Time’s up for Ineos at Harthill shale gas site

Planning consent has run out at Ineos’s shale gas site at Harthill in South Yorkshire.

Lorry route to proposed Harthill shale gas site, 25 January 2018. Photo: Paul Rowland

A spokesperson for Rotherham Borough Council told DrillorDrop today:

“The Council is not aware of any commencement of works to implement the permission which lapsed on the 7 June 2021.”

If Ineos wished to revive the scheme it would now need to make a new full planning application, the spokesperson confirmed.

Local opponents of the scheme have cautiously welcomed the news.

The Hartill site, in the green belt, was granted consent on 7 June 2018, after a public inquiry. But a condition of the permission meant Ineos must begin operations on the site within three years of the decision.

The only reported work so far has been hedge-trimming, installation of bird scarers and some archaeological excavations.

The Harthill scheme was one of just two planning approvals for sites in the latest oil and gas licences issued by the government almost six years ago.

It allowed the construction of a well site and access track, and drilling and testing of a vertical well. The company also had consent to use Harthill as a listening well for fracking in other boreholes.

Since then, the government introduced a moratorium on fracking for shale gas in England following earthquakes caused by Cuadrilla’s operations in Lancashire. The moratorium is still in force and ministers have repeatedly said there was no evidence to justify ending it.

A spokesperson for Harthill Against Fracking said today:

“The lapse of Ineos’s planning permission for Harthill exploration looks like good news, at least cautiously so, and we members of Harthill Against Fracking are taking a deep breath and relaxing our collective shoulders a little more, as far as the threat here is concerned.

“Along with the moratorium because of seismic events in Lancashire, and the business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng’s assurances in parliament that fracking is no longer on the government’s agenda, there seems to be something of a lull in the UK’s fracking activity, but we think that’s no reason to ignore the global fracking threat.

“There is still direct and indirect UK support for fracking overseas, in areas where local people are being sold the same greenwashing tales we were given in Harthill, to the detriment of local populations and the environment.

“We still have to put an end to that too because we in the UK cannot just shift the problem elsewhere in the world. Harthill Against Fracking stands in solidarity with other threatened communities.”

Legal interpretation

The issue of whether and when a permission had begun or lapsed can be a matter of legal interpretation.

But Rotherham Borough Council, which manages planning permissions in the area, confirmed that the consent had not been implemented and had now lapsed.

The spokesperson said:

“INEOS have discharged or partially discharged some of the pre-commencement conditions in writing, and have included proposed plans for the provision of passing places along Common Road and Packman Lane. But the physical works required to be carried out to the passing places has not been carried out.”

The spokesperson said the council had some email communication in March 2020 with the agent acting on behalf of Ineos about the discharge of a planning condition. There had been no contact from the company in the weeks before the permission lapsed, the spokesperson said.

Streamers at the Ineos shale gas site, of Common Road, Harthill, south Yorkshire, 17 March 2019. Photo: Deborah Gibson

Harthill is one of three drilling schemes proposed in the region by the Ineos chemical group. All three had been opposed by local councils.

Ineos appealed against non-determination of the Harthill application in November 2017, before it was decided by Rotherham council’s planning committee.

The committee later unanimously opposed the scheme. Members also rejected changes to the traffic plan made just before the start of the public inquiry.

Ineos staff and consultants at the Harthill inquiry, 24 April 2018. Photo: DrillOrDrop

The seven-day inquiry hearing in April and May 2018 took evidence in favour of the application from 10 Ineos members of staff and consultants.

Its chief operating officer, Tom Pickering, told the inquiry that Harthill was the most appropriate site for shale gas exploration for geology and environmental reasons. He said the exploration process could be done safely and the impact on greenhouse gas emissions would be negligible. The UK’s economic infrastructure depended on gas and would do so for some time, he said.

The case against the application heard from three council officers, the campaign group Harthill Against Fracking, 11 members of the public, councillors and the then MP, as well as CPRE and Friends of the Earth.

A legal challenge by a Harthill villager against the grant of planning permission in January 2019 was dismissed by a High Court judge.

In July 2019, residents opposed Ineos proposals for six weeks of road closures around Harthill. The company said roads had to be closed to build 23 passing places needed for lorries to reach the shale gas site.

Since then, there had been no public announcements about the Harthill scheme.

DrillOrDrop understands that planning consent granted for another Ineos shale gas site at Marsh Lane in North East Derbyshire will expire in August 2021 if no work is carried out.

A third Ineos project, at Woodsetts, also opposed locally, is waiting for a decision by the communities’ secretary. The scheduled decision date was 14 months ago.

DrillOrDrop invited Ineos to comment on the planning issues at Harthill.

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