Opponents of fracking in Nottinghamshire have called for stricter planning controls on future shale gas development in the county.
They said there should be restrictions on fracking in former coalmining areas, protection from earthquakes and separate policies for shale gas and conventional hydrocarbons in Nottinghamshire’s new mineral plan
They also called for a different definition of fracking and said the plan should take greater account of the UK’s climate change commitments.
Fracking earthquake risk in mining areas
The draft plan, currently being considered by a government-appointed inspector, does not specifically refer to the risk of earthquakes caused by fracking.
It was initially prepared before the UK’s most powerful fracking-induced earthquake in Lancashire in August 2019 and a government moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in England three months later.
An anti-fracking group, based in the village of Misson where IGas drilled for shale gas, said more controls were needed to protect communities from damage and disruption.
Dennis May, of Frack Free Misson, told an online hearing today there should be formal limits or restrictions (known as planning constraints) on shale gas developments in areas affected by coalmining. The plan should require:
- Specific risk assessments, using all available data
- A fully-bonded assurance scheme to cover damage or harm from seismic activity, with clearly defined and legally-binding liabilities agreed between the Coal Authority and operating companies.
- Suitable separation distances between fracturing zones and geological faults and areas affected by mineworkings
Mr May said these controls would address what he said was a “proven and very significant risk”.
Nottinghamshire’s history of extensive coalmining had resulted in “compromised geology”, he said. “Unacceptable levels of induced seismicity” had resulted from all the high volume hydraulic fractures in the UK. And the industry regulator, the Oil & Gas Authority, had concluded it was not currently possible to predict the probability and magnitude of earthquakes caused by fracking.
Jonathan Smith, a senior planner with Nottinghamshire County Council, said the Coal Authority must be consulted on developments in former mining areas and its maps identified areas of high risk.
Ken Cronin, chief executive of the industry organisation UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG), said:
“We take coalmining very seriously.”
He said the industry already have data from the former National Coal Board, as well as its own 2D and 3D seismic survey results. It also looked at data from the Coal Authority.
In an earlier written statement, UKOOG said:
“The oil and gas industry is heavily regulated and requires a range of licences, permits and consents from the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA), the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the Environment Agency (EA), and the Mineral Planning Authority (MPA).”
Mr May questioned the value of some of the industry’s data. Drilling at Preston New Road in Lancashire revealed a fault that had not been picked by 3D seismic surveys, he said. “These surveys are not exhaustive”.
Separate policy for shale gas
The county council defended its decision to group shale gas and conventional hydrocarbons under one policy.
Planner Suzanne Osborne James told the hearing:
“There is no justifiable reason in planning policy terms to separate shale gas from other hydrocarbon developments”.
“There has always been a single policy for oil and gas development that intended to cover all forms [of hydrocarbons].
“It’s about whether the policy can control the impact at an appropriate location. We feel the plan does that.”
Jonathan Smith added that the policy had been at the centre of two “large, very contentious planning applications” in Nottinghamshire for shale gas exploration at Misson and nearby Tinker Lane.
Oil and gas industry representatives supported the council. But the Neighbourhood Forum for Teversal, Skegby and Stanton Hill said there were “justifiable reasons in planning policy terms to separate shale gas from other hydrocarbon developments”.
Its co-chair, Andrew Jenkins, said growing scientific evidence showed there were “specific, special and very substantial threats” from shale gas exploitation. As well as earthquakes, he said these included risks to community health from air and water pollution and damage or destruction of value amenities from industrial development and heavy transport on rural roads.
“We call upon the county council to give proper consideration to the risks of shale gas development and to develop a clear and well-thought specific policy.
Dennis May, of Frack Free Mission, said:
“Shale gas is a widespread resource and it would be a widespread development. It has to work at scale and speed with inevitable environmental and community impacts.”
Proposals in the east midlands for shale gas extraction were, he said, “a totally different scenario to conventional oil and gas and, as a result, the planning impacts are exponentially greater and the risks to the communities are exponentially greater too”.
“Shale gas should have separate considerations.”
Climate change targets
Development of shale gas was in “clear conflict” with government undertakings to reach zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, Andrew Jenkins, of Teversal, Skegby and Stanton Hill Neighbourhood Forum, told the hearing.
“We don’t think this undertaking has been properly taken into account in the overall framing of the plan.”
He said there should be a specific reference to the 2050 net zero target. “Consideration of GHG emissions reductions should be at the heart of all the plans and activities of Nottinghamshire County Council, including the formation of the Minerals Plan”, he said.
He called for the word “should” to be replaced with “must” and “will” in the plan’s strategic objective on climate change (SO3). The same change should be made in a strategic policy on biodiversity-led restoration (SP3), he said.
The county council said the use of “should” was consistent with other parts of the plan and with national policy. It said the net zero target was referred to in the draft.
Ken Cronin, of UKOOG, said a failure to develop onshore oil and gas at the expense of increased imports would “breach” requirements made by the government’s advisor, the Committee on Climate Change.
The draft mineral plan said that “by 2020, the UK could be importing around three quarters of its primary energy needs. This factor, combined with high energy prices and recent technological advances has created a very strong impetus to explore and develop new domestic sources of oil and gas.”
Dennis May, of Frack Free Misson, said this prediction, made when the policy was being written, had not been proved right. He said:
“There has been a huge shift in the energy climate within the UK and the manner energy sources are manifesting themselves.”
He described a paragraph about the potential for shale gas in Nottinghamshire (4.104) “as fracking industry propaganda”. “The plan should be more objective”, he said.
“With the moratorium in place at the moment, things are very much in doubt.
“Factors have changed and the ground has shifted.”
Graeme Keen QC, for Nottinghamshire County Council, said these sections were either being removed or amended.
Ken Cronin, of UKOOG, said the government continued to state that it was critical that the UK had access to domestic and imported gas.
Dennis May, of Frack Free Misson, said the minerals plan should not to use the definition of fracking from the Infrastructure Act. This is based on the volume of fluid used: more than 1,000 cubic metres per fracking stage or 10,000 cubic metres in total.
Instead, he said Nottinghamshire should adopt the same definition that had been accepted by a planning inspector examining North Yorkshire’s minerals plan.
This said hydraulic fracturing was “the process of opening and/or extending existing narrow fractures or creating new ones (fractures are typically hairline in width) in gas or oil-bearing rock, which allows gas to flow into wellbores to be captured.”
This definition would include operations that currently do not fall under the definition of fracking because they use less fluid than the limit.
The hearing was told that members of Teversal, Skegby and Stanton Hill Neighbourhood Forum unanimously opposed any further hydrocarbon exploitation in their area.
Co-chair Andrew Jenkins said 92% of residents gave the surrounding countryside and its access as the main reason they liked living in the area. The villages’ neighbourhood plan sought to protect and maintain the trails, open spaces and access to the open countryside.
“The continued existence of unspoiled views and lack of industrial activity are essential to preserve these settings.
“The people of our three villages wish to hold the council to account for this responsibility and request that in accordance with the Localism Act their wishes as expressed in our neighbourhood plan should be respected.”
Jonathan Smith, for Nottinghamshire County Council, said the neighbourhood plan would be taken into account in considering any planning application in the area.
Exploration, appraisal and production
Nottinghamshire County Council agreed to look again at the plan policy which separated production from appraisal and exploration.
Paul Foster, of the planning consultancy Aecom, representing Egdon Resources, said this separation was not sound, justified or consistent with national policy.
He said all seven of the production planning permissions he had secured since 2007 had been at sites where exploration and appraisal had previously been carried out.
“There were no instances where an alternative site was selected for commercial production once a site had been explored.”
Supported by other oil and gas companies participating at the hearing, Mr Foster said:
“Operators will invest a considerable amount of money in developing a well site at the exploration stage. They would have secured a significant amount of geological data having drilled that site. … They will be confident about the amount of commercial reserves available. They will have an agreement in place with the landowners for commercial production.
“They are not going to be looking afresh at a whole range of new sites when they move to commercial production. The pragmatic approach is that they will be identifying existing sites that have already been explored for that particular mineral.”
Mr Foster also said:
“Exploration is the most intensive phase of hydrocarbon extraction, involving considerable amounts of HGV [heavy goods vehicle] movements, soil stripping, changing the landscape, drilling – a very intensive period albeit temporary period only. Commercial production is considerably less intensive, albeit over a longer period of time.”