Nottinghamshire planners are recommending IGas should be given three more years to evaluate shale gas at a site near the village of Misson.
A decision on the company’s planning application for a time extension is due to be made by county councillors next week (Tuesday 27 July 2021).
The Misson site in north Nottinghamshire attracted local and national opposition when plans were first announced six years ago.
There were regular protests outside during site construction in 2017 and drilling the first well in early 2019.
Since then, the site has been mothballed and the government introduced a moratorium on fracking in England.
Last week, the environment minister, Lord Goldsmith, said ministers would not support shale gas exploration or hydraulic fracturing “unless and until the science demonstrates categorically that it can be done safely for both people and the environment.”
The Misson well was drilled on land known as the ‘rocket site’, a former bombing range and Bloodhound Missile surface-to air-defence unit. It is next to a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) with nationally-rare habitats and protected wildlife, including four species of owl.
Planning permission for two wells was originally granted in November 2016 and expired on 20 November 2020. Without an extension of time, IGas would be required to clear and site and restore it.
IGas is now seeking another three years to evaluate shale gas at Misson and to extend the life of groundwater monitoring boreholes. It wants to give up the earlier consent for the second horizontal well.
The company said abandoning the site now would sterilise the site and potential gas that it believes is present but would need fracking to access.
In a report published yesterday, council planners said the application was in line with planning policy and “should be approved without delay”.
“[there is] a high degree of uncertainty as to whether onshore hydraulic fracturing will be allowed to resume under the UK shale gas licensing and consent process. The future ability to access and exploit the hydrocarbon resource which the applicant proclaims has been proven to exist at Misson is dependent on the current moratorium being lifted and also subject to a future planning permission being secured.
“In this situation, mothballing the site and continuing to maintain the site in this way, for a relatively short additional period of time, appears to be a reasonable and acceptable response to the situation and would allow time for the applicant and industry to overcome the moratorium, or consider alternative uses for the existing borehole before it is finally plugged and restored (for example geothermal/research).”
Their report also said:
“Officers consider there would be no unacceptable impacts to the environment or to local amenity whilst the site is retained for up to three years in the way proposed. Any impacts are now greatly reduced or neutralised since the drilling operations ceased and the site entered a state of mothballing. The second well will not now be drilled.”
They recommended that 12 of the original conditions be removed. A further 13 should be updated, 12 retained and one added. A legal agreement including a restoration bond, signed at the time of the first planning permission, would need to be updated.
There were objections to the proposed time extensions from some local councils, environmental organisations and residents.
Bassetlaw District Council said:
“The community has faced a decade of uncertainty and disruption due to the exploratory activities at this site and the Government’s position in respect of hydraulic fracturing has been made clear. The applicant is able to apply for further permission following the restoration of the site should the Government change its position.”
Misson Parish Council said:
“There is a widely held desire to see an end to this development. Since the spectre of shale gas development was first raised in 2014 the lives of many local residents have been blighted. There have been protesters squatting on private land near the site, a massive police presence, ad-hoc road closures, trees felled to stop protesters from climbing on trucks, court injunctions, and on-site security making the area look like a prison. Extending the planning permission for another three years, whilst no doubt conferring a financial benefit on iGas, would do nothing for the local community other than three more years of uncertainty and anxiety.
“Those objecting to the original plans were given the assurance that this was for a temporary exploratory well site that did not include fracking. The proposed three-year extension challenges the concept of temporary but also brings the prospect of fracking a step closer.”
The parish council added that IGas had shown a lack of competence or a general lack of respect for the planning process. There was previously an unexplained delay to completion of the construction phase in 2017, which resulted in an application beyond the start of the 2018 bird breeding season.
Bawtry Town Council also objected, saying:
“As fracking is not something the government is now looking to do the applicant should not be allowed to leave the area in limbo and restoration should now occur in line with the original application.”
Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust said IGas had failed during construction and drilling to provide complete data on noise, air quality, water flows and quality, required by the planning conditions. It said surveys showed that breeding long eared owls had moved further away from the site during drilling in 2018.
“This impact would be magnified and extended over further years, were fracking to be undertaken, which would be unacceptable for the conservation of this very rare breeding species and other notable breeding birds.”
Frack Free Misson, a local opposition group, described the application as speculative and the company had already had sufficient time to complete the works programme.
Nottingham Friends of the Earth said IGas was “financially challenged” and “cynically gaming the planning system” to delay its responsibilities to restore the site. There were also objections from Sheffield Greenpeace, Frack Free Dudleston, The Ramblers.
More than 70 members of the public, most from Misson, objected on grounds of:
- Speculative application or a delaying tactic
- Local uncertainty and the impact on health and anxiety
- Moratorium on fracking and concerns about possible future hydraulic fracturing
- Incompatibility of shale gas with climate change obligations
- Environmentally-sensitive setting and close to SSSI
- Local disruption and effects on countryside
- Concerns about the company’s financial ability to restore the site
- Inadequate local road network
- Inadequate community engagement by IGas
- Safety of the existing wellhead
There were no letters of support.
Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council, Finningley and Blaxton Parish Councils, Via (a Nottinghamshire County Council contractor) and Network Rail made no objections or sent neutral responses. There were no comments from the Environment Agency or Natural England.