Regulation

Inspector backs plan to block fracking sites within 500m of N Yorks homes

Protesters on Frack Free Pickering march and rallyPickering, North Yorkshire

Protesters on Frack Free Pickering march and rally Pickering, North Yorkshire

If the UK government’s moratorium on fracking is lifted in the future, shale gas companies are likely to face an extra challenge in North Yorkshire.

A proposal to protect residents from the effects of fracking sites has been supported by a government-appointed inspector.

Elizabeth Ord has been examining future planning policy for North Yorkshire, the North York Moors National Park and the city of York, which will shape decisions until 2030.

The authorities wanted to include a policy of 500m buffer zones around homes to protect residents from noise, light spill, visual intrusion and emissions of oil and gas sites.

In a series of public sessions, the shale gas industry said buffer zones were unnecessary and unjustified. The proposed policy would “sterilise” areas for their operations, amounting to a ban on fracking, it said.

It threatened legal action and said buffer zones would exclude all but 20% of available land in North Yorkshire for its operations.

But in a recent note, Mrs Ord gave the policy her support. She said:

“Due to the uncertainties arising from the scientific evidence, particularly over methane emissions from hydraulic fracturing, and the consequential uncertainties over the potential impact this could have on air quality in the vicinity of nearby receptors, I am content that the retention of the 500m buffer zone in the Plan is sound.

“My full reasoning will be set out in my final report following public consultation and consideration of representations on the proposed main modifications.”

Her note is dated October, before the government’s recent moratorium on fracking following earth tremors caused by Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road shale gas site in Lancashire.

It came despite a ministerial statement last year warning councils not to restrict shale gas developments.

North Yorkshire pedls

Exploration licences in North Yorkshire. Source: OGA interactive map

Large parts of North Yorkshire are covered by licences for shale gas exploration and production.

In autumn 2017, Third Energy said it was ready to frack its existing well at Kirby Misperton in Ryedale. But the company did not get final consent because of government concerns about its financial viability.

The North Yorkshire draft policy currently says hydrocarbon development would be permitted where it would not “give rise to unacceptable impact on local communities or public health”.

But it adds that proposals for oil and gas, particularly fracking, within 500 m of homes and what are described as “other sensitive receptors” were unlikely to comply with this policy and would be permitted only in exceptional circumstances.

The final version of the North Yorkshire minerals and waste plan has yet to be published.

Mrs Ord’s decision has been cautiously welcomed by local campaigners and community groups. The shale gas industry has not commented to DrillOrDrop.

David Davis, of Frack Free Ryedale, said:

“FFR welcomes Mrs Ord’s statement which makes it clear that there are many known risks relating to fracking, where as yet the science is at best uncertain.

“It is clear that the inspector is following what evidence there is in arriving at her statement that concludes the 500m buffer zone is sound in the context of the plan under examination.

“The Government have in their pro-fracking ministerial statements promised communities the best environmental protections.

“This seems at odds with reality when considering the British Geological Survey comments after their air monitoring programme at Kirby Misperton, a rural village in Ryedale. The BGS air monitoring report stated that the air quality had been turned into that of an urban area similar to Bootham (a location in central York). This was merely from delivering and setting up [fracking] equipment on site.

“FFR consider the level of emissions (as well as many other factors) mean that fracking should not be allowed to take place.

“The seismicity issues that have yet again occurred in Lancashire (and brought about a second moratorium on fracking) confirm that the nature of this industry is much more of an experiment than the public are being told.

“It begs the question ‘How many moratoriums do we need before this new industry is banned?’”

fracking KM Eddie Thornton

Fracking equipment at Third Energy’s gas site at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire in Autumn 2017. Photo: Eddie Thornton

Christopher Stratton, chairman of South Hambleton Shale Gas Advisory Group, said:

“A welcome decision. But we receive it with caution for it does not prohibit drilling within 500m, only being requirement for the additional test of ‘No adverse impact’ within the buffer zones.

“As the technology now allows horizontal drilling for several kilometres horizontally, this is not a significant constraint for the industry despite claims by the industry body, UK Oil & Gas at the examination in public.

“We and other community groups fought very hard for this buffer zone, as the burden of proof for damage to property rests with the householder. This is wrong and we say should be reversed in PEDL areas where the drilling/extraction companies should be required to prove that they did not cause damage.”

Ryedale district councillor, Paul Andrews, said:

“I think this is great news. It means that residents will get protection if the moratorium is lifted.

“We have had a long and  hard fight to defend residential amenity through presenting the residents’ case at the public examination of the North Yorkshire Minerals Plan.

“I believe we have achieved a fair compromise. If the industry does decide to frack, they will not be able to set up the grids of drill pads which they say is necessary for the viability of their operations. The inspectors’ conclusion puts the interests of residents ahead of those of the industry – which is only right.”

Kit Bennett, of Frack Free United said,

“We are glad to hear that the planning inspector has decided that the 500m buffer zone is sound.

“This is good news for those at risk of air pollution from shale gas development. It’s important that the issue of air pollution is taken seriously in the planning system.

“This buffer zone is an important step towards protecting the clean air we all need from polluting shale gas development.”

Mike Potter, a member of Ryedale District Council, said:

“This is a key victory for campaigners, hard argued and hard won. It would not have happened without strong representation at the Minerals and Waste Joint Plan examination in public.

“Everyone else should be using this decision to lobby their Mineral Planning Authorities hard. The time to do so is right now, while the Tories (hugely less that watertight) moratorium is in place.”

NOx constituent levels at Kirby Misperton Feb 2017 to Feb 2018 UoYork

Constituents of NOx recorded at Kirby Misperton in 2016 and 2017. Chart: University of York

Retired GP Dr Tim Thornton described Mrs Ord’s statement as “a very encouraging announcement.”

He said there had been calls for fracking to be at even greater distance away from homes while the impacts were uncertain.

“With the benefit of close monitoring and assessment of the health and other impacts on the people nearby, it may be possible to reduce the setback distances over time. If fracking proved to be without risk then it could be moved closer to school and homes. Built into the Minerals and Waste Joint Plan is a review period which would enable such adjustments to be made.”

Dr Thornton added:

“There was considerable pressure from the industry to avoid sterilising their assets and depriving them of the ability to drill.

“With the huge areas licenced for fracking there would be little difficulty in finding a dozen or more places for the Industry to drill and test their engineering ability as well as the prospects for gas recovery.

“This would satisfy common sense and the precautionary principle. Why this approach was resisted remains a mystery.”

Third Energy said it would not comment on the inspector’s statement. Ineos Upstream and UK Onshore Oil and Gas, did not respond to our invitation.

19 replies »

  1. Fracking is a dead duck in the UK , ive noticed an absence of the usual pro frack brigade here recently , have you nothing else to say ?

  2. What would you like me to say, Jono???

    There is a moratorium at the moment, so the only thing that will happen until 2020 is that Cuadrilla will continue with flow testing.

    What happens in 2020 might just have something to do with a General Election result, a US Presidential result and then world energy security and what that does to current low gas and oil prices.

    Happy now? Or, would you require some Mystic Meg type speculation? I suspect there will be more than enough of that from the antis.

      • A bit more than you, David-that was a real addition to humanity.

        Or, you could wait for the comment from Third Energy, who are not intending to frack!

        At least Jono will not be feeling so lonely now.

        • Not quite accurate to say TE are not intending to frack. Obviously, they couldn’t get permission to frack due to their lack of financial security prior to changing owners. Since then they mysteriously lost about £64million of debt to Barclays Bank, but their new parent company apparently has only £10 of assets, so their current financial security to frack is not greatly enhanced. When local Tories suddenly got cold feet over fracking, TE rapidly changed track to claim that they will concentrate on conventional gas production, despite producing far less methane than a small dairy herd. They want to extend their expired permissions for the existing infrastructure by 17 years, which has no justification on their evidence of production, but they have also included the possibility of fracking in the future. That is really the only justification for extending their largely redundant infrastructure for so long.

  3. This is the right decision made by the Inspector and a key victory for communities. A government commissioned report stated that fracking significantly impacts local air quality. With worse air quality, traffic, noise and light pollution it is not unreasonable to have a buffer zone. The nearer someone lives to the source of a harmful pollutant the greater the exposure and impact. Following the removal of part of the straight jacket the government used to restrict planning decisions, the Inspector has been able to make a sensible and informed decision. If it does cause problems for the industry then that just serves to prove the point that fracking is not suitable in a small densely populated country like ours. A 500m setback is not unreasonable and research from the US shows that airborne pollutants travel much further than 500m from an active fracking site so one could argue a greater setback distance would be desirable.

  4. An encouraging development which would scarcely have been possible had the community not resisted the industry’s pressure during North Yorkshire’s MWJP consultation and hearings. It was clear then, in the light of evidence from frack sites abroad, that the industry had little concern for the health and well-being of residents’ homes, work places, schools and hospitals within the 500m buffer zone, concerned only to maximise its profits. One hopes that Ms Ord will next address the definition of hydraulic fracturing, that preferred by North Yorkshire, conscious of its duty to protect its citizens, or that promoted by the government in the Infrastructure Act which seeks to circumvent objections to fracking by removing the label from a great deal of what has so far been considered fracking.

  5. You must be joking!

    My home is 4.4 road miles away from the PNR fracking site yet still got hit with damage from the culmulative effects of some 100 Hydrofrac events culminating in the August Bank Holiday Monday 2.9 quake!

    The smoke from the fires on the Lancashire Moors around Bolton travelled over 20 miles to the coast around Southport in next to no time!

    Basically toxic gaseous emissions and earthquakes can quickly travel tens of miles not just a few hundred yards!

    Stopping these potential life threatening hazards from happening is the only decision to make and Mr. Johnson has made it last week!

    OR DID HE?

    We will find out shortly if the Toxic Tories remain in power in the New Year!

  6. Perhaps this report should be titled

    ‘Inspector backs plan to block fracking well sites within 500m of homes’, as ( noted above ) the inspector has not backed any plan to block fracking within 500m of homes.

    Nor has she backed any plan to block conventional oil and gas drilling and production sites within that distance, although I am sure that it will crop up in subsequent discussions.

    Or, perhaps emissions from conventional sites are well known, so there is less uncertainty around the subject?

  7. Yes Jono I have been thinking the same thing – fracking in the UK is as good as dead…

    ….and I have also noted the recent absence of the raft of people whose logic defying enthusiasm for fracking is most easily explained by speculating that they were paid by our government or the industry to influence the balance of opinions in comments sections like this one.

    Their sudden disappearance begs the question: if they were being paid, are they now having to seek new employment?
    (if they were being paid, I hope it wasn’t very much, as judging by the latest YouGov survey results they didn’t do a very good job did they?!)
    Anyway, bye bye Judith John and the rest of the motley crew.

  8. It is important to remember that the N Yorks MWJP is a strategic plan to ALLOW mineral extraction and waste transport and treatment, but to do so with sensible and evidenced safeguards to those residents that it will affect. It has developed over many decades with small tweaks to hopefully improve it. In this latest iteration, the hydrocarbon section had to be greatly expanded to take account of the (albeit now greatly reduced) development of the fracking industry. The govt and industry have always claimed that fracking would be perfectly safe and would have gold standard regulation, so it was quite astounding how vociferously the industry opposed very reasonable safeguards like setback distances, protection of Nat Parks etc and the definition of hydraulic fracturing. Not to mention the cost of employing the best (and therefore very expensive) consultants and legal representation. One could almost believe they didn’t actually believe their own rhetoric. The final judgement of an independent planning inspector clearly shows that those trying to ensure some degree of safe and sensible regulation were right to do so. It took an immense amount of time and commitment over many years.

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