This post has live updates from the ninth day of the public inquiry into IGas plans flow test its gas well at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire.
The inquiry is expected to hear more evidence today from witnesses supporting the IGas proposal. They will be cross-examined by Cheshire West and Chester Council and the campaign group, Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton.
Hearings resumed yesterday after a four-week break at the end of January. You can catch up here on the background and key points from the inquiry so far.
Reporting from the inquiry has been made possible by individual donations from DrillOrDrop readers
- IGas says there is no need to provide a climate change witness to the inquiry because it does not dispute that exploration of hydrocarbons will give rise to greenhouse gas emissions.
- IGas says it complies with government policy on climate change because it is doing everything it can to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from the Ellesmere Port site
- National policy as more important than the scientific evidence on climate change put before the inquiry, says IGas witness
- Confusion about whether IGas wants to do an acid wash, an acid squeeze or an acid wash with pressure
4.53pm Hearing closes
The inquiry resumes at 11am tomorrow (Thursday 28 February 2019).
4.47pm Inquiry progress
The inquiry hears that IGas has completed its case. Witnesses are unlikely to be recalled.
Conditions will be discussed tomorrow morning (Thursday 28 February 2019).
Closing submissions for Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton will be also be heard tomorrow.
Closing submissions for Cheshire West and Chester Council and IGas will be heard on Tuesday 5 March.
4.26pm Review of IGas planning evidence
Giles Cannock, the barrister for IGas, re-examines David Adams, the company’s planning witness.
Mr Cannock asks what role would gas play while the UK builds up cheap renewable energy and storage. Mr Adams gas plays a role in every future energy use scenario.
Mr Cannock asks what is the progress of the council’s emerging local plan. Mr Adams says it is due to be adopted imminently. It supports all stages of oil and gas developments, he says. The emerging plan should be given significant weight, he says.
Climate change reports
Mr Adams says he does not disagree with the report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
He says there was no purpose in IGas presenting climate change evidence to the inquiry.
The inquiry cannot anticipate future emissions targets or energy policy, Mr Adams says.
Other benefits of gas
As well as electricity generation, Mr Adams says gas is used in home heating and cooking, industry and manufacturing. It is a vital commodity, he says.
Paris Agreement and Written Ministerial Statement
Mr Adams says the government is pursuing policies to comply with the Paris Agreement.
Mr Adams says the May 2018 Written Ministerial Statement in support of shale gas is consistent with the Paris Agreement.
Mr Adams says there is no conflict between the IGas proposals and local planning policy on regeneration at Ellesmere Port.
Mr Adams says he would give very little weight to the council’s policy on regeneration of the IGas site area because the landowner wants to use if for port and industrial use.
He says the company is asking for five years planning permission to allow it to assess the results of the flow test.
4.14pm Questions from the inspector
Brian Cook (above), the inquiry inspector, puts questions to David Adams, the IGas planning witness.
Mr Cook says quite a few people had told the inquiry they were concerned about chest problems attributed to living in Ellesmere Port, caused by pollution from local industries. Those industries are regulated by the current permit conditions, Mr Cook says. Mr Adams agrees.
This site would be controlled by what are our current understandings of safe limits, Mr Cook asks. Mr Adams agrees.
Mr Cook says
Residents are being told that on today’s limits there will be no harm to public health.
But what history tells us is that as scientific knowledge improves it is almost always the case that those limits get tighter.
What we think of as a tight limit will in 20 years time we may find it is not as safe as we thought.
In these circumstances, is a perception of harm unjustified?
Mr Adams says:
I really believe that people think their concerns are genuine. It will be justified to them. People are very concerned. I don’t dispute that.
Is it justified?, Mr Cook asks.
It is to them, Mr Adams replies.
Mr Cook asks whether Mr Adams knows the smallest area considered for carbon budgets. No, Mr Adams replies.
You are not aware of a carbon budget for this council area, Mr Cook asks. No, says Mr Adams.
At the lowest end of the estimate, the IGas carbon footprint would be the equivalent to 10% of the emissions generated by Cheshire West and Chester Council, Mr Cook suggests. Mr Adams does not agree.
Is the IGas proposal based on any consideration of a carbon budget, Mr Cook asks. No says Mr Adams.
3.50pm More questions for IGas planning witness
Estelle Dehon, for the Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton, continues her cross-examination of David Adams, the IGas planning witness.
Mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions
Ms Dehon asks Mr Adams about council policy on mitigation for climate change. This is mainly achieved by controlling greenhouse gases, which could be by refusal of planning permission. Mr Adams agrees.
Perceptions of harm
Ms Dehon says the inspector is not being asked to turn down the application on the sole basis of public perception of harm.
Mr Adams says there are other reasons put forward for refusal.
Ms Dehon says case law shows that a perceived harm could be a reason for refusal in appropriate circumstances..
Mr Adams has said in written evidence that a perceived fear cannot a reason for refusal. He tells the inquiry that an unjustified fear should not be an acceptable reason for refusal.
Justification for concern
Ms Dehon says not all the objections were made on the basis that the scheme involved hydraulic fracturing. Mr Adams agrees.
Mr Adams says
“It is completely understandable that the people are worried about climate change in the round. We all should be.
“It is unjustified to be fearful that this development would, in isolation, give rise to demonstrable impacts on climate change.
“We all need to do our bit. But this is an existing site with an existing borehole that has been there for many years.
“Concerns that people have generally raised have not been based on the application that we have made. It has been made on a broader concern on hydrocarbon development.”
Professor Kevin Anderson gave evidence to the inquiry that greenhouse gas emissions of the site were not justified. You cannot argue that public concerns about climate change are unjustified, Ms Dehon says.
Mr Adams repeats that greenhouse gas emissions are inevitable. If the developer is doing everything it can to mitigate the effects then the fear is not justifiable. He says:
“It is not based on the evidence.”
Ms Dehon asks:
“What do you mean by that?”
Mr Adams says:
“We are managing the emissions in the best way we can.”
Ms Dehon says he is confusing the frack free group’s case with the council’s arguments.
Clarity of information and public trust
Ms Dehon says the company had not made it clear to the public what technique would be used to extrract the gas. This may explain why people were concerned, she says.
Mr Adams says this could be the case.
Ms Dehon says the public do not trust IGas and they do not trust what they are being told by the company. Mr Adams accepts this.
In this development, Ms Dehon says, IGas has put weight on the fact on its industry reputation. It has stated its record, Mr Adams says. He accepts it may explain public concern.
Out of date evidence for environmental permit
Ms Dehon says people could be justified in their concern because the environmental permit was decided on the basis of out of date information, such as the distance of the site from houses.
Mr Adams says this may justify the concern if it is based on evidence.
The inquiry has heard evidence of social trauma caused by the IGas application.
I could not be considered unjustified, Ms Dehon says. If the inspector accepts it, Mr Adams says.
Benefits of the development
Ms Dehon says the impacts or benefits of production cannot be considered by the inquiry. Mr Adams agrees.
In written evidence, Mr Adams says there is an inevitable intangible economic benefit from the exploratory works proposed.
Ms Dehon says an intangible benefit cannot be quantified. It is there, it is inevitable, Mr Adams says.
Ms Dehon says the intangible benefit is to IGas.
Mr Adams says:
“It is to UK plc”.
He says the government has made it clear that we need to know what gas is available so that we don’t need to rely on sources from other countries. Without the data, the government cannot plan. That will have an economic benefit, he says.
Ms Dehon says there is no economic benefit to accrues to the local community from this intangible benefit. Save from employment, Mr Adams says.
Any benefit to IGas carries little weight in planning terms, Ms Dehon says. Mr Adams agrees.
The hearing resumes at 3.40pm
2.03pm Frack Free group questions IGas planning witness
Estelle Dehon (left), barrister for Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton, cross-examines David Adams, planning witness for IGas.
Ms Dehon says IGas has been using the word “moratorium” a lot this week. Mr Adams accepts that there is nothing in the group’s case about a moratorium on gas exploration.
Climate change and planning policy
Ms Dehon says the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) requires the planning system to help achieve sustainable development, meeting carbon reductions and tackling climate change. Mr Adams agrees tackling climate change is one objective of the NPPF.
Ms Dehon says the government is waiting for a response from its adviser, Committee on Climate Change, to the report by the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The latest version of the NPPF does not take into account the IPCC report, Mr Adams accepts.
Mr Adams repeats IGas’s view that the Ellesmere Port flow test accords with the local development plan.
Reliance on other regulators
Mr Adam agrees that the public health and air quality impacts of a development are material considerations for decision-makers.
He says emissions from a development’s process are for the Environment Agency to control.
Ms Dehon puts it to Mr Adams that the assumption that the Environment Agency is working effectively is irrelevant to the planning question. Mr Adams agrees, though he adds that the Environment Agency is not considering climate change.
He accepts that risk to groundwater may be relevant to mineral planning authorities.
The inquiry hears that planning policy guidance on minerals allows issues, such as geology and groundwater, controlled by other regulators, can be put before mineral planning authorities or an inquiry inspector.
The guidance says planning decision-makers should not need to make their own assessment. Mr Adams agrees that the guidance does not say “never”.
Ms Dehon says evidence is needed for planning authorities to rely on the assessment of other regulators. Where the issue is relevant, Mr Adams says.
The inquiry is told Mr Adams says in his written evidence that decision-makers must assume that other regulators are acting effectively. That is not right, Ms Dehon says. Mr Adams says his word “must” should have said “should”.
Mr Adams tells the inquiry he doesn’t think mitigation of seismic risk is a matter for the inquiry because the Ellesmere Port scheme is not using fracking.
Planning decision-makers needs evidence that other regulators have effectively mitigated against seismic risk, Ms Dehon says.
She says there is evidence for Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton about the quality of information provided to the Environment Agency on seismicity.
Mr Adams says the proposed operation would not give rise to seismic issues. That is why we called two geologists to give evidence on acid squeeze, Ms Dehon says.
“We’re not doing an acid squeeze. It is an acid wash with pressure”, Mr Adam says.
No, says Ms Dehon. It is an acid wash and acid squeeze.
Giles Cannock, for IGas, says a different witness for the company has dealt with seismicity. Ms Dehon says the planning issues around seismicity are relevant to the inspector.
Local policy on climate change
The inquiry hears that Cheshire West and Chester Council has a policy which requires developers to show adaptation to climate change.
Mr Adam says is incompatible with support for oil and gas developments in another section of the development plan.
You cannot have one policy in a development plan that says it supports hydrocarbons and another policy which you can never comply with.
You must have come across policies that pull in different directions, Ms Dehon asks. You are trying to relegate everything to do with climate science, other than mitigation, to other considerations,she suggests.
Mr Adams says evidence from Professor Kevin Anderson on climate change is not relevant to the council’s policy on climate change adaptation.
Cheshire West and Chester Council has a policy to promote the regeneration of Ellesmere Port. The inquiry has heard evidence that the IGas scheme could damage regeneration prospects.
Mr Adams says the IGas scheme will generate employment and so complies with the council’s policy. [People in the audience disagree.]
The inquiry has heard that the council has a vision to regenerate the area of Ellesmere Port where the wellsite is based for housing. It was argued that allowing the well test would frustrate the regeneration plans.
But IGas has told the inquiry that the site owner, Peel Holdings, intends to develop the area for industry and port facilities.
Ms Dehon puts it to Mr Adams that the ambition of Peel Holdings does not mean the inspector should not take into account the regeneration vision of the council. Mr Adams says there is no point in having a vision that is not deliverable.
Ms Dehon says the planning assessment the council’s vision still carries weight with the inspector. Mr Adams says it would not be the IGas site that would prevent regeneration, it would be the ambition of Peel Holdings.
The council supports development that delivers improvements in health and wellbeing, the inquiry is told.
Ms Dehon says developments that might have a negative impact on local communities would not comply with local planning policy.
Mr Adams says the development would not promote improvements.
Ms Dehon says there is evidence before the inquiry that the IGas scheme could have a disproportionate effect on vulnerable communities. The inspector should therefore consider whether it complies with local planning policy.
Mr Adams says
“I am not convinced that this element of the policy is relevant to this development.”
2.01pm More council questions to David Adams, IGas witness
Robert Griffiths, for the council, continues his cross-examination of David Adams, the IGas planning witness.
Mr Griffiths suggests that we are in a climate crisis situation. He says IGas did not appeal until the last minute to appeal against the refusal of planning permission for Ellesmere Port.
He asks whether IGas is looking at sites that can be developed without fracking. Mr Adams says it is an industry decision and he can’t answer.
2pm Inquiry resumes
Robert Griffiths, the barrister for Cheshire West and Chester Council, submits new documents to the inquiry.
The inquiry resumes at 2pm.
11.30am Questions for David Adams, IGas planning witness
Robert Griffiths QC, (left) barrister for Cheshire West and Chester Council, begins to cross-examine of David Adams, the planing witness for IGas.
Climate change concerns
Mr Adams concedes that climate change is material but it is a matter of weight in the decision.
He says in his evidence that concerns expressed about climate change are not material. Mr Adams says he should have said concerns can be material where they are justified.
Mr Adams agrees that the inspector is free to consider whether those climate change concerns are justified.
Mr Adams says the environmental permit does not deal directly with climate change.
He agrees with Mr Griffith’s suggestion that the granting of an environmental permit is not conclusive on whether the scheme is acceptable in planning terms.
Mr Adams says you can rely on the assessment by the Environment Agency. You can be reassured that the Environment Agency is a competent authority, he adds.
Mr Adams says in his evidence that you can assume that the controls of the Environment Agency work. Asked about this, Mr Adams says the inspector can be confident that the Environment Agency acts responsibly in its environmental controls.
“False premise” for environmental permit
Mr Griffiths asks whether this would apply if the Environment Agency had been misled or given incorrect information. Mr Adams replies if figures are wrong, the inspector should not reconsider the granting of the permit.
If incorrect information had been given to the Environment Agency you couldn’t assume that the permit had been properly granted, Mr Griffiths says.
Mr Adams replies:
“In those circumstances, the weight given to the permit would be reduced.”
Mr Griffiths says the council argues that the Environment Agency proceeded on a false premise in granting the environmental permit because the greenhouse gas emissions figure was wrong.
Mr Adams later says this should not significantly reduce the weight given to the awarding of the permit. He says IGas is using best available techniques and they would remain so, regardless of the quantity of greenhouse gas emissions.
Mr Griffiths says this argument supports the council’s case – you are arguing that if you are using best available techniques [BAT] then permission should be granted. Mr Griffiths says:
“If you apply BAT to the wrong figure, you get the wrong answer.”
No, says Mr Adams. It is still BAT.
Mr Adams says he does not dispute the scientific eminence and evidence of climate change witness for the council. He says their evidence should be weighed in the planning balance.
Are land use impacts of shale gas always acceptable?
Mr Griffiths puts it Mr Adams that government support for shale gas does not always make the land use impacts of its development acceptable.
Mr Adams says the government position is clear on the need to explore for gas. Therefore, he says, there is an acceptance there will be land use consequences.
He agrees that the consequences are not necessarily acceptable.
Mr Adams says the inspector will have to assess the land use implications, as he would with any other development.
Mr Adams had given evidence that the government had considered making oil and gas exploration as permitted development, without the need for planning permission. He said this suggested that environmental impacts could be be considered acceptable.
Mr Griffiths, for the council, described this reasoning as “jumping the gun”. The government had not introduced permitted development. The inspector had to decide on the current position, Mr Adams agrees.
Letter to the Times
Mr Griffiths says a letter to The Times this morning from academics warned about the effects of fracking on climate change. The letter said we should be redoubling our efforts to restrict emissions responsible for climate change.
Mr Adams says the IGas plans are not for fracking. He says:
“We are doing all we can to limit emissions”.
Mr Griffiths says:
“If the effects of shale gas exploration result in the release of emissions to the atmosphere, which cause climate change, why is your answer that ‘this isn’t fracking’?
“The inspector has to consider the release of emissions that are likely to contribute to climate change.”
Mr Adams replies:
“It is inevitable that exploration will result in emissions to the atmosphere, whether it is fracking, or in this case, acid wash.”
But he adds:
“This doesn’t mean a moratorium on exploration.
“The government says we need to explore for onshore oil and gas.”
Mr Griffiths says the fact that it is not fracking is not material to the argument that it will result in emissions. We do not dispute that, Mr Adams says.
Joint written ministerial statement
Mr Griffiths refers to the statement, issued by the energy secretary, Greg Clark, and the local government secretary, James Brokenshire, in May 2018.
The statement accepted that decisions on shale gas development could be complex for local authorities. Mr Adams agrees.
Paris Agreement on climate change
Mr Adams agrees that the Paris Agreement on climate change, to which the UK is a signatory, is a material consideration in planning decisions.
He also accepts the premise put by Mr Griffiths that climate change is an urgent threat that needs to be addressed on the basis of best available scientific knowledge.
Mr Griffiths says the inspector will need to assess the best evidence on the contribution of shale gas development to climate change.
Mr Adams decisions had to be based on more than one aspect. He says refusal of shale gas applications because of climate change would “go against everything that has happened since the Paris Agreement”. Mr Adams accepts he should consider the evidence before the inquiry.
No climate change evidence from IGas
Mr Griffiths asks Mr Adams why IGas chose not to rebut any scientific evidence put before the inquiry on climate change.
The only scientific evidence on climate change before the inquiry will be the local authority and the Rule 6 party, Mr Griffiths says.
Mr Adams replies:
“Because the appellant took the view that there was no need for a climate change specialist because we have repeatedly not dispute the fact that exploration of hydrocarbons will give rise to greenhouse gas emissions.”
We are undertaking the best available technique or management of those emissions and that complies with government policy, Mr Adams says, because we are doing all that we can to mitigate against these climate change impacts.
Is that because you take the view that climate change is irrelevant?, Mr Griffiths says.
I don’t think it is irrelevant, Mr Adams says:
“The issue here is about whether this is appropriate land use planning.”
Policy versus science
Mr Adams says he regards national policy as more important than the scientific evidence on climate change put before the inquiry.
“We rely on policy and other material considerations.”
Mr Griffiths says the local policy used by the council to refuse the IGas plans is consistent with policy on climate change and the Paris Treaty.
Mr Adams says the council was not clear what the policy meant.
Mistake in environmental risk assessment
Mr Griffiths refers again to a miscalculation on greenhouse gas emissions from the Ellesmere Pot site. He says the miscalculation was used by the Environment Agency in its environmental permit
Did IGas go back to the EA and asked it to look again at the figure?, Mr Griffiths asks. It is not my remit, Mr Adams says. Jonathan Foster dealt with the Environment Agency, Mr Adams adds.
The inquiry resumes at 11.30am
10.08am Evidence of David Adams for IGas
Giles Cannock, for IGas, introduces David Adams, the company’s planning consultant and a former head of planning for Cheshire County Council. He has been involved in proposals for many oil and gas schemes, Mr Cannock says.
Mr Adams says very rarely are developments without harm or benefits.
He says the council did not refuse the application because it did not comply with the development plan. It believed that the application failed to mitigate and adapt the effects of climate change, he says.
Mr Adams says national policy strongly supports onshore oil and gas and this should be given great weight in the decision on the Ellesmere Port site, which he describes as highly suitable.
For the past 15 years, the government has recognised the use of gas, though reducing, for meeting energy requirements. Decision-makers should give considerable weight to this, he says.
Mr Adams says Cheshire’s development plan supports schemes like the IGas proposals. This should be given great weight in the decision-making, he says.
The impacts of the development will be very short-term. They will be mitigated by good design, Mr Adams says. The harm is very limited, he adds.
“There are no material considerations that weigh against the proposals such that they should be refused.”
Mr Adams says he gives great weight to the decision by the Environment Agency to grant an environmental permit for the Ellesmere Port site.
The inquiry has heard calls, from the council’s witness, Dr Paul Balcombe, that gas emitted during the flow test, should be captured. This is opposed by the IGas witness, Jonathan Foster, who says the gas should be burnt.
Asked whose evidence he prefers, Mr Adams says Mr Foster.
Mr Adams says onshore oil and gas exploration can never achieve zero net emissions.
Mr Adams says Mr Balcombe’s evidence on mitigating the global warming emissions from the well site cannot be consistent with national or local planning policy or evidence given by the council’s planning witness.
Climate change guidance
Mr Cannock refers to advice from the government’s adviser, the Committee on Climate Change.
Mr Adams says the government’s response to the CCC report on shale gas identifies the economic benefits and the need to explore for potential reserves. He says the government expects emissions to be managed by mitigation measures.
Mr Adams says the government has sought advice from the CCC on whether it should change policy on emissions reductions. This follows a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the need to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.
The CCC is required to provide recommendations on emissions reductions. But it must take into account the UK Climate Change Act, Mr Adams says. This requires consideration of economic and fiscal circumstances, Mr Adams says. We cannot prejudge what the advice will be or the decision parliament will take, he adds.
It doesn’t change any of the relevant policies, Mr Adams says.
Mr Adams says government policy seeks to balance meeting climate change targets while delivering a safe, secure and deliverable supply of energy.
He says the government seeks to ensure that we have a secure supply of gas.
The government will have taken into account carbon emissions and climate change when describing shale gas developments of national importance.
Three phases of oil and gas development
Mr Adams says the National Planning Policy Framework requires local authorities to plan positively for three phases of oil and gas development: exploration, appraisal and production. This recognises that the different phases have different impacts.
He says the NPPF recognises the need to continue to explore for oil and gas while transitioning to a low carbon future.
Mr Adams says all scenarios for future energy provision require the use of gas. It is a fundamental part of our energy needs, he says.
Fear and anxiety
There is no objective basis for people to feel fear or anxiety about fracking or matrix acidising, Mr Adams tells the inquiry.
He says the use of acid is a common technique in the onshore oil and gas industry.
“I don’t doubt that people are worried but it has to be justified.”
He says the community should be reassured that the use of acid is a de minimis activity, according to the Environment Agency.
Mr Adams says the landowner, Peel Holdings, is a very experienced developer in the region. It has no intention to use the site for housing, Mr Adams adds.
Asked if the IGas scheme would affect regeneration of the area, Mr Adams says Peel Holdings do not consider there would be any regeneration issues. He says:
“I don’t think you could give any weight to regeneration issues.”
10am Hearing begins
The inquiry inspector, Brian Cooks, opens today’s session. He says a discussion between witnesses on greenhouse gas emissions is underway.
Giles Cannock, barrister for IGas, submits an email from Natural England, sent to the IGas team in January.
Estelle Dehon, barrister for Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton, submits images to compare the distance between the wellsite and nearby homes and a wellsite and the office of an IGas consultant.