustainability.

3.30pm Break

The inquiry resumes at 3.45pm.

3.24pm Re-examination of Dr Patrick Saunders

Estelle Dehon for FFEPU, reviews the evidence of the group’s public health witness, Dr Patrick Saunders.

She asks whether he is more concerned about traffic pollution from the site or from substances used or produced by the well test. They are equally important, he says.

Dr Saunders says the Environment Agency was considering imposing conditions requiring high environmental performance in poor parts of Sandwell in the West Midlands. He says he doesn’t know how seriously this would be implemented.

3.18pm Inspector’s questions for Dr Patrick Saunders

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The inspector, Brian Cook, says witnesses for FFEP&U have said there are no safe limits for particulates. But the inspector says the Environment Agency concluded that the well test could be carried out without harm.

There are contradictory positions, the inspector says.

Dr Saunders says there are no known safe level for particulates or benzene. But we can’t live without them. The levels are set where they are technically achievable.

Dr Saunders says:

Those same chemicals will be invariably higher in deprived areas.

Even if they are relatively minor, at a population level they will have an impact.

Science is absolutely clear, any increased exposure to those chemicals will have an impact at a population level.

The inspector asks Dr Saunders what is his main concern: substances produced or used on sites or traffic. Dr Saunders says it is both.

3.10pm Cross-examination of Dr Patrick Saunders

Giles Cannock, for IGas, questions Dr Patrick Saunders, public health witness for Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton.

Dr Saunders accepts that he does not object to lighting from the site. He is not convinced that noise will be a problem. He agrees that he has not address noise in detail.

Dr Saunders says he is most concerned about air quality.

Mr Cannock says IGas has concluded that the additional air pollutants from the site would be negligible.

2.41pm Evidence from Dr Patrick Saunders

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Estelle Dehon, for Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton, introduces Dr Saunders,  consultant in Public Health and Visiting Professor in Public Health at the University of Staffordshire. He is a registered Public Health Specialist and fellow of the Faculty of Public Health.

He tells the inquiry:

Two of the wards closest to this proposal, Rossmore and Ellesmere Port Town, include populations that are ranked amongst the 10% most deprived nationally.

There is evidence that deprived communities are disproportionately exposed and vulnerable to the effects of exposure to environmental pollution including traffic related impacts on air quality.

He says:

The seriously deprived populations closest to the proposal will gain nothing from this development but run the risk of adverse health consequences.

He says this would conflict with Cheshire West and Chester’s sustainability policy.

We are only just getting to grips with how bad deprivation is for individuals, Dr Saunders says.

He refers to a report by the Chief Medical Officer on health inequalities. Dr Saunders says:

Poorer communities are more exposed to environment stresses: noise, air quality, poor access to a health diet or green spaces

At the heart of the issue, he says, is whether this is a hazard or a risk.

Not only are more people more exposed, but there is something about the stress of deprivation that makes them more susceptible to the effects.

Because they are deprived, they are breathing in the same air pollution but they are getting a bigger dose.

There is a terrible iniquity at the heart of this that needs to be addressed, he says.

Dr Saunders says the Chief Medical Officer’s report acknowledges that there is not unanimity in the evidence on the the impact of deprivation.

The Chief Medical Officer makes recommendations to policymakers in her report.

Dr Saunders this is aimed at local authorities and regulatory agencies.

He says deprived communities should not be exposed to additional levels of air pollutants. We should ensure that deprived communities should have environmentally and economically sustainable industries in their areas.

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Air pollution

Dr Saunders says:

There is a very clear relationship between deprivation and living in wards exceeding the national air quality standard annual average limit values for NO2.

There is evidence that deprivation exacerbates the effects of exposure.

He says poor communities appears to be more vulnerable, according to research, to the effects of PM10 exposure, including morbidity and mortality.

This is especially important as there is no safe level of exposure to fine PM meaning that any exposure will have an impact at a population level.

IGas argues that there is likelihood that the well test would worsen deprivation. Dr Saunders says this misses the point. He says deprived people, by nature of their deprivation, will be more susceptible to the effects of the well test.

Climate change impacts on public health

Dr Saunders says:

climate change is a “threat multiplier” that exacerbates and intensifies poverty, food insecurity, water stress, forced migration, and conflict between states and communities.

He says climate change is the most important public health issue of our generation. To meet the old limit of 2C of warming, we have a problem, he says.

From a public health point of view, Dr Saunders rather than looking for new fossil fuel sources we should be leaving fossil fuels where they are.

Climate change will kill hundreds of thousands of people. It will destroy economies. Globally, it will kill the very people who have contributed least to  climate change.

Locally, figures presented to the inquiry on the carbon emissions show the scheme will conflict with this area’s contribution to tackling climate change, Dr Saunders says.

2.19pm Re-examination of Dr Anna Szolucha

Estelle Dehon, for Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton, reviews the evidence of Dr Szolucha, the group’s social impact witness.

Ms Dehon asks about perception and its impact on regeneration of Ellesmere Port. Dr Szolucha says perception of the unconventional oil and gas industry is bad.

Shale gas is seen as polluting and contributing to climate change. It has a poor reputation globally and nationally.

If you have a unconventional gas development in a town that cares about changing its reputation that is going to be problematic.

Dr Szolucha says for the vision for Ellesmere Port to go forward, it has to be collective endeavour of the public and private business, residents to have to play their part.

At a community level, you would need a community that feels empowered, in control of local issues, that the local democratic process is going to be upheld. All these things could be endangered because of their experiences with this particular development.

Asked by Ms Dehon, what IGas could have done to improve trust in its operations, Dr Szolucha says:

They could have said to the council and the EA that they were looking to explore for shale gas, rather than coalbed methane

Dr Szolucha is asked to comment on the suggestion by IGas’s barrister that she was fomenting trauma about the IGas scheme. She says if a community is susceptible or experiencing harm it is the best scientific practice to make that knowledge public. She adds that FFE&U did not foment trauma either.

2.10pm Inspector’s questions

The inquiry inspector, Brian Cook, asks Dr Szolucha about the people in the group she interviewed about the Ellesmere Port proposal.

Dr Szolucha says some were directly involved in the planning process, somewhere were residents who were informed but were not participating directly.

Mr Cook asks whether Dr Szolucha was fishing in a self-selected pool and the answers were predictable.

Dr Szolucha says the research and sample method were adequate to indicate whether harm arising from the Ellesmere Port flow test was scientifically plausible. She says the method is justified where there is no previous data.

Mr Cook says if planning permission is granted, IGas will have a lawful right to carry out the operation and people will have a right, if they abide by the terms of the injunction, to protest. Mr Cook asks why only one police officer is needed.

Dr Szolucha says this is a good question. She says in Lancashire there is an injunction on some protests and this still requires large numbers of police officers.

1.58pm Cross-examination continues of Dr Anna Szolucha

Giles Cannock, for IGas, suggests that people who take oppose shale gas through the planning system suffer stress because they are taking part in the planning system, rather than because it is because the application is for shale gas.

He says her case is simply an indictment of the planning system. Dr Szolucha disagrees.

Dr Szolucha, in her evidence, says planning permission could sow the seeds of wider social conflict. She says protests would have a strain on wider social resources. Mr Cannock says opponents could rely on opposition as a reason for refusal.

1.57pm Inquiry resumes

1pm Break

The inquiry resumes at 2pm.

12.36pm Cross-examination of Dr Anna Szolucha

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Giles Cannock, for IGas, cross-examines Dr Anna Szolucha, social science witness for Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton.

Mr Cannock asks whether the social impact was addressed by Cheshire West and Chester Council. Dr Szolucha says several members asked for the social impact of the scheme to be included in the reason for refusal and they were told no by a council officer.

Mr Cannock asks why she refers to air quality when it is not her area of expertise. Dr Szolucha says she is referring to evidence which correlates areas of deprivation with areas of poor air quality.

Mr Cannock says the nearest air quality action area is 1.2km to the south. He says the area may be revoked because it did not exceeds air pollution limits.

Dr Szolucha referred to compensatory mechanisms. Mr Cannock says IGas has not been asked for compensation. What do you want us to do, he says.

This refers to what IGas has done, Dr Szolucha says.

IGas could have addressed the specific social circumstances of Ellesmere Port and I have not seen that in the documents I have read.


Dr Szolucha says residents felt IGas had fallen short of its consultation responsibilities. Mr Cannnock puts it to her that the company met its statutory responsibilities. Dr Szolucha agrees. She says IGas could have alleviated residents’ concerns

What were they supposed to do, the inspector, Brian Cook, asks.

I don’t understand what you are criticising them for, if I’m honest.

Dr Szolucha says IGas refused to engage with residents in 2014 when they asked for a public meeting

Is that, or is there more?, Mr Cook asks

It is not my responsibility to advise the appellant, Dr Szolucha replies.

It is your job to advise me, Mr Cook says.

Dr Szolucha says local people were upset that the company had appealed against the council’s refusal.

Mr Cook says the company has a right to appeal.

“I can understand that this might wind people up but that is just the law.”

Dr Szolucha says:

“There is a consensus in the research that the current system and regulations are inaccurate and weighted heavily in favour of shale gas development.”

Public reaction

Dr Szolucha says the inspector should take account of public opinion on the IGas proposal.

Mr Cannock says should the inspector take account of reaction based on incorrect understanding of the proposal

Dr Szolucha says she does not think the local understanding was  incorrect.

I think people had a good understanding of what this proposal involved.

Mr Cannock says there is no objective basis for the belief that this proposal uses hydraulic fracturing.

Dr Szolucha agrees but she says in a social context of this and other hydrocarbon proposals the residents may have concerns about what will take place when the development begins.

Mr Cannock argues that Dr Szolucha is saying that perceptions, which may be false, is real. The perceived risk of hydraulic fracturing is as significant as if it was not in the application. Dr Szolucha agrees.

Mr Cannock says Dr Szolucha reaches the “extraordinary conclusion” that permission should be refused because of mistaken perceived fears.

Where do I say that, she asks.

That is the logic of your argument, he says.

I am here to give advise to this inquiry, Dr Szolucha says.

She says there objective and subjective basis for concerns. The objective basis is uncertainties in this proposal.

Mr Cannock says some local residents have misunderstood the nature of the proposal. You are saying you should take into account those concerns. Dr Szolucha says that is not entirely right. If some residents misunderstood the nature of the proposal that is not the sole reason for their concern.

11.58am Evidence of Dr Anna Szolucha

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Estelle Dehon, barrister for Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton (FFEP&U), introduces social scientist researcher, Dr Anna Szolucha (left). She is part of a new research programme on the socio-economic impacts of shale gas development, funded by British research councils. Dr Szolucha has carried out the first socio-economic assessment of shale gas in the UK.

Community discussions

Dr Szolucha says she carried out two group discussions with local people living around the Ellesmere Port well.

Inspector, Brian Cook, asks how the groups were selected. Dr Szolucha the participants were suggested by FFEP&U. They live in Ellesmere Port, UPton and Chester, she says.

Deprivation in Ellesmere Port

Dr Szolucha tells the inquiry:

The town’s high industrial density and poor record in air quality have been associated with establishing an Air Quality Management Area in Ellesmere Port. The town consistently ranks among the most deprived areas in Cheshire West and Chester across a number of deprivation factors.

Over 80% of Ellesmere Port Town (ward) residents live in areas of multiple deprivation (compared to approximately 20% for England). In the Rossmore ward, where the appeal site is located, the percentage of residents with bad or very bad health is almost double the borough’s average.

She says regeneration o the town seeks to build the image of the town as a “prosperous area”.

The sustainability policy of Cheshire West and Chester Council calls for a “qualitative shift in the kind of industries that are invited to operate in Ellesmere Port”, Dr Szolucha says.

Dr Szolucha says she does not argue that the IGas well test would increase deprivation. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to prove a causal link between the well test and increased deprivation, Dr Szolucha says. She says the well test could affect the perception of the area.

Social impact of IGas plan

Dr Szolucha tells the inquiry social impact assessments involve looking at changes to social, psychological, health and political  processes that could affect daily lives, beliefs, livelihoods and community dynamics.

Social impacts include perceived impacts. These are by definition real and relevant social impacts because they reflect a person’s understanding of risk.

Perceived impacts are real because people tend to respond to impulses according to their own perceptions, fears and beliefs. People’s understanding of risk can trigger a physiological response and hence, is widely recognised as a mediator of many health impacts.

Stress and anxiety are real social impacts and they are not merely individual or subjective but may contribute to collective trauma caused by a common experience of unconventional oil and gas development.

Dr Szolucha says residents’ concerns appear to be logical and in line with the current level of social scientific knowledge. She says there are uncertainties about unconventional oil and gas developments.

To me, IGas’s assertion, that residents’ concerns are based on misinformation and irrational fears, contradicts the evidence and prevailing social scientific research.

Opposition to shale gas cannot be explained by a lack of understanding or awareness on the part of local residents. Quite the contrary research has consistently found that residents are well-informed and have good lay understanding of technical issues of shale gas.

Dr Szolucha rejects the view of IGas experts that residents’ opposition is solely concerned about noise and air quality.

Research has shown that physical impacts are not the sole reasons for opposition to shale gas, Dr Szolucha says. The relationship between the community and IGas has been challenging. There is a lack of trust and confidence. There are concerns about the lack of transparency, community input, inequality of exposure to risk, she says. Residents’ concerns are not irrational fears – as IGas claims, Dr Szolucha says.

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IGas site at Ellesmere Port, 21 January 2019. Photo: DrillOrDrop

Visual impression of the site

Dr Szolucha says IGas does not offer compensation to address the negative visual impression of the site on the area. IGas confuses visual impression with visual impact, she says.

I am not making points on the physical impact of the site but how it contributes to the  historical perception of the town.

Relevance of Lancashire research

People in Lancashire living around Cuadrilla’s shale gas site experienced a profound sense of powerlessness and depression, a sense of loss, fear, betrayal, guilt, anger, Dr Szolucha says.

Similar symptoms of collective trauma are already emerging in relation to the proposed development in Ellesmere Port, she says.

Asked why the Lancashire research is relevant, she says in both locations, people have felt a lack of transparency and trust in the company. The Lancashire research was done mostly before any physical activity at Cuadrilla’s Lancashire shale gas site, she adds.


Dr Szolucha says signficant impacts are irreversible. In Lancashire, there has been irreversible damage in relationships between local people and the police force. Individuals have broken any links with the police, spilling over from the anti-fracking protest into other areas of their lives.

11.31am Re-examination of Colin Watson

Estelle Dehon, barrister for Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton, reviews the evidence of the group’s witness on the site location, Colin Watson.

IGas information for the public

Ms Dehon refers to an IGas document on the Ellesmere Port proposal. The inquiry heard earlier that the document did include the word “shale”.

Ms Dehon asks if the document has the words “shale gas”. No, says Mr Watson. He says a diagram of the coal measures and shale formation bears no relation to the local geology.

Fracking or acidisation?

Ms Dehon asks if FFEP&U told the community the application was for fracking.

Mr Watson says he has been clear the application was not for fracking.

Proximity to homes

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Redeveloped dock area at Ellesmere Port, 21 January 2019. Photo: DrillOrDrop

Ms Dehon refers to the company’s original planning statement. This said a benefit of the site was its remoteness from homes.

Was this correct at the time, Ms Dehon asks. Mr Watson says the nearest homes were 700m away, which he would not describe as remote.

The inquiry had heard that the Environment Agency had consider impacts of homes 700m+ away, when the nearest homes wee 320m away.

Ms Dehon refers to the waste management plan, which says the site is a “suitable distance” from homes and business.

Mr Watson says there are cabins closer than the document indicates. There are people working around the site who need to be protected from the effects of flaring and accidents, Mr Watson says

Acid volumes

The inquiry has heard that FFEP&U were concerned about the volume of acid proposed to be used in the well test operation. FFEP&U says the proposed 95m3 is more than would be needed for an acid wash.

Ms Dehon asks Mr Watson why he was concerned about that volume. Mr Watson says the original planning application did not mention volumes, just lorry journeys. The volume was in the environmental permit application, he says.

Mr Watson says Preston New Road had induced earth tremors of 1ML with 30m3 of fluid. I have serious considerations, he says.

If I just look at the volumes, they are very much in line with tremors recorded at Cuadrilla’s shale gas site.

The site is close to the epicentre of seismic events, Mr Watson says.

The initial application talked about 5-15m3 of acid solution and this has now been increased to 95m3. IGas has increased the depth of the target area, Mr Wason says.

Addressing concerns

Ms Dehon asks if there was a condition refusing matrix acidisation or fracking would address FFEP&U’s concerns. No it would not, Mr Watson says.

Why not, Ms Dehon says. Mr Watson says the volumes are still far too high for the 7m3 needed for an acid wash. Anything beyond an acid wash were are in an uncertain area of disputed definitions.

Ms Dehon asks whether a condition and some of monitoring to ensure matrix acidising did not happen would address concerns. Mr Watson says that would go some way to address his concern.

End of re-examination. Applause for Colin Watson.

11.30am Inquiry resumes

11.15am Break

The inquiry resumes at 11.30am

10.21am Cross-examination of Colin Watson

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Colin Watson (right) and inquiry inspector, Brian Cook, (left) at the Ellesmere Port inquiry, 23 January 2019. Photo: DrillOrDrop

Fracking or acidising?

Giles Cannock, barrister for IGas, asks Mr Watson, for Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton, what the group has done positively to reassure local people that the well test does not involve “fracking”.

Mr Watson says he has not used the term “fracking”. The group has been accurate based on the information that it has from the company, he says.

Mr Cannock asks whether FFEPU has done anything to reassure local people that the well test does not involve matrix acidising.

Mr Watson says the volumes of acid to be used by IGas is more than would be needed for an acid wash.

He says the information given by the company is misleading on geology, faulting, target formation.

The inspector, Brian Cook, says IGas does not intend to stimulate the formation. I don’t know whether the Rule 6 party (Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton) accept that.

Mr Cannock, for IGas, says the Environment Agency does not consider an acid wash to be a well stimulation activity. A matrix acidisation, is regarded as a well stimulation, Mr Cannock says.

Mr Watson says the difference between acid wash and matrix acidisation is a matter of volume and IGas proposed volume is above that for an acid wash.

Breach of planning permission?

Mr Cannock asks whether Cheshire West and Chester Council does not consider there to have been a breach of planning permission on the well. Mr Watson agrees.

So the well was lawfully drilled, Mr Cannock says. You will have to ask the planning witness, Mr Watson says.

Mr Cannock says the indicative well diagram was 900m but was drilled to 1,949m. Correct, Mr Watson says. The other regulators (Environment Agency, Health and Safety Executive and Oil & Gas Authority) confirmed that the correct permissions were in place for a depth of 1,949m. Correct, Mr Watson says.

There was no condition to drill for coalbed methane, Mr Cannock says. Mr Watson says the application was for coalbed exploration.

The inspector, Brian Cook, tells Mr Cannock to restrict planning questions to a planning witness. The answer you are getting are plainly wrong, Mr Cook says.

Public transparency

Your issue is about transparency with the public, Mr Cannock asks Mr Watson. Yes, says Mr Watson.

Mr Cannock refers to a public document which shows drilling through the coal measures.

Mr Cannock says FFEPU want a revised description and condition to prevent matrix acidisation. Mr Watson agrees.

If there is a condition and amended description, your concerns on matrix acidisation are assuaged, Mr Cannock says. Mr Watson says “That is not our position”.

I don’t understand, Mr Cannock says. I don’t understand either, says the inspector, Brian Cook.

Mr Cannock puts it to Mr Watson that the group is concerned about a revised permit. Mr Watson says this is an issue for the planning witness.

Mr Watson says the planning statement for the IGas well test is unclear. This is because it is for the permit regulation, Mr Cannock says.

Environment Agency view of well test

Mr Cannock says the proposed acidisation is regarded as non-controversial by the Environment Agency.

He refers to an EA document which says the acid is circulated round the well and returned to the surface close to neutral. Mr Watson agrees.


Mr Cannock says FFEPU does not contest the responsibilities of the different regulators. Mr Watson agrees.

Mr Watson says, under the borehole regulations, the emergency services should be consulted during the planning stage but they were not. Mr Cannock says the emergency services were invited to visit the site.

The original well was drilled without incident and audited by the HSE, Mr Cannock says. Mr Watson agrees but he says the risks of accidents to a well test in an urban environment have not been addressed.

Mr Watson says the oil and gas industry in the US is among the top five most risky. Mr Cannock says the regulations are different in the US. Mr Watson says UK regulations are more relaxed than the US on issues such as green completions, set back distances and emergency planning.

Mr Cannock says the risk is adequately regulated by the HSE. Mr Watson says the inspector has to be satisfied that the other regulators have undertaken their roles correctly and our evidence is that they have not.

Mr Watson says the risk is too high in Ellesmere Port. It is the wrong place, he says.


Mr Cannock says the site landlord is Peel Holdings. Mr Watson says the company may be looking to take land within 250m around the site into residential development.

Peel Holdings would not grant or renew a licence if they thought it was inconsistent with their strategy, Mr Cannock says. It depends on the timescale, Mr Watson says.

9.32am Evidence from Colin Watson on site location

190123 epi 0932

Colin Watson giving evidence at the Ellesmere Port inquiry, 23 January 2019. Photo: DrillOrDrop

Estelle Dehon, for Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton, introduces Colin Watson, the group’s witness on site location.

Mr Watson has been a chartered engineer for 35 years, working on risk and project management in the nuclear and chemical industries, among others.

Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton

Mr Watson says the group was formed to oppose oil and gas developments in the area. He says the group also has concerns about acidisation techniques and the name does not undermine the quality of its evidence about the IGas site.

What IGas told the community?

Mr Watson tells the inquiry that the community was upset about the lack of clarity from IGas.

The planning application in 2009 [for drilling the well] was for coal bed methane exploration with a plan showing a “total vertical depth” of 900m and the planning statement set a maximum depth “in the coal seam”.

When it was found that IGas had drilled to about 1,949m, the community was understandably upset. This is also why there is so much concern about a lack of specificity in the current application.

The inquiry heard earlier that council officers were told in 2014 that IGas would drill deeper than the 900m referred to in the original application. Mr Watson says he has not seen an IGas letter to council officers, dating from that time, until it was published until December 2018.

Mr Watson refers to a document published by IGas for the local community dating from the time of drilling the well. He tells the inquiry this shows the target rock as coal and a description of what is coalbed methane.

Mr Watson says a diagram in the document is the same as one in the original planning application, showing a depth of around 900m. The document says exploration would be wholly in the coal seam. The word shale does not appear in the document, Mr Watson says.

Was the well drilled responsibly?

Ms Dehon asks Mr Watson about his view of whether the well was drilled responsibly.

Mr Watson says in engineering terms the well was drilled responsibly but he says he does not think it was drilled according to the planning permission.

In the context of the community, he says the drilling was irresponsible. Locally, people thought coalbed methane was a relatively benign process but shale was thought to contain more risk.


Ms Dehon asks whether restricting the use of acid to acid wash or acid squeeze, within 1m of the wellbore. Mr Watson says he is not reassured. He says the intention to restore natural flow could allow that natural flow to go up a fault. All wells fail eventually, he says, so what happens when that happens.

Impact of well test on regeneration

Asked about the Environment Agency’s assessment of the site on the local area Mr Watson says he thinks the EA was misled. He says he doesn’t think the EA understands what is happening in the area.

There needs to be very firm regulation in the future that is not present in the EA documents.

Lack of clarity on acid

Mr Watson says:

The planning statement is also not specific as to what acid will be used: “most commonly hydrochloric” acid does not provide much reassurance when the alternative identified in the EA “Use of acid information sheet” is the highly reactive hydrofluoric acid, which is of real concern to the community.

Mr Watson says the type of acid remains unclear in documents submitted in December 2018.

Geologists have told me you would use hydrofluoric acid to stimulate chert. But IGas talks about hydrochloric acid, Mr Watson says. He says the acid concentrations vary in IGas documents between 7.5% and 15%.

We may sign this off and then we get a variation of the permit, which circumvents the planning permission, and IGas are back to doing their own thing again.

What the Environment Agency considered?

Mr Watson says he wondered whether the EA had taken into account a new housing estate. He says the EA sent him a document in October 2018 of what it had considered.

Part of the document looked at receptors near the site. Homes were identified more than 700m away from the site. New homes are 320m away and proposed homes would be 250m away. Mr Watson says:

“I was concerned that the source document should have such a large error in it.”


Mr Watson says an IGas map of the proposal does not include new housing estates or a hotel. There is still a long-term plan for housing along the waterfront at Ellesmere Port, overlooking the Mersey Estuary site of special scientific interest.

Mr Watson says he produced a map which showed 5,000 homes within 1km of the well.

Ellesmere Port meeting poster

Location of the Ellesmere Port wellsite. Map by Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton

Mr Watson says within 2km there are schools, homes for the elderly and the Site of Special Scientific Interest. The local area also included an oil refinery, nuclear plant, 14 water wells and a source protection zone, he says.


Mr Watson says

The Development Board [for Ellesmere Port] has identified the area of the site for future residential development. This fits in with the overall regeneration of Ellesmere Port where the “rust belt” is being converted to light industrial / residential development, and industrial development is being encouraged in the major sites to the East, the South and the West of the town.

The Council Plan “articulates a long term vision for a thriving borough through the delivery of new houses; creation of new jobs; investment in regeneration and key infrastructure projects; support to vulnerable individuals, families and communities; and encouragement of new businesses into the borough”.

This proposal conflicts with of all of these goals, and as will be seen in the Economic Evidence it has the potential for a negative effect on new businesses entering the borough.

Unsuitable location

Mr Watson says the site is 320m from homes and 800m from a children’s play centre and two residential homes for the elderly.

The full impact on these receptors, particularly in an emergency situation, has not been adequately assessed.

Mr Watson says:

Having been responsible for design and operation of hazardous installations I am concerned that the site does not offer multiple safe escape routes for either IGas employees, or for the businesses at the end of the cul-de-sac.

He says the emergency services have not been consulted on efficient management of an incident.

The poor access and egress to the site in the event of an emergency weighs in favour of the planning application being refused.

Set back distances

Mr Watson says a setback distance is required to “prevent undue risk to local employees and residents.

He says 500m has been included in the draft North Yorkshire minerals and waste plan. There are a significant number of businesses and residents in the setback areas who would “potentially require evacuation in the event of a blowout/explosion. He says this “weighs in favour of the planning application being refused”.


9.30am Inquiry opens

The inquiry inspector, Brian Cook, opens Day 6 of the inquiry

Reporting at this inquiry has been made possible by donations from individual DrillOrDrop readers

6 replies »

  1. Dr Szolucha seems to have impressed the Inspector…..hardly surprising given the irrelevant waffle she presented as “evidence”.

  2. I’m just waiting for the tea leaf reader to be trotted out to give evidence to support rejection!

    I would add, I have no ability to “read” how these Appeals will be decided, but if this goes in favour of IGAS, I will be very interested to see how much the applause has cost.

  3. Well who’d have thought…..

    ‘The UK leads the European Union in giving subsidies to fossil fuels, according to a report from the European commission. ‘

    ‘the WTO definition of subsidies, accepted by the UK and 163 other nations, includes “government revenue that is otherwise due, foregone or not collected” such as reduced tax rates’

    ‘In September, the chancellor, Philip Hammond, said the government had “forgone” billions of pounds by choosing not to implement a scheduled rise in duty on petrol and diesel. “The fuel duty freezes since 2011 have meant that the exchequer has forgone around £46bn in revenues through to 2018-19.” He said the tax not collected was “about twice as much as we spend on all NHS nurses and doctors each year”.’

  4. Who’d have thought….

    “A significant part of the UK fossil fuel subsidies identified by the commission is the 5% rate of VAT on domestic gas and electricity, cut from the standard 20%. The UK government did not dispute the data but denied that it provided any subsidies for fossil fuels under its own definition and that of the International Energy Agency.

    “We do not subsidise fossil fuels,” a government spokeswoman said. “We’re firmly committed to tackling climate change by using renewables, storage, interconnectors, new nuclear and more to deliver a secure and dynamic energy market at the least possible cost for consumers.”

    The 5% VAT applies to ALL domestic gas and electricity including renewables. Are they saying renewables are also over subsidised?

    “In September, the chancellor, Philip Hammond, said the government had “forgone” billions of pounds by choosing not to implement a scheduled rise in duty on petrol and diesel. “The fuel duty freezes since 2011 have meant that the exchequer has forgone around £46bn in revenues through to 2018-19.” He said the tax not collected was “about twice as much as we spend on all NHS nurses and doctors each year”.

    However fuel duty on petrol and diesel is already 59p a litre – is this not a tax? It works out at around 50%. Plus 20% VAT. Only the Guardian could call this a tax break……

    • This article is about subsidies, not taxes Paul…..

      In proportion:
      ‘ It found €12bn (£10.5bn) a year in support for fossil fuels in the UK, significantly more than the €8.3bn spent on renewable energy’…

      ‘Are they saying renewables are also over subsidised?’ no Paul, they re saying fossil fuels are over subsidised, particularly in respect of cutting ‘carbon emissions and meet the Paris climate agreement goals of limiting global warming to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels. “However, despite this and the international commitments made in the context of G20 and G7, fossil fuel subsidies in the EU have not decreased,” it said. “EU and national policies might need to be reinforced to phase out such subsidies.”

      • The “article” is claiming that the 5% VAT is the main subsidy – presumably the 15% below standard rate. As far as I know VAT is a tax….same for renewables in the UK.

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