A former would-be fracking company has appointed a leading opponent as a director to help it go green.
Steve Mason formed the campaign network, Frack Free United, in 2016 after Third Energy got planning permission to frack in the Vale of Pickering.
He has now joined the board of two Third Energy companies to help develop renewable energy schemes in the region.
The news of his appointment was revealed in an update about Third Energy directors from Companies House.
Third Energy’s proposed frack at Kirby Misperton provoked local and national opposition. There were daily protests during preparations for the operation. But it never went ahead because the company failed a government financial test.
Third Energy was sold in 2019 to York Energy, which received £12m for working capital from the former owner, Barclays. York is now investigating how to repurpose the sites for low carbon energy.
Mr Mason works for the green energy company, Wolfland Renewables, and is a member of Ryedale District Council.
Earlier this month, he was appointed a director of Third Energy Trading Limited, which runs the Knapton power station and Knapton Energy One Limited, formed last year.
He told DrillOrDrop:
“I have to say that this was not on my radar at the beginning of 2021 and it’s a bit surreal to say the least but so far, the responses within my local network have been very positive, though very surprised.
“We, Wolfland Renewables, were happily surveying schools, colleges and businesses for renewables when this potential project opportunity came forward.
“And, to put it simply, if we are able to deploy renewables at Knapton and in doing so, contribute to the UK’s net zero ambitions, then I feel that I have a duty to try for that greener future, especially here in Ryedale.
“This decade will prove to be pivotable in any action needed to help us reduce emissions to tackle climate change. All industries will have to look at ways to transition for a low carbon economy.
“I’m certainly going to give it my best shot to help deliver some green solutions to the generating site.”
DrillOrDrop understands that Third Energy has entered into a strategic partnership with the Wolfland Group.
Work will focus on Knapton, where until December 2019 Third Energy generated electricity from gas extracted at eight local well pads. The sites have not produced gas for at least 17 months while repurposing was considered. The power station is currently mothballed.
Third Energy’s managing director, Russell Hoare, who joined the company after the fracking attempt, has previously said he was looking to develop renewable energy.
He recently told us the company would focus for the next year on replacing gas-powered electricity at Knapton with solar and storage. Electricity would be transmitted through the Knapton’s connection to the national grid.
The next stage, he said, would be to try to reuse Third Energy’s well sites for geothermal power and, possibly, produce green hydrogen.
Mr Hoare outlined his vision:
“If I could get half the wells producing geothermal heat and have a public swimming pool on top of one and greenhouses on top of the others and then some of the wells producing water for hydrogen production at the Knapton plant where we’re doing solar and storage solutions for the grid – to me, that’s where we should be headed.
“A lot of elements have to come together for that to happen but that to me is the end game. We’ve been heading in that direction and I know that having Steve on board and the Wolfland Group behind us we’ll get us to that destination quicker.”
He said Mr Mason would not be on the Third Energy payroll and was not a director of the subsidiary that runs the gas sites. The Wolfland Group was providing expertise and advice but was not putting money into the projects, he said.
“We wanted to make some kind of statement and putting Steve on the board was a statement.
“It’s consistent with the story that I’ve been telling about trying to move away from traditional fossil fuels towards green energy so hopefully Steve and Wolfland can help us with that.”
Mr Hoare said he wanted to find a way to repurpose Third Energy’s assets and mend divisions with the local community after the fracking attempt.
“if we are going to develop new projects, I’m not going to be able to pursue them without the support of the community.
“For me, it was quite obvious that the people I should try and build bridges with are precisely the ones that were opposed to what we were trying to do before.
“What I found was that a lot of those roads led back to Steve. In addition to Steve being involved in the anti-fracking movement and active in the local community, I kept coming to him and others in the area with ideas and it was only then that he mentioned his involvement with Wolfland Renewables.
“For me, that was the final tick. Not only was Steve good for us in terms of building a better relationship with the community but he’s also got the Wolfland Group behind him who have green energy projects experience.”
Mr Hoare said he expected some people would be suspicious about Steve Mason’s appointment.
“We have to continue building trust. A lot of people will still be concerned that we are going to go back to a straight oil and gas strategy.
“My guess is that they will be concerned about Steve joining the board and wonder what’s going on. But I think most people will understand that we are trying to repurpose the assets for the company for the new energy system.”
“Gas doesn’t complement renewables”
Third Energy’s focus on renewable energy projects was supported last week by a report from the International Energy Agency, which said there should be no new oil and gas projects.
The company is now rethinking a long-running plan for a new gas-fired turbine at Knapton, which has planning permission. Mr Hoare said:
“Last year, we thought that given our experience and given our asset base, it made sense for us to have a gas-to-grid generation solution at Knapton.
“But having a solar project, having battery storage, and geothermal at the well sites, all those things are very green projects. Having a new gas project at Knapton doesn’t really complement those things.
Any gas projects at Knapton would be biogas or gas with no emissions, he said.
“Blueprint for the North Sea”
Mr Hoare said his plans for the Vale of Pickering well sites could also provide a low carbon solution for North Sea operators.
He said the company would now investigate whether it could use formation water from the wells to create green hydrogen.
“We’ve got the grid connection at Knapton, we’ve got a pipeline that connects Knapton to the well sites so, to me, that’s all the ingredients we need to make green hydrogen.”
“It solves the problem for Third Energy. It uses our assets but it also potentially provides a blueprint for the North Sea. If we can do this here, there are wells in the North Sea that could do that too.
“Rather than operators just filling their wells full of cement, they can repurpose them for geothermal or hydrogen and they can contribute to the new energy system. There is so much money invested in these wells it just seems a shame not to use them.”
Third Energy’s planning permission for its gas sites is conditional on the wells continuing to produce gas.
Mr Hoare said he was talking to the mineral planning authority, North Yorkshire County Council, about plans for geothermal energy and hydrogen at the wellsites.
“We wanted them to know that we were assessing the repurposing aspect. They are comfortable with that, for the moment. They are allowing us the chance to assess that possibility and then we would apply for planning permission for change of use. They have given us the time to undertake feasibility studies to make sure it works.”
Mr Hoare said he was also keeping the industry regulator, the Oil & Gas Authority, informed. It ordered Third Energy to plug and abandon the Vale of Pickering wells by 2021. DrillOrDrop reported last year that Third Energy had challenged the order and had gone ahead with trials of a new form of plug.