Environmental campaigner joins gas company board to develop renewables

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.

Protests outside Third Energy’s Kirby Misperton site, 11 October 2017. Photo: Eddie Thornton

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.

Russell Hoare, managing director of Third Energy

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.”

“Healing divisions”

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 Knapton Generating Station. Photo: Third Energy

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.

25 replies »

  1. How can this be pro fracking frackinglawforsale? The company has moved away from gas and oil to renewables, green hydrogen, green gas, geothermal, solar and battery. No more gas at Knapton Generating Station. Surely this is a victory for the local community that fought fracking and it benefits the planet? Time moves on and change happens. Mr Mason was already a director of a renewable energy company before entering into this arrangement with Third Energy, I think it disingenuous to claim his intentions are dishonest. Let’s hope this is a great victory for the people of Ryedale and the anti fracking movement.

    • KatT My only reply to this is this. Is it natural gas for hydrogen, if so it’s pro-fracking OR is it water for hydrogen, in which case it’s not pro-fracking. Why would a fracking company be turning water into hydrogen?

      It’s far from disingenuous when this company was going to frack Ryedale and then he works for them. Do you know how silly that sounds! [Edited by moderator]

      • As the company have stated there will be no gas at Knapton and that gas is not complementary to renewables , one would presume it’s green hydrogen. And it would only be fracking, if gas was being extracted by fracking. If the company no longer intends to frack, then I’m delighted and if they intend to produce green energy even better. Do you know how sensible that sounds?

        • As I’m yet to find a sensible fracking company, my answer is no. These companies track record is hardly inspiring. Let’s see if this green hydrogen is water or natural gas. You sound resided to say if its natural gas its a step in right direction. The climate brainwashing runs deep.

          • By definition green hydrogen cannot be produced from natural gas. Hydrogen from natural gas is called blue hydrogen.

            • All sounds great, but…

              Storing and transporting the highly flammable gas is not easy; it takes up a lot of space and has a habit of making steel pipes and welds brittle and prone to failure.

              Because of this, the bulk transport of hydrogen will require dedicated pipelines, which would be costly to build, pressurizing the gas, or cooling it to a liquid. Those last two processes are energy-intensive and would further dent green hydrogen’s already underwhelming round-trip efficiency.

              What about the climate emergency?

      • frackinglawforsale Third Energy was a conventional onshore gas company whose wells were watering out. It was unique in the fact that there was a generating station with access to the grid. Finding fracked gas would have saved a struggling company or given them the opportunity to sell up. The Kirkham Abbey formation, which was targeted in many of the conventional wells, produced saline wastewater and most of the wells have watered out. The pipeline would enable this water to be sent to Knapton where the article says the plan is to have solar power and battery storage. It seems the resources for green hydrogen would therefore be there. The inclination to use them remains to be proved but having a proponant of renewable energy on the board must be a step in the right direction. Time will tell but given that the drill bit was poised to frack in November 2017, any move towards greener alternatives will be celebrated as it makes the likelihood of future fracking in Kirby Misperton more remote.

  2. “during the Kirby Misperton campaign, a Ryedale campaigner also
    wanting to be a politician, Steve Mason, had established a centralised
    organisation called Frack Free United. Rothery was the face on
    the ground, Steve Mason controlled the media through Frack Free
    United. Both were attempting to further their careers and standings
    whilst centralising the movement. And both were also making it more
    and more about climate change rather than protecting communities
    against specific toxic industries, by being the indirect voice of groups,
    even if many of those group members never completely agreed with
    his message.
    I felt that neither Rothery nor Mason had done much more than
    raise the fracking industry profile without really getting in its way. (p. 150)

  3. Neither Wolfland Renewables or Wolfland Utilities seem to be local companies.
    Correct me if I am wrong, but their address is Fountain Court, New Leaze, Bradley Stoke, Bristol. BS32 4LA.
    That isn’t exactly Yorkshire but about 200 miles away.
    Shuttling staff and equipment betwixt and between Bristol and Yorkshire does not sound very green to me.
    For a Director to be on a local council 200 miles from his workplace is also interesting.

    Robin Grayson FGS
    Adviser to the Liberal Democrats

  4. Robin, I can’t follow your argument. Many companies can be registered or have headquarters in one place but operate elsewhere. With modern technology, as we’ve seen in this pandemic, meetings can take place from anywhere remotely without the need to travel. There is simply no need to shuttle staff and equipment around. And as for equipment, depending on requirements, no doubt local contractors can be hired. This company’s address may simply be an office. Are you not being a bit harsh?

    And I assume you are aware Mr Mason is a Lib Dem councillor?

    • Thanks for your comment.
      As it happens, I was Team Leader of the first major EC-funded project in war-torn Albania, making my Councillor position difficult in England due to logistics etc. So I resigned my seat, and my career then was largely overseas to Hungary, Albania, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan. In my experience, living in or near a community is usually essential in order to gain proper trust, credibility and cooperation with local communities and local governments.

      • Robin, local politicians worked for the local community back then. These days they usually positioned by business and government to gaslight those they claim to represent with the discourse of consensus and cooperation. Your right though, because of his bias alone on council, he should step down.

      • Mr Mason is a councillor on Ryedale District Council and lives in Ryedale, if you look home up. Ryedale is where Third Energy has operations, so I don’t see your situation is comparable Robin. I’d say he lives and works in his community in terms of local representation.

        I’m just delighted Third Energy will not be fracking and pleased to see investment in renewables instead. It’s sad that people can’t see this for the victory and benefit it is. But I guess you can’t please all of the people all of the time no matter what you do 😕

  5. The clans are revolting!

    I will not make further comment, other than to say it would appear that some are never satisfied.

  6. One of the better documents explaining the options going forward:

    Hydrogen transportation is an interesting subject, smaller molecule, HIC (as noted above by flfs), etc.

    The in-field pipelines at KM to Knapton will not be suitable for hydrogen transmission, they are barely suitable for natural gas transmission and have no doubt already had their life cycle extended by risk assessment. The national grid transmission lines will accommodate a certain % of hydrogen and I believe hydrogen will be added to natural gas up to a certain limit. This reduces, but does not eliminate natural gas as the % of natural gas will remain high. Transmission on a large scale of pure hydrogen is not going to happen; neither is large scale production of “green” hydrogen.

    Hydrogen could be stored in a similar way that gas is stored in salt caverns etc but the UK’s current storage capacity is grossly inadequate – fine when we have our own gas supplies plus the pipeline from Norway and LNG from the Middle East. But Hydrogen won’t be coming in from these routes.

    A summary of the NG FES report:

    “The report predicts four possible outcomes, or scenarios, three of which will see the UK meet or exceed it’s legally-mandated 2050 target, but according to the operator “the energy supply system alone cannot deliver decarbonisation”. Therefore, the report considers changes to the system from both supplier, and consumer perspectives.

    Two of the scenarios lay out how the energy system could adapt to meet the 2050 target. A third scenario – the most urgent, sees the UK achieve net zero by 2048. In all three of the successful forecast scenarios, the UK energy system could achieve net zero status as soon as 2033. A fourth scenario, however, based on the current rate of decarbonisation in the energy sector, sees the country fail.

    According to successful scenarios, solar, wind, nuclear, and biomass with CCUS would generate more than 90% of the country’s power capacity, and with the need for natural gas all-but-eliminated. Offshore wind is expected to reach 40GW.

    Hydrogen is set for massive growth, with scenarios predicting the resource supplying between 21% and 59% of energy needs, primarily for heating and transportation by the target year, with the UK needing 190TWh of hydrogen production annually by that time.

    The report has set a target of 3GW of new wind and 1.4GW of solar capacity per year until 2050, with a conservative prediction of an additional 30GW of solar and wind generation capacity by 2030. According to the report, “Renewed government support for some renewable technologies has driven our expectation of higher growth in renewable generation to a level which will be necessary to meet net zero.”

    All scenarios heavily rely on carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) for the decarbonisation of the industry, and mentions industrial clustering, the use of CCUS in the creation of blue hydrogen, and biomass gasification. It is expected to get 9.6GW of generation capacity from biomass per year, of which 70% would be fed into CCUS projects.

    The report estimates over 11 million electric vehicles (EVs) will be on British roads by 2030 (and over 30 million by 2040) in the most stretching net zero scenarios. By 2050 up to 80% of households with an EV will be ‘smart charging’ their car, plugging in outside of the evening peak when energy is cheaper and demand on the grid is lower. 45% of homes will actively help to balance the grid, offering up to 38GW of flexible electricity.

    One scenario predicts as many 8 million homes actively managing their heating demands by storing heat and shifting their use outside of peak periods.

    Head of strategy at National Grid, Mark Herring, noted the following:

    “This year’s Future Energy Scenarios paint an exciting picture of net zero Britain with electricity playing a crucial role in meeting meet the 2050 emissions targets.

    “Although these are not firm predictions, we’ve talked to over 600 industry experts to build this insight and it’s clear while net zero is achievable, there are significant changes ahead.

    “Across all scenarios, we see a growth in renewable energy generation, including significant expansion in installed offshore wind capacity. There is a widespread uptake in domestic electric vehicles, and growth and investment in hydrogen and carbon capture technologies too.

    Our new analysis of the level of societal change needed to achieve net zero also shows that consumers need greater understanding of how their energy use impacts the wider system, and how changes to their lifestyle have an impact on net zero ambitions.

    While COVID-19 came too late to be factored into this year’s analysis many of the areas highlighted will be crucial in a green recovery from the pandemic, particularly improving energy efficiency across all sectors and significant investment in low carbon electricity generation.

    There is already significant progress being made towards net zero, including ESO planning to operate a zero-carbon electricity system by 2025, but the fundamental changes outlined make it more important than ever to have a coordinated approach to decarbonising the whole energy sector.”

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