The lives of many people in the village of Misson in north Nottinghamshire have been blighted by shale gas since 2014, the parish council has said.
The IGas-operated exploration site at Springs Road resulted, the council said, in a “massive police presence”, “ad hoc road closures”, an “influx of protesters”, court injunctions threatening local people and onsite security that made the area “look like a prison”.
“quite frankly, we’ve had enough.
“Extending the planning permission for another three years, whilst no doubt conferring a financial benefit on IGas, does nothing for the local community other than giving us another three years of uncertainty and anxiety to look forward to.”
The council said:
“Since the spectre of shale gas development was first raised in 2014 the lives of many local residents have been blighted, first by the uncertainty of what the enterprise might entail, then by the sheer effort involved making their concerns understood.”
The council warned that no one would be able to exploit UK onshore gas reserves “without a fight”. It said:
“A highly motivated and well organised network of activists spells trouble for any future development which, added to concerns about the effect that fracking induced earthquakes may have on local properties does not auger well for this community.”
In its response, Bassetlaw District Council said the extension was not reasonable or necessary. It said:
“The community of Misson has faced almost a decade of uncertainty and disruption due to the exploratory activities at this site.”
The councils called for IGas to be ordered to restore Springs Road as soon as is practicable.
In its planning application, IGas blamed the need for the extension partly on the government moratorium on fracking in England, imposed in November 2019.
The company said it would not do any exploration work at Springs Road, including drilling the proposed second well, while the moratorium was in place. But the company said it would seek permission to drill and frack if the moratorium were lifted.
The UK government has said the moratorium would stay in place until “compelling new scientific evidence” addressed concerns about fracking-induced earthquakes. Four months ago, the industry regulator dismissed companies’ proposals to deal with these issues as “insufficient”.
IGas’s original planning permission for Springs Road expired on 20 November 2020. This had been described as temporary and did not include fracking. The site has been dormant since the first well was drilled and cores extracted in spring 2019.
The local campaign group, Frack Free Misson, described IGas’s application for an extension as:
“little more than an attempt to manipulate the planning system on speculative grounds, outside the purpose and intent by which the original permission was granted.”
In its response to the application, the group said:
“This planning application is based on a high level of speculation, in so far as it is only justified by the unlikely future production of robust evidence to enable the lifting of the government moratorium on Associated Hydraulic Fracturing.”
Frack Free Misson said the original permission had given IGas enough time to complete the proposed work at Springs Road but the company had chosen not to do so.
The group said it was misleading of IGas to blame the moratorium for the need for a planning extension. The terms of moratorium would not prevent IGas from drilling the proposed second well at the site or carrying out small-scale fracking to test the well, the group said.
“The decision not to drill and test Springs Road 2 during the previous permission was the applicant’s own volition.
“The intention to apply to drill the second well is hypothetical development and is therefore not in alignment with Planning Practice Guidance, which is a material consideration. The application is therefore unsound and should be refused for that reason.”
Wildlife and conditions
The Springs Road site is next to the Misson Training Ground site of special scientific interest (SSSI), a wet woodland habitat, which supports rare owls and turtle doves.
The original application recognised potential impacts on the SSSI could include increased artificial light, increased nitrogen oxide emissions and changes to surface and groundwater quality and quantity. IGas said no unacceptable environmental impacts had been identified and measures had been implemented to ensure the impact of noise on the SSSI was acceptable.
But Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust said long eared owls on the SSSI had moved further east from their habitual breeding locations in 2018, away from the noise of the drilling site. The organisation said this effect would be magnified and extended if fracking were carried out.
In its response to the IGas application, the trust said:
“this would be unacceptable for the conservation of this very rare breeding species.”
The trust also said IGas had not demonstrated that it could meet the planning conditions set to protect the SSSI’s rare habitats.
During construction and drilling, it said IGas had failed to meet planning conditions that required complete and comprehensive data on noise, air quality and water flows and quality. The company also failed to complete construction before the start of the bird breeding season, the trust added.
“There should therefore be a presumption against the likelihood that IGas would be able to meet those conditions were it to undertake fracking at this site.”
Nottingham Friends of the Earth said in its response:
“It is in the interests of the Misson Carr SSSI and local residents to terminate this failed experiment immediately.”
Tackling climate change
The IGas application said the extension represented sustainable development and complied with government climate change policies.
Frack Free Misson described IGas’s statements on sustainable development as “unsound” and “based on outdated models, assumptions and repeated speculation”.
The group referred to a 2019 High Court ruling in the case of Stephenson versus the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. This removed a pro-shale gas paragraph from the National Planning Policy Framework.
Frack Free Mission said the court recognised that this paragraph was incompatible with the government’s stated aims to tackle the cause of climate change.
Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust said there was no planning policy or legal justification for delaying the restoration of the well site. It said IGas’s request to extend the life of the site was “incompatible with both national, and emerging local planning policy”.
Misson Parish Council said IGas’s plans should be set against the wider shift towards renewable sources of energy.
The RSPB‘s comments said the continued extraction and use of fossil fuels, such as oil and gas, was not compatible with a future of net zero carbon emissions. It said the 6th Carbon Budget, produced in December 2020 required a reduction in fossil fuel emissions by 75% by 2035 on 2018 levels. The RSPB said:
“Gas cannot be used as a bridge fuel if we are to reduce emissions in the necessary timeframe.”
“Sterilised” mineral resource
IGas said the extension ensured that the potential shale gas reserve would not be “needlessly sterilised”.
Frack Free Misson described this as “inaccurate and disingenuous”. This could not be the case unless the site was subjected to subsequent other development, the group said.
It added that there was no need to create mineral safeguarding areas for oil and gas. The Gainsborough Trough – the exploration name for this part of the East Midlands – was a widespread potential shale gas resource which would be developed by directional drilling, Frack Free Mission said.
IGas had already said Springs Road was of limited capacity and a larger multi-site development was planned for the area, the group added.
IGas’s application also said there was a “pressing need” to establish whether there were sufficient recoverable quantities of shale gas.
Frack Free Mission asked why IGas had failed to make use of the temporary planning permission granted in 2016 if this were true. There was no valid planning or regulatory reason not to do so, the group said.
It also said the claim of a pressing need for shale gas was outdated. It cited a 2017 report which concluded that UK security of gas supply did not depend on new indigenous sources.
Other responses to IGas’s application
Bassetlaw District Council said the application was contrary to its renewable energy strategy. It also said the “development is considered to set a precedent for other developments involving mineral extraction in the area.”
Bawtry Town Council said it did not support the application. Its response concluded:
“As fracking is not something the government is now looking to do we do not consider this application should be allowed to leave the area in limbo and restoration should now occur in line with the original application.”
Coal Authority: The site is not in a Development High Risk Area
Doncaster Council had no objections on traffic or transport issues but it asked for clarification on the application’s claim that species and habitats would not be affected by the proposed time extension.
Environment Agency: No comment on the application
Natural England: No comment on the application
Network Rail: No objection
Nottinghamshire Area Ramblers objected to the application saying
“the site is spoiling the views of the surrounding countryside for the walkers and horse riders who make use of the nearby rights of way, and has been left in this unsightly condition for long enough”.
The site should be “restored to its original state as soon as possible”, the organisation said.
Nottinghamshire County Council highway authority: No objection
Nottinghamshire County Council landscape consultancy: no objections or comments
Nottinghamshire County Council lead local flood authority: No required to respond to the application
Nottinghamshire County Council natural environment manager: no objections
Nottinghamshire County Council planning policy team: No policy objections to the application providing the environmental and amenity impacts are not unacceptable