Egdon Resources has got the go-ahead for 15 years of oil production at its Wressle site near Scunthorpe.
In a decision announced today, the company’s appeal against a refusal of planning permission was allowed.
The planning inspector, Philip Ware, who chaired a public inquiry on the scheme in November 2019, said:
“There was never any evidence to substantiate the refusal or explain that it was a reasonable response to the application.”
The announcement brings to an end a planning dispute between Egdon and North Lincolnshire Council which dates back to 2016.
The company sought permission to retain the site, install new equipment and facilities and carry out oil production for 15 years.
The council’s planning committee refused the scheme three times, most recently in November 2018, despite recommendations by officers to approve.
On the most recent decision, Mr Ware said:
“The reason for refusal was generalised and, as it subsequently transpired, unsupported by any objective analysis.”
“Any very limited residual adverse effects of the proposal would not be significant and could be properly controlled, and mitigated.
“There are no material considerations which, even taken together, come close to outweighing the presumption in favour of the development and the benefits which it would bring.”
Mr Ware accused the council of “unreasonable behaviour”, even though it withdrew its most recent objection four months before the start of the inquiry.
Mr Ware added that the council’s statement of case was “inadequate” and there had been an “unreasonable delay” of two months by the authority.
This had resulted in “unnecessary or wasted expense”, he said. He made a full award of costs against the council. The figure was not included in the decision notice.
Mark Abbott, managing director of Egdon Resources plc, said today:
“I am delighted that the Planning Inspectorate has made this positive determination in relation to this important asset for Egdon and our JV partners.
“We will now begin work on discharging the planning conditions and the detailed planning for the development works.
“We will continue to keep shareholders and the local community informed.”
David Bramhill, executive chairman of Union Jack Oil plc, a partner at Wressle, said:
“The Board of Union Jack is delighted with this positive outcome.
“The operator will, on behalf of the Joint Venture partners, begin work on discharging the planning conditions and detailed planning for development of the Wressle Oil Field.
“Shareholders and the local community will be informed of developments.”
Another partner, Europa, said in its recent company accounts that its future depended on production this year from the Wressle well. The company’s chairman, Simon Oddie, said today:
“The granting of planning consent for the development of the Wressle oil field is a milestone event for Europa.”
Elizabeth Williams, who gave evidence against the proposal at the public inquiry, said:
“We are profoundly disappointed. This development places local communities at considerable risk.”
She said the Wressle well proposed to inject hydrofluoric acid to depths of 1.8km below the town of Broughton.
“These chemical and mechanical processes have been permitted by the Environment Agency in spite of there being no record of its regulated use onshore UK before.
“Our colleagues in the South have been arguing long and hard that acidisation used as well stimulation should not be classed as “conventional”. It should, instead, come under the same scrutiny as high volume hydraulic fracturing for shale and therefore be included in the current moratorium.
“And above and beyond local concern, fossil fuel in all its aspects, contributes to climate change, which is with us here and now. It is retrogressive to allow any new extraction of oil and gas.
“The reluctance of our planning authority to oppose the advances of the oil and gas industry – for fear of incurring costs – is another indication of the erosion of democratic process. As ever the wishes of local communities and the survival of the planet are given less priority than the needs of Industry and shareholders.”
Another opponent, Andrew McLeod, said:
“It defies belief that even as our world slips ever-faster towards climate chaos, permission is still being granted for the production of yet more fossil fuels. We should be winding down the polluting fossil fuel industry as fast as possible, not encouraging its continued growth.
“How many more flashing red lights and wailing sirens do we need before we start treating climate breakdown as the emergency that it is? All those who are choosing to fail future generations, all those policy-makers and decision-takers who could address this crisis but choose not to, all those who continue to profit from fossil fuels, do so in the full knowledge of the catastrophic impacts that will occur as we continue to ignore the terrifying reality of climate and environmental breakdown.“
This was the second appeal by Egdon on the application.
The first was dismissed in January 2019 mainly because there was no ground conditions survey report for the site and insufficient evidence about the adequacy of the geosynthetic clay liner at the site.
In advance of the second appeal, consultants for North Lincolnshire Council concluded that the main weaknesses identified by the first inspector had been addressed or could be addressed by conditions.
The authority withdrew its case and took no part in the second appeal, apart from a discussion on planning conditions.
Members of the public raised objections about the impact of the scheme on climate change, local heritage, traffic movements, landscape, flooding, wildlife, air quality, noise and seismicity.
There were also concerns about the proposed proppant squeeze, which uses acid and proppant to create fractures in the rocks surrounding the borehole to increase oil flow.
But Mr Ware said the key issue was the effect of Egdon’s proposal on groundwater and watercourses. He said the Environment Agency (EA) had raised no objections:
“I give the EA’s views considerable weight especially as they form an important part of the overall scheme of regulation which would control the site and operations.”
He said there was nothing to justify residents’ concerns that the EA was unaware of the detail of the scheme or had not considered it properly.
“Overall, the proposal would not harm groundwater and watercourses and would comply with the relevant policies of the development plan.”
The inspector said the proposal was consistent with national energy policy. It had “obvious security advantages” and would reduce the need for imported gas and oil.
At a regional level he said local oil production would benefit the Humber chemical and energy cluster. He said:
“There is no suggestion that this proposal would increase the use of hydrocarbons, and the evidence demonstrates that the effect would be simply to transfer production to a more local source.”
He said opposition to national policy in the light of climate change was “well outside the remit of the appeal”. There was “very limited technical evidence” from objectors on other issues, he said.
The approval comes with 15 planning conditions.
Permission should be limited to 15 years from the start of production. Restoration should commence within six months of the end of production.
The conditions also include a noise management plan, construction quality assurance plan and controls on lighting, dust, biodiversity and the stability of the site.