This post has news updates from the second day of the public inquiry into Egdon Resources’ plans for 15 years of oil and gas production at its site at Wressle in north Lincolnshire.
Inspector Phillip Ware heard evidence from Egdon’s planning and hydrogeology witnesses and more residents who oppose the Wressle scheme.
The inquiry is expected to end tomorrow (7 November 2019). Updates from Day 1
Reporting from this inquiry was made possible by individual donations from DrillOrDrop readers.
- North Lincolnshire councillors did not read report or understand the key issues of Wressle site – Egdon witness
- Decision won’t happen before the general election
- Industry in the countryside will make it look like a town, resident warns
- Wressle plans are not novel, says Egdon
- No unacceptable risk to groundwater or surface water – Egdon consultant
- Time to choose between fossil fuels and a tolerable climate – resident
- No need for more oil and gas – resident
- Dismissing appeal is step in right direction of climate change – resident
- Inspector rejects condition to allow “operational need” that would extend working hours
“We can’t have fossil fuels and a tolerable climate”
Statement by opponent of the scheme, Andrew McLeod
Environmental activist Andrew McLeod tells the inquiry the Wressle scheme will increase global greenhouse gas emissions “at a time when what is urgently needed is a rapid and deep cut in emissions”.
“We have reached a global tipping point in our climate crisis, in terms of both its impact, and the dawning of widespread realization of the scale of the required response.
“The issue is not the evidence of the threat. That is clear and accepted – in fact with hindsight it will be seen as blindingly obvious.”
The effects of climate change are already upon us, Mr McLeod says, and the world has barely even begun to confront the problem.
He says a recent poll found that 33% of respondents said the UK should aim to reach net zero emissions by 2025.
“Most of our fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground, unburned, if we are to stay within a global carbon budget that gives us any chance of avoiding a catastrophic climate breakdown.
“It’s time to choose between more fossil fuels or a tolerable climate because we can’t have both.”
Mr McLeod says a High Court ruling which outlawed government support for onshore oil and gas in relation to climate change is material to the appeal.
The explicit support for oil and gas development set out in the National Planning Policy Framework, paragraph 209a, no longer applied, he says. Planning applications could also be objected to on current scientific evidence on climate change, he says.
“Scientific fact can outweigh outdated government policy.
“It could be argued that the current North Lincolnshire Local Plan and indeed national policy are dangerously out of date given the speed at which climate breakdown and the scientific understanding of climate change and renewables technology are progressing.
“Current national planning policy on hydrocarbon extraction seems to be based almost entirely on affordability and security of supply and has little regard for environmental and social impacts or international agreements.”
!”Climate change effects are unacceptable”
Mr McLeod says the climate change effects caused by greenhouse gas emissions for the extraction of new oil and gas are unacceptable and outweigh the claimed benefits of the Wressle scheme for energy security and transition to a low-carbon economy.
“I argue that the planning system should recognise the severe threat of climate breakdown by refusing to grant planning permission for the proposed development.”
Mr McLeod gives evidence of the growing concern and impacts of climate change and the falling cost of renewable energy.
Organisations, economies, societies and environment risk losing capacity to absorb disruption of climate change. The window to a tolerable climate future may be closed by 2030, he says.
“Even if we drop to zero carbon dioxide emissions tomorrow, which is impossible, we still have a sizable risk of bad outcomes.”
Mr McLeod says:
“2030 is just over ten years away, and here are Egdon Resources asking yet again for permission to put another million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere over fifteen or more years, and that’s if they only extract the 2.15 million barrels potentially recoverable from Wressle-1.”
He describes the UK’s legal commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 as “completely inadequate”. It gives only a 50% chance of hitting the 1.5 degree commitment and then only if coupled with ambitious near-term emissions reductions and replicated across the world.
Mr McLeod rejects Egdon’s assertion that increasing domestic oil and gas production will have a lower carbon footprint than imported hydrocarbons.
The implication of the latest research is that no new oil or gas should be brought on stream, he says, and all greenhouse gas-emitting power plants, factories, cars, trucks, ships and planes must be replaced by non-polluting alternatives, or not replaced, as they reach the end of their lifetimes.
“The consequences of waiting far too long to address rising greenhouse gas emissions are now unfolding and the pace is quickening.
“Do we have to wait for such a tragedy here in the UK before we tell the fossil fuel industry that enough is enough?
“Fixing this is a massive challenge but it’s possible, provided we stop literally pouring fuel on the fire by allowing the fossil fuel industry to continue bringing new reserves of oil and gas on-stream.
“Dismissing this appeal would be a significant step in the right direction.”
Questions to Andrew McLeod
Egdon’s barrister, Hereward Phillpot QC, puts it to Mr McLeod that net zero carbon emissions in the UK by 2050 is a legal target, not a matter for a planning inquiry. Mr McLeod agrees.
“You take a principled objection to the current legal target and that informs your objection”, Mr Phillpot puts it to Mr McLeod. Yes, says Mr McLeod.
Mr Phillpot says the UK’s Committee on Climate Change does not say the answer to reduced carbon emissions lies in constraining the production of hydrocarbons. Mr McLeod says the net zero target is only part of the argument on tackling climate change.
Mr Phillpot says fossil fuels remain part of national policy as a future energy source. Mr McLeod says energy policy is “dangerously outdated” with rapidly expanding knowledge.
Mr Phillpot questions the suggestion that the Wressle scheme would increase greenhouse gas emissions, even if it displaced imports. Mr McLeod says its impact would depend on what the exporting country did with the production. “We cannot rely on indigenous production would reduce greenhouse gas emissions”, Mr McLeod says.
“Oil and gas demand is generally increasing in other countries. If that production continues to exist in the exporting country it will continue to be exported somewhere.” There is no way of producing that evidence, Mr McLeod says.
You are assuming the end use would be combustion, Mr Phillpot says
Mr McLeod says the majority of oil and gas is used in energy generation.
“If we want to thrive, we have to let nature thrive.”
Statement by opponent, Rebecca Fawcett
Ms Fawcett, a retired teacher, tells the inquiry oil and gas developments are often in places that are unsuitable and where infrastructure is often poor.
She says a gas pipeline has been installed in her village, causing disruption at a level of the type expected to result from the Wressle proposals.
Villagers initially felt reassured by a traffic plan, she says, but as the project progressed there were “huge increases in traffic”, near-misses, breached speed limits, potholes and cracks to the road with no proper repair, rubbish, invasive plants and no community benefits.
Ms Fawcett says she has been recommended by doctors to stay inside because of smog but she found pollution inside was worse inside. Her only option was to move house. Other residents have also put their homes up for sale, she says.
“The worst part is a feeling of helplessness. We are abandoned. We have no autonomy, no say on what happens in village. Things are done to it and we can’t stop it.”
She says the Humber region is one of the poorest in the country for biodiversity. It is also a pollution corridor.
“We need to aim for net gains but look like heading for net losses. It is better to stand up for what we have left.”
She warns that the next generation will be left with “only rats, pigeons and a fox addicted to fast food”.
“Biodiversity matters”, she says. “Variety is important, she adds.
“If we end up with countryside looking like a town, with industry, it is curtains for variety. If we want to thrive, we have to let nature thrive.”
“Abandoning lives of children and grandchildren”
Statement by opponent, Dave Roberts
Mr Roberts, a Scunthorpe resident for 50 years, takes issue with Egdon’s statement that oil imports would be needed if the Wressle scheme does not go ahead.
There is plenty of gas in the world, he says, and demand for oil is falling. He says the government recently banned fracking and this scheme has lots of similarities by fracking.
“In 15 years’ time the world will be a very different place – will it be worth extracting?”
Climate change impacts are getting worse, he says.
“I ask you not to go ahead with this. How dare you abandon the lives and futures of my children and grandchildren.”
Evidence from Egdon Resources managing director, Mark Abbott
Egdon resources produces a document which it says shows that hydrofluoric acid was used at the nearby Crosby Warren site by the former operator, RTZ, in 1986 as an acid wash and acid frack.
The company says this shows that what it is proposing at Wressle is not a novel approach.
Residents at the inquiry ask for details of the pressure used in the acid frack. Mark Abbott, Egdon’s managing director, says it would exceed fracture pressure.
“No unacceptable risk of water contamination”
Evidence from Egdon water consultant James Dodds
Mr Dodds tells the inquiry the Wressle scheme would not “constitute an unacceptable risk to groundwater or surface water by infiltration or runoff”.
He is a chartered geologist specialising in hydrogeology and water management. He manages the consultancy, Envireau Water, which has worked for Egdon since November 2015.
His company undertook a hydrogeological and flood risk assessment (HFRA), which was submitted with the most recent planning application for 15 years of oil production.
Mr Dodds says the Wressle site has been redesigned with a triple barrier of site liner, tanks and bunding to reduce the risk of an accidental release of liquids to “an absolute minimum”, he says.
Impermeable clay layers
Mr Dodds says he has developed a geological model of the rocks beneath the Wressle site. He says the top layer in the model, 1,500m above the hydrocarbon layers, includes the aquifers which need to be protected, between impermeable clay layers.
He says research by the British Geological Survey in 2019 confirmed two clay layers below the site. The question of whether the clay layers were continuous was a key issue of the previous inquiry.
Mr Dodds says his risk assessment of water contamination from the site was not challenged by North Lincolnshire Council or the council’s consultants, JBA, which gave evidence to the last inquiry.
The protection of the water environment is not dependent on the local geology or hydrogeology, but he says the clay layers provide additional protection to the aquifers, he says.
Mr Dodds says:
“the design of the site and its ‘triple barrier’ concept provides a highly effective pollution prevention measure.
“The risk assessment robustly demonstrates that there is either no risk or a very low risk of contamination of water supplies.”
He says the risk of contamination to a British Steel borehole, raised at the previous inquiry and planning meetings, is “low or less than low”. The risk to private water supplies is “very low or none”.
Mr Dodds says a bund storing top soil, which was criticised for rabbit holes, is not used for containment.
Asked about hydrogeological mistakes and errors revealed at the previous inquiry, Mr Dodds says
“I can’t think of a project that has gone through such a thorough review process. It has been an extremely thorough review process.”
“Councillors heavily influenced by public opinion”
Evidence from Egdon planning consultant, Paul Foster
Egdon’s final witness, AECOM planning consultant Paul Foster, says the Wressle scheme would have no unacceptable impact on local residents, the community or the local economy.
He tells the inquiry Egdon provided comprehensive and up-to-date information to North Lincolnshire Council in its most recent planning application. This included a transport statement and assessments on air quality, noise, lighting, landscape and visual impact, as well as reports on the likely effects on heritage, archaeology and ecology.
Planning officers recommended approval of the scheme but on 28 November 2018 councillors unanimously voted against.
Mr Foster says:
“Members who participated in the debate had either not read the officer’s report or had not understood its contents. Members were heavily influenced by public opinion into refusing planning permission.”
The council later dropped its objection to the application. Mr Foster says there is now no disagreements between the company and the authority.
Mr Foster tells the inquiry:
“there will be no likely material adverse impacts arising from the proposed development.
“The careful design of the scheme and the technical assessments provided in support of the application give confidence and assurance that the proposal complies with all relevant policies including those which seek to protect groundwater and the quality and quantity of water resources.”
“Complies with policy”
Mr Foster says the Wressle scheme complies with local planning policies including the North Lincolnshire Local Plan 2003, North Lincolnshire Core Strategy 2011 (CDF2) and the Appleby Parish Neighbourhood Plan.
Proposed mitigation would ensure impacts on the natural environment, will be minimised, he says, biodiversity enhanced. It would not increase flood risk, have adverse impacts on the local road network or have long-term adverse impacts upon the historic setting of Thornholme Priory scheduled monument.
On national policy, he adds
“there is nothing in government policy which would lead the decision maker to conclude anything other than planning permission should be granted for the development.”
The scheme counted as sustainable development under the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). It also complied with national energy policy in contributing to security of supply.
The NPPF support for extracting oil and gas carried weight, he says, even though the High Court had quashed the section on the benefits of hydrocarbons for transition to a low carbon economy.
A government statement on a moratorium on frackng earlier this month does not change anything, Mr Foster says.
He says significant weight should be attached to the Environment Agency’s view that emissions to air, land and water would be acceptable.
Mr Foster says the Wressle scheme would deliver economic benefits through taxes and employments.
There would be social benefits, he says, by reducing emissions from imported oil that would be displaced.
“It will also support local businesses such as road hauliers, suppliers of security and welfare facilities, restaurants, cafes, pubs, food stores and petrol stations, thereby supporting indirect employment and the local economy.”
The development will make a small but important contribution to helping maintain the UK’s security of supply and reducing the country’s needs for imports, he adds.
Mr Foster says environmental benefits will come from what he called targeted biodiversity measures for birds and bats.
By reusing an existing well site, he says, Egdon would use natural resources prudently.
Mr Foster says objections raised by members of the public “do not come close to justifying the refusal of planning permission”, he says.
Objections based on fracking are irrelevant. Objections about fossil fuels are about national policy not the proposed development.
“None of the Third Party [public] responses raise any issues or concerns which have not already been fully addressed by NLC [North Lincolnshire Council].
“These objections should attract no weight in the determination of this appeal”
Mr Foster adds:
“I conclude that the conditions agreed with NLC … will ensure that the site can be constructed and operated to strict environmental management controls without risk to the local residents or the community.”
“The benefits will outweigh any minor residual potential adverse impacts and the concerns raised by third parties”
“I conclude that the planning balance is strongly in favour of granting planning permission and the appeal should be allowed.”
Questions on climate change, air quality, benefits
Mr Foster says none of the evidence to the inquiry on climate change has affected his view. Asked about pollution from flaring and a gas engine to generate electricity, he says an air quality assess concluded environmental regulations would not be breached. There were no concerns from North Lincolnshire’s environmental health officer.
Asked about his comment that councillors were influenced by public opinion, Mr Foster says:
“I thought they appeared not to have read or understood the committee report.”
Mr Foster confirms that biodiversity would be enhanced habitat restoration on abandonment of the well site, along with five bat boxes, seven nest boxes. No other developments were required, he says.
Asked about local economic benefits, he says local hauliers delivering to the site may go to local cafes.
He repeated Egdon’s view that oil and gas would be needed in 2050, despite the move to a low carbon economy in response to climate change.
Paul Foster, for Egdon, concedes that proposed conditions, recommended by council consultants, on site access and containment, were considered by the company to be unjustified and unnecessary. They were no longer included in the list of proposed conditions.
The inspector, Phillip Ware, rejected a proposed condition to allow working outside 7am-7pm for operation reasons if agreed in advance.
The inspector is visiting the site tomorrow morning. Final submissions will be at 3.30pm.
He said he would not give his decision until after the general election in December.
- This report is not an official or verbatim account.
Reporting from this inquiry was made possible by individual donations from DrillOrDrop readers.