An oil exploration site in Lincolnshire, where only limited work has been carried out since 2014, will be allowed to operate for another 16 months.
County councillors backed another request by Egdon Resources to extend planning permission at the company’s North Kelsey site.
An opponent said she was “deeply disappointed” by the decision and predicted the company would seek even more time in the future.
Egdon Resources welcomed the permission and said North Kelsey would be drilled in 2021.
This is the second time Egdon Resources has been granted more time at North Kelsey.
Lincolnshire County Council approved the original permission six years ago (2014) and later allowed an extension of three years until December 2020. Today’s decision, approved by 11 votes to 2 at a virtual planning meeting, extends consent until December 2021.
“Covid to blame”
So far, no work has been carried out at North Kelsey, apart from the site entrance and two laybys in the lane nearby.
Egdon Resources blamed the Covid-19 outbreak for its latest failure to construct and drill the site. It had previously said a low oil price, withdrawal of a partner and delays at another site were the reasons for no work at North Kelsey.
Paul Foster, speaking for Egdon, said the company regretted the uncertainty about work at North Kelsey:
“Egdon fully intended to construct the site before this summer. The seriousness of the impact of Covid 19 only became evident in mid-march. Covid-19 has certainly contributed to the delay in restarting works.”
Mr Foster, a consultant with Aecom, said the outbreak has meant there was no pool of skilled operators ready to step in to a project:
“When rigs stop operating, personnel go elsewhere.
“People have been put on furlough or laid off and contractors and suppliers are not up to speed.”
He said Covid-19 had also delayed approval of a permit from the Environment Agency. The permit should have taken four weeks, he said, but was not issued for six months, until the end of July 2020.
County Councillor, Hugo Marfleet, who represents people living around Egdon’s Biscathorpe site, said Egdon had used Covid-19 as a “smokescreen” for the delay. He said:
“They were given this extension a while ago and Covid has only just happened in March.”
He also said:
“[Under planning conditions] they are not allowed to do any exploration work during the bird nesting time, which in effect goes from March to August. So, when he [Paul Foster] says that Covid has delayed this whole thing, that is absolute rubbish because he wouldn’t have been allowed to have done anything.
“It has nothing to do with Covid. It would not have been allowed to have done the work.”
Amanda Suddaby, another speaker against the application, described the claim that Covid-19 had caused the latest delay as “disingenuous” and “clearly untrue”.
A member of the committee, Cllr Marianne Overton, said there was no evidence before the council that Covid-19 had delayed the work and the extension should be refused.
The six years of the development had “caused a lot of unease and disruption to the lives of local people”, she said.
Another councillor, Daniel McNally warned Egdon this should be the last extension and the company should “have a very, very good reason to extend it again”.
Mr Foster told the committee that oil from the North Kelsey would help the UK reduce its need for imports and meet the target for net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050:
“The reality is that fossil fuels still remain the dominant source of energy supply for the vast majority of cars, HGVs [heavy goods vehicles] and aircraft in the UK still use oil.”
But Ms Suddaby said:
“Misrepresentations have characterised this project, including hollow claims about oil prices, jobs, taxes and energy security.”
She said future production at North Kelsey was estimated at 50 barrels a day. This was less than 0.003% of UK consumption, she said.
“It is negligible but the harm to local communities and habitats is significant. It could so easily be replaced by renewable energy, benefitting the economy and the planet.
“This is no longer sustainable development. Covid has proved that we can change and that people are willing to make sacrifices for the greater good and for the safety of the young and vulnerable. We must do the same with climate change.”
Cllr Marfleet questioned Egdon’s professionalism and accused the company of taking a “cavalier approach” with local people.
“We have given them time. We have given them extensions. We have actually done everything to support them correctly. And here we are still, today, six years later [the company is saying] we need another extension.
“Unless we stand up and actually demand professionalism from these large organisations and stand up for the people of Lincolnshire, we are getting walked over by these guys.”
Councillors also voted by 11-nil with one extension to extend permission for Egdon’s security compound next to the well site until 31 December 2021. But the committee agreed to Ms Suddaby’s request to bring the working hours of the compound into line with the well site, from 7am-5.30pm on weekdays, and to require Egdon to update an ecological survey.
“Pleased to progress drilling plans”
Speaking after the decision, Mark Abbott, managing director of Egdon Resources plc, said:
“We are pleased with today’s decision to extend the planning permission as it enables us to progress our drilling plans at the North Kelsey conventional oil prospect which have been delayed by COVID-19 restrictions. We will now progress our plans for drilling during 2021, providing a further potentially material near-term value catalyst for Egdon”
Ms Suddaby said:
“I am deeply disappointed.
“I wager that Egdon Resources will come back with another request for an extension and North Kelsey will not be restored by the end of next year.”