This post has news updates from Day 7 of the inquiry into IGas plans for testing its well at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire.
The session will evidence from the planning witness for Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton (FFEPU) and the start of the IGas case with its air quality expert.
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 adjourns later today reconvenes for extra sessions in late February and early March.
Reporting at this inquiry has been made possible by donations from individual DrillOrDrop readers
- IGas presents evidence that Peel Holdings has dropped plans to redevelop the port area for mixed use
- Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton planning witnesses says the IGas plans will cause social harm.
- IGas has disregarded noise and air quality impacts of Ellesmere Port well, says campaign group’s witness.
- Council must understand the level of its greenhouse gas emissions, says planning witness
- Inspector cannot assume that the Environment Agency had correct information about the IGas well test plans – planning witness
- Questions raised over whether planning committee considered the effect on emergencies that the IGas wellsite was on a cul-de-sac
- Shale gas development on the IGas site would threatened inward investment in Ellesmere – planning witness
- Greenhouse gas emissions were not calculated because they would be too low – air quality witness
- The IGas scheme would not worsen air quality – company witness
9.32am Inquiry opens
The inquiry inspector, Brian Cook, opens Day 7 of the inquiry
9.33 Submission of documents
Giles Cannock, barrister for IGas, introduces further documents to the inquiry. He describes these as extracts from development plans for Ellesmere Port. The documents include one dating from 2014 and written by Peel Holdings, suggesting they had abandoned plans for mixed use at Ellesmere Port and decided that the site should be developed as a port.
9.38 Further evidence from Jackie Copley
Estelle Dehon, for Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton (FFEPU), continues her case with the group’s planning witness, Jackie Copley (above). She begins by asking Ms Copley whether Ellesmere Quays is a specific planning proposal.
Ms Copley says this was a proposal by Peel Holdings, the landlord, but appears to be no longer on the table.
Ms Dehon points out that the 2015 local plan for Ellesmere Port regeneration post-dates the statement by Peel. Ms Copley says the 2015 plan refers to new housing and regeneration and supersedes the Peel document.
Ms Dehon quotes from IGas evidence that the current application will not affect regeneration plans. Ms Copley says companies looking at sites for houses are likely to put off by a drilling site. She refers to government policy on making use of brownfield sites for housing, which will be affected if the site goes ahead.
Ms Dehon quotes from a council policy (SOC 5) that health and well-being of residents are a primary aim. She refers to previous evidence on air quality and health and asks about the relevance to planning.
Ms Copley says air quality will cause health impacts for vulnerable populations, and the inquiry needs to understand what the harms are. She says significant weight should be given to health impacts.
Ms Dehon refers to Dr Anna Szolucha’s evidence, heard earlier in the inquiry, on social harm. Ms Copley says there is social harm accruing from this proposal. People need to see that all social harms have been addressed and a more open social consultation process may have helped. Weight should be given to any social harm arising from the application she says.
Ms Dehon asks how the application is affected by local plan policy ENV 7. Ms Copley refers to the cumulative impact on noise and air quality. The developer, she says, has shown disregard for this. Residential amenity will also be affected.
There is an impact from all the traffic which will arise from the site, and where HGVs will be accommodated. Ms Copley says there will be harm from the particulates emitted and there are harms on biodiversity.
The Inspector asks for clarification on whether concerns are being raised on biodiversity and traffic. Estelle Dehon confirms they are not.
Ms Copley says in her opinion the developer has not given enough consideration to local council policies.
National Planning Policy Framework
Ms Dehon moves onto the NPPF. She asks whether policies on hydrocarbon exploration and sustainability fit together. Ms Copley says the council must understand what their greenhouse gas emissions are, particularly with regard to the Paris Agreement. Evidence from Professor Anderson should be given great weight – we need to be making savings on emissions. This is a critical issue for the proposals.
She says you need to look at NPPF as a whole. The application is compatible with paragraphs referring to hydrocarbon exploration, but we have no idea of the effect of the application on emissions., which is incompatible with paragraphs on sustainability.
“It is entirely right that the inspector gives due consideration to the IPPC report”
Ms Dehon refers to Kevin Anderson’s evidence suggesting that you should not omit exploration from the three tests set out by the Committee on Climate Change report. Ms Copley says the climate change act sets an obligation on government to reduce emissions.
Ms Copley says statements on shale gas do not mean that every application should be approved.
Ms Dehon asks if the Environment Agency considers greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions when issuing permits. Ms Copley says it does not. This is not within the EA’s remit and is a planning issue.
Ms Copley says she believes GHG emissions are a matter for the inspector, as set out in council planning and national planning documents.
Ms Dehon refers to guidance that mineral planning authorities should assume that regulators will operate effectively. Ms Copley says “should assume” means that if the correct information has gone to the regulator and been adequately considered, then the council can assume the issue has been properly assessed. Ms Copley says you can’t assume all the boxes have been ticked.
Mr Cook, the inquiry inspector, clarifies that inadequacies being discussed are in regard to information being supplied to the EA.
Ms Dehon refers to Prof Smythe’s evidence that the EA were supplied with the wrong geology. Ms Copley says it can’t be assumed EA has done an adequate assessment.
Ms Dehon refers to Prof Waterson’s evidence that housing information given to EA was incorrect. Ms Copley repeats that the assumption of adequate assessment cannot be taken.
Ms Dehon refers to guidance that IGas will need to consider health impacts, and HSE and EA guidance can also be considered. Ms Copley says the EA and HSE cannot have fully considered any health issues because of the information supplied to them.
Ms Dehon asks Ms Copley about the relevance of the site’s cul-de-sac and emergency planning as a planning issue. Ms Copley says this is an important piece of information, which she doesn’t think the planning committee had in front of them. In the event of a blowout or fire, employees from neighbouring businesses would need to run towards incident.
Ms Dehon asks about significance of driiling deeper than originally stated. IGAS told the planning officers they intended to do this. Ms Copley says this generated distrust in the community.
10:32 Cross examination of planning witness by IGas
Ms Copley says that she thinks a condition to restrict to an acid wash would be helpful to the community.
Giles Cannock, for IGas, suggests this condition would duplicate EA permit conditions. Ms Copley refers to discrepancies in documentation from IGas, which has caused confusion. High volumes of acid on the site are a concern, she says.
Mr Cannock says operating technique are a matter for the EA. A planning condition is not needed if you accept the EA’s judgement, he says. Ms Copley says the EA hase not been precise enough. Mr Cannock says EA has not given permission for matrix acidisation. Ms Copley says there are land use issues given the amount of acid allowed for use on the site.
Ellesmere Port vision document
Mr Cannock refers to a vision document for Ellesmere Port. He says it is not a planning document and is not part of the development plan, but was intended to influence future planning documents. Ms Copley says it has status as planning policy as it is mentioned in the local plan. She agrees it pre-dates the adoption of the local plan.
Mr Cannock quotes from local plan, which says the well is not part of a strategic site. He says there is no reference to the site being developed for housing or anything else.
Mr Cannock asks which part of the policy conflicts with drilling on the site? Ms Copley refers to 4,800 dwellings which will be built near the site. She says the council will provide land for a range of residential and business development. Mr Cannock puts it to her that the council will be unable to maintain a portfolio of employment, land and premises if application granted. Ms Copley agrees.
Ms Copley says the area around the site will be affected by the development. Adjoining areas will be affected, with inward investment under threat. She says the overall vision document aims for higher economic growth.
Mr Cannock says further development of the Stanlow refinery is supported by the strategy. Ms Copley says Stanlow is further away. She agrees that Stanlow and the Ince Energy Recovery scheme are part of the portfolio.
Mr Cannock says IGas’s landlord, Peel Holdings, are the best people to say what the regeneration aspirations are. It said in the new document before the requirement that the success of the dock meant that mixed use was no longer viable.
Mr Cannock quotes from the Peel document suggesting that housing would not start until 2023 and that waterfront housing was impracticable.
Mr Cannock says that the drilling site is not allocated under the latest local plan because the regeneration is not progressing.
Ms Copley says council policy STRAT4 clearly states the council’s desire to regenerate the area. Mr Cannock says there is no site-specific policy in the emerging local plan which reflects the vision for the area. Ms Copley agrees but says the council plan clearly talks about the desire to improve Ellesmere Port. It’s not just Peel’s interests you have to consider, but other landowners too, she says.
Mr Cannock asks what progress has been made since 2011 to realise the vision set out.
Ms Copley says there has been no progress, but it could be because of the use of the land as it is. Mr Cannock suggests that this is due to the decision of the landlord. He says that Peel Holdings supports the application and there will be no regeneration without Peel.
Mr Cannock suggests, there is a five-year window for regeneration which could accommodate an 18 week exploration drill. The principal partners in the regeneration would be Peel Holdings and the council, he says. Neither have said the shale gas development would conflict with the vision for the area, he adds.
Ms Copley replies that the testing application was rejected because it conflicted with the council’s STRAT1 policy, and the site did have potential for regeneration. Mr Cannock says there is no objection from the council because of employment or “sterilisation” of land use in policy STRAT4.
Mr Cannock puts it Ms Copley that she does not suggest there is anymore IGas can do by way of mitigation. Ms Copley suggests infrared monitoring of methane emissions. She says greenhouse gas emissions from the site should be assessed, reduced and monitored. Mr Cannock says there have been no practical suggestions for reducing CO2 emissions.
Ms Copley agrees that everyone has to apply government policy to the scheme. She says information which has come forward should be considered by the inspector.
Ms Copley says it could meet the council’s sustainability policy STRAT 1, but no effort has been made by the applicant to reduce or measure greenhouse gases, so it is not compliant.
She agrees that if mitigation has been delivered to the satisfaction of EA, then STRAT1 is complied with. But she adds that the EA has not considered greenhouse gases when granting permit.
Climate change and government shale gas policy
Mr Cannock returns to Professor Anderson’s evidence on climate change, which says that no more fossil fuel exploration or production can be carried out. Ms Copley says her position is having the application considered on local policies and other material applications. The application will use 1.6% of council’s greenhouse gas budget with no benefit to the council. She points out that IGAS have not provided a climate change expert.
Mr Cannock refers to document on government policy on benefits from exploitation of shale resources. Ms Copley says IPCC report will probably update government guidance.
Mr Cannock says that evidence by Professor Kevin Anderson is the antithesis of the government policy on maximising use of domestic gas. Ms Copley says policy talks of the need to be mindful of environment and local communities.
Mr Cannock says the NPPF considers onshore gas to be consistent with a transition to low carbon economy. Ms Copley disagrees, saying different policies pull in different directions.
Mr Cannock says we don’t know what the government’s response will be to any Committee on Climate Change recommendations in light of IPCC report. Until then, current guidance remains and gas continues a key part of the energy mix. Ms Copley agrees.
Grounds for refusal
Mr Cannock says evidence is that traffic, landscape, health and noise impacts were not contested by the council. Ms Copley says the decision notice is not an accurate reflection of discussion which took place. Mr Cannock asks if council have not followed statutory requirement to express all concerns with application. Ms Copley says they chose to reject the application on a narrow ground.
Mr Cannock asks about damage to residential amenity. Ms Copley says no reference was made to properties 350m away from development. She says it isn’t a nice neighbour in terms of the operations performed in each stage of the development. There are issues within each stage and residents need to be reassured that issues have been dealt with.
Mr Cannock says contact with emergency services made during initial drilling and appellant will happen again once development begins. The location on a cul-de-sac has not changed from when the well was initially drilled.
Mr Cannock says flaring of gas will be regulated by EA. Ms Copley accepts there is no deficiency of information to the EA on flaring. Mr Cannock says there has been a new air quality assessment which does take account of new residential units.
11:52 Questions from the inspector
There has been a lot of talk about health impacts and effects on residential amenity due to extra traffic. Mr Cook asks whether this won’t also apply to regeneration proposals. Ms Copley says you would get benefits from the work. Mr Cook says effects from development traffic will still be there. Ms Copley says value added to the site from regeneration will be greater. Only benefit from the current application will be to applicant.
“The harms would be different, as any new development should consider lifetime greenhouse gas emissions. This proposal doesn’t address this.”
Mr Cook says: your evidence is that diesel traffic will harm residents, but offset by benefits of regeneration. Ms Copley agrees.
Mr Cook says due diligence of new investors will look at available workforce, existing businesses, planning applications and so on. Does the fact that a rig will be there for 35 days change your decision? Ms Copley says the presence of a shale gas well could affect investment decision.
11:59 Re-examination of Jackie Copley by Estelle Dehon for FFEPU
Estelle Dehon asks Ms Copley to expand on reasons for investment decisions. Would an application for a shale rig have any impact?. Ms Copley says it would be off-putting. Perception of your business having a shale well as a neighbour would be a negative.
Ms Dehon says Peel Holdings was involved in the local plan examination, and Ellesmere Port regeneration was part of the local plan which was subject to examination. Ms Dehon asks if the vision document was before the local plan inspector, so he was aware it was being considered. Ms Copley agrees. Ms Dehon says the vision document was part of the evidence base for the neighbourhood plan. Ms Copley says this means the vision document is still live and relevant.
Ms Dehon says nothing has yet been done towards the vision document. She asks Ms Copley what weight should be given to the vision. Ms Copley says significant weight should be given because it is in an adopted local plan, and the inspector should consider the application in the light of the strategic vision.
Ms Dehon asks if there is anything in the local plan which undermines the vision. Ms Copley says there is not.
Ms Dehon refers to council policy ENV7 and asks what the caveat is on supporting development. Ms Copley says the policy has the wording with “no unacceptable impacts”. Ms Copley believes there are unacceptable impacts.
Ms Dehon asks if the development plan considers this proposal to be a low-carbon proposal. Ms Copley says no.
Ms Dehon refers to Professor Anderson’s evidence and asks Ms Copley which parts of evidence does she adopt. Ms Copley says she agrees shale is not low-carbon, but proposal has to be considered in context of local plan. She says that his evidence is material to whether the application should be granted.
Ms Dehon invites Ms Copley to consider what the council and local community will get from the exploration application. Ms Copley says all they will get will be increased harms as discussed.
This is the end of the case for Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton
12:22 Katrina Hawkins gives evidence for IGas on air quality
Giles Cannock, barrister for IGAS, introduces his first witness, environmental consultant, Katrina Hawkins (above). She tells the inquiry she has specialised in air, land and water pollution. She is now chairman of a company specialising in in air quality and contaminated land investigation and remediation.
Health impacts of well tests
Mr Cannock asks her what relevance the well test technique of matrix acidisation has for air quality. She says it has none.
Ms Hawkins says the National Planning Policy Framework requires developments to comply with Air Quality Assessment Levels and comply with Air Quality Management Areas.
The NPPF says a development is acceptable if it complies with the requirements of AQALs, she says. The NPPF also says planning authority should not duplicate the work of these issues of the Environment Agency, she says.
She says the test for a development on air quality is whether there will be significant adverse impacts.
Ms Hawkins says there is no evidence she is aware of that the IGas scheme will breach air quality levels and no other air quality impact assessments have been submitted to the inquiry.
Role of the Environment Agency.
The inquiry hears that the Environment Agency issues permits and considers air quality implications of developments. It is also responsible for considering the effects of flaring.
Mr Cannock asks if greenhouse gas emissions are the concern of the EA.
Not in this case, Ms Hawkins says, because the greenhouse gas emissions are below a given threshold. She says she has not considered greenhouse gas emissions either.
Mr Cannock says housing is now closer to the site than it was when the environment permits were first issued. He asks whether the permit should be reconsidered.
Ms Hawkins says
“It would be reasonable to think that it should be reconsidered. But the original [air quality] assessments also included adjoining industrial receptors, as well as the houses.”
The difference in air quality at the new houses would not significant because the industrial units were nearer the site, she says.
Ms Hawkins says she has undertaken a revised assessment. She tells the inquiry Cheshire West and Chester Council knew about the new housing during the permit application process. She says it would be reasonable to look again at the application.
She says the council’s environmental protection team picked up concerns about the new housing. They had all the information they needed in front of them, she adds. No concerns were expressed at the time of the planning meeting and the issue was not part of the decision. There had been no requests for health impact assessments, Ms Hawkins says.
List of chemicals to be used at the IGas site
Ms Hawkins says there is no need to reconsider the list of chemicals mentioned in the environmental permit or the use of benzene as a proxy for all polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (or PAHs).
She says no chemicals are allowed to be used, apart from those listed in the permit. She says there is no doubt what chemicals will be used in the inhibitors.
2pm Inquiry resumes with more evidence from IGas air quality witness
Giles Cannock for IGas continues his examination of Katrina Hawkins, the company’s air quality expert.
Ms Hawkins discusses the Air Quality Management Area, or AQMA.
She says impacts from operation of flares are limited to an area close to the site. The latest report on the AQMA found that nitrogen oxide levels in the area around the well site were below UK targets.
Ms Hawkins said the site proposed to flare for only two months. But it was normal practice to model for the period of a year, using hourly sequential meteorological data. This allowed researchers to understand the effects of worst-case weather conditions. You model the average pollution over the year, and then model pro-rata down to the 2 months of the operation, she says.
Mr Cannock asks whether people leaving in deprived areas may be more susceptible to pollution, as suggested by Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton.
Ms Hawkins says levels of pollution are set taking account elderly, ill nd vulnerable people but no account was taken of deprivation. She says the health risk is acceptable if pollution standards are met.
Mr Cannock asks about carbon monoxide levels. Ms Hawkins says this gas is measured on an eight-hour rolling average. The modelling suggests levels at levels of 16% of the Air Quality Action Level. This represented insignificant effects on health, she says.
On particulates, Ms Hawkins says there is no safe level for PM2.5 –particles measuring 2.5 micrometres which can come from many sources, including dust from the Sahara.
The policy is to reduce the level of PM10 particles. Local authorities have no statutory requirement to reduce PM2.5 particles, she says.
She says the main sources of these particles would be construction activities, exhaust emissions from road traffic and machinery on site.
Ms Hawkins says the IGas development will not generate lorry movements through the Air Quality Management Area. The application suggested an average of six lorry movements per day.
She says site machinery will emit particles but they will be operating for two months, she says.
Mr Cannock asks whether emissions would be different if the site were being developed for employment generation. Ms Hawkins says this would depends on the number of lorry movements.
The inquiry hears that the flare will be monitored for hydrogen sulphide, down to levels of four parts per million. Ms Hawkins says on burning hydrogen sulphide changes to sulphur dioxide, on a worst case scenario of 0.42 micrograms per cubic metre. The acceptable level is 350.
Mr Cannock asks if there are gaps in the air quality assessment. Ms Hawkins says the assessment looks at the major sources of air pollutants and the assessment is proportionate to the development. No-one asked for more detail when the assessment was done.
Mr Cannock asks whether the AQALs embody the precautionary principle. Ms Hawkins says they do.
Mr Cannock asks if there should be a supplementary health assessment. Ms Hawkins says there are no grounds for this, as the proposal is temporary and an air quality assessment is a proxy for a health assessment.
2.30pm Council cross examines Katrina Hawkins
Robert Griffiths QC, barrister for the council, cross-examines Katrina Hawkins, the IGas air quality witness.
Mr Griffiths asks IGas to calculate the tonnage of methane in the 14-day drill stem test from flow rates in the shrouded flare technical document.
He asks Ms Hawkins to confirm that greenhouse gas emissions were not taken into account in the environmental permit because they were estimated to be below a certain threshold. Ms Hawkins agrees.
2.32pm Campaign group questions air quality evidence
Estelle Dehon, for Frack Free Ellesmere Port & Upton, questions Katrina Hawkins, the IGas air quality witness, on her evidence.
Ms Dehon puts it to Ms Hawkins that she has screened out some impacts in her air quality assessment because the development is short term and there are no homes immediately nearby. Ms Hawkins agrees.
Deprivation and air quality
Ms Dehon refers to the 2017 annual report from the Chief Medical Officer, quoted by Dr Patrick Saunders on Wednesday 23 January. It focussed on air quality and health impacts. Asked if she was aware of the document, Ms Hawkins says not this particular report.
Ms Dehon says the document discussed how deprived people tended to be more susceptible to pollution. The Chief Medical Officer suggested that decision-making could exacerbate pollution, Ms Dehon said. The CMO said decision-makers should take more account of how effects of pollution were distributed and whether the effects were distributed equally.
Ms Dehon refers to 2011 health data on the Rossmore ward, which includes the IGAs site. 9.9% of residents have bad or very bad health, above the average for Chester West and Chester she says. Ms Dehon quotes Dr Saunders’ evidence that on the stresses to which residents are subjected, including air pollution.
Ms Dehon says the IGas site does have the potential to exacerbate pollution.
Ms Hawkins says the recommendation from the Chief Medical Officer would apply to all developments. Any emission would have an impact. You need to look at the scale of emissions to determine the effect it will have, she says.
Ms Dehon says the IGas site is in a deprived ward, and it is right to take this into account.
Ms Hawkins says the guidance does not tell her to do this. The council could have asked for an extra assessment but it did not.
Ms Dehon says the Inspector is the decision maker here and he should consider that you have not taken deprivation into account.
Ms Dehon says air quality levels are set generally across the UK and would not take account of the conditions in a ward, such as Rossmore. The AQAL limits wouldn’t take into account that Rossmore ward has a 60% higher cancer risk than the UK average, she says.
Ms Dehon puts it Ms Hawkins that she didn’t deal with the effect of leachates. Ms Hawkins agrees.
Ms Dehon refers to a report to Defra on the impacts of shale gas extraction on air quality. Ms Hawkins says the document refers to the industry as a whole, but doesn’t provide guidance on an individual site.
The inquiry heard earlier from Professor Andrew Watterson, a witness for Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton, that there should have been a public life cycle analysis for the site but this wasn’t done. Ms Hawkins says this means there would be monitoring before, during and afterwards and this would happen.
Benzene and fugitive emissions
Ms Dehon says Professor Saunders gave evidence that benzene levels will be higher in deprived areas and any increase would have an impact at a population level. Ms Hawkins says there is no longer a requirement to monitor benzene unless there are hotspots. There has been no monitoring in Cheshire West and Chester for several years because benzene levels are so low.
On fugitive emissions, Ms Hawkins says she didn’t consider this because they should be low because of strict onsite controls.
Greenhouse gas emissions
On greenhouse gas emissions, Ms Hawkins says this is outside her area of expertise. Ms Dehon says both the drill stem test and the extended well test will have methane emissions associated but the Environment Agency refers only to the extended well test. She says there could be cold venting during low gas flows. Ms Hawkins says she understands there will be reserve gas keep the flare burning.
Ms Hawkins confirms that she didn’t consider the air quality impact of a blowout on the site.
3.10pm Question from inspector
Brian Cook, the inquiry inspector, says the Environment Agency can review a permit. Ms Hawkins says permits can be brought up to modern standards.
Mr Cook says if the EA were concerned, it could ask to see any new evidence and ask for changes to be made.
3.15pm Re-examination of air quality evidence
Mr Cannock asks whether the area could be said to have a higher pollution load, given it is in an Air Quality Management Area. Ms Hawkins says she has no reason to think so.
On lorry movements, Ms Hawkins says the effect on background pollution levels of site traffic is negligible. Avoiding HGV movements would mean no development at all would be possible in the area, she says.
On benzene, Ms Hawkins says the level at the site is well below the national recommended limit, and repeats there is no requirement for monitoring.
Mr Cannock asks what happens to formation water. Ms Hawkins says recovered water goes into a separator, gas goes to flare, and water is removed off site. She says there is a negligible risk of chemicals being flared.
3.35pm Future hearings
The inquiry was told that hearings could go on to 3 March 2019.
In the inspector asks for a working draft of by 22 February.
On IGas costs, Mr Cook says he has to take into account the costs incurred and whether the council behaved unreasonably. He said he wanted clarity on what costs had been incurred because of the council’s actions.
The inquiry adjourns until 0930 on 26 February 2019.
Reporting at this inquiry has been made possible by donations from individual DrillOrDrop readers