Oil company and council refuse to disclose expansion plans for East Yorkshire hydrocarbon sites

Initial plans by an oil company for a major expansion in East Yorkshire will not be disclosed to the public – even though they have apparently been seen by more than 20 officials and organisations.

Rathlin Energy’s West Newton-B wellsite, 6 November 2020. Picture: Used with the owner’s consent

The scheme, by Rathlin Energy, could more than quadruple the number of oil wells in a small area of Holderness, if approved as originally proposed.

East Riding of Yorkshire Council has refused requests for a document by Zetland Group, Rathlin’s planning consultant, about proposals to increase the lifespan, operations and number of wells at two sites near the hamlet of West Newton.

Rathlin has also said it would not disclose the details.

The document – a pre-planning inquiry – has raised local concerns about the proposed methods to stimulate hydrocarbons and the cumulative impact on the environment.

The inquiry came to light when Rathlin applied for planning permission for production and expansion at its West Newton-A site.

The planning application included the council’s reply to Zetland Group – but not the inquiry document itself.

Extract from East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s reply to Rathlin Energy’s planning consultant. Source: West Newton-A planning application

The 15-page reply, dated 6 October 2020, indicated that Rathlin Energy was seeking advice in what was described as a “major pre-application enquiry” for both West Newton-A and the West Newton-B site, less than a mile-and-a-half away.

The reply suggested that the company proposed to drill an extra six wells at West Newton-A and a further eight at West Newton-B. The sites currently have two wells each. The company also wanted to produce hydrocarbons for up to 20 years from both sites.

The council said in its reply that, in principle, policies were “supportive” of the proposals in the inquiry, “subject to consideration” of a range of planning issues.

The reply suggests the council showed Rathlin’s inquiry to 10 external organisations, including the Ministry of Defence, the Civil Aviation Authority, Humberside Airport, Yorkshire Water, the Environment Agency and Historic England.

The document was apparently also sent to 11 officers or departments within East Riding of Yorkshire Council, including those dealing with landscape, trees, public protection, flooding, ecology, access to the countryside and highways.

Most of the proposals for West Newton-A referred to in the reply have since been confirmed by the site’s current planning application, due to be decided on 30 September 2021.

But so far, the company has not applied for planning permission for production and extra wells at West Newton-B, nor has it made these proposals public.

Location of West Newton-A and West Newton-B wellsites.

East Riding of Yorkshire Council refused a freedom of information request by DrillOrDrop for the original inquiry.

It said Rathlin Energy had asked that its proposals should be dealt with confidentially and it would be “unfair” to disclose the information.

The council described the pre-planning inquiry as “a private interest” with “limited public interest in disclosing this information”.

“the council has decided that there is a public interest in protecting confidential information and as such it has been decided to not disclose the information”.

Rathlin Energy has refused written and verbal requests from local people.Resident Harry Clark, who has objected to Rathlin’s planning applications at West Newton, asked for the document at last week’s meeting of the West Newton community liaison group (CLG).

His concerns centred on a reference in the council’s reply to Zetland Group about proposed treatment options for the new wells, including low volume hydraulic fracturing.

The minutes of the CLG meeting, published today by Rathlin, said:

“A question was raised over the pre-application advice sought from ERYC’s [East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s] planning department. Specifically, there was a concern that hydraulic fracturing had been raised in the pre-application advice.

“The team restated that hydraulic fracturing forms no part of this planning application and that the WNA [West Newton-A] planning application supersedes any information submitted as part of the pre-application advice. Community liaison committee representatives were also reassured when the team reminded them that any future planning applications will always be subject to detailed local consultation and independent planning assessment before any projects are approved.”

Mr Clark told DrillOrDrop today:

“The letter from East Riding of Yorkshire Council to Zetland Group, responding to a letter from Zetland Group to them, contains a number of references to, ‘low volume hydraulic fracturing’ and ‘shale gas development.’ These are processes that could be very detrimental to this area were they to be used at any well sites in this area.

“The refusal by both East Riding of Yorkshire Council and Rathlin Energy UK Limited to release a copy of the letter from Zetland Group to them and statements from the company, that do not specifically state that they will not use these processes but talk about following procedures in preparing the current planning application for the extension of the West Newton A well site, do not give me confidence that at some time in the future a variation to the planning application could be applied for, that would permit Rathlin Energy UK Limited to use low volume hydraulic fracturing in exploiting shale gas production from wells in this locality.”

The campaign group, Fossil Free East Yorkshire, has concerns about the cumulative impact of the proposals for the two sites.

The group said the two proposed developments were linked via the pre-application inquiry:

“The planning system requires applicants to consider cumulative development, including the site in question, those permitted and those within the planning system.”

It said the landscape assessment for the West Newton-A application should also have considered proposals at West Newton-B.

Updated 17/9/2021: Rathlin Energy responded to DrillOrDrop’s request for the original inquiry. The company said:

“Rathlin will not be releasing the Pre-Application letter as it contains commercially sensitive information. All of the relevant and most up to date information is in the current planning application.”

25 replies »

  1. This is a difficult and distressing situation.
    It is understandable that PEDL license holders may want to keep information confidential until they actually submit a planning application.

    However, with one exception, all onshore oil and gas reserves are nationalised.
    Therefore the Government might have copies of the relevant documentation of the pre-application planning proposal.
    In which case, a Freedom of Information request to the relative Government body might be more productive.

    Alternatively the PEDL holders could and should treat the locals as adults and – from the very beginning engage properly with the local communities to mutual benefit. Otherwise to run the risk of leaks and misunderstandings leading to a breakdown in trust and public consultation.

    Robin Grayson MSc FGS
    Liberal Democrats

  2. How many pre-application planning inquiries are disclosed to the public? I believe the answer in my area is very few if any. This is not a planning application.

  3. Renewables working well today. At 0830hrs contributing only 3.31GW (10%) – just when we need them……same as coal approximately. Luckily we have gas 18.2GW (57%) to get us out of this most recent problem. And it’s not even cold yet.

    A key electricity cable between Britain and France has been shut down, sending wholesale energy prices soaring.

    National Grid said a fire and planned maintenance at a site near Ashford in Kent means the cable will be totally offline until 25 September.

    Half of its capacity, or one gigawatt (GW) of power, is expected to remain unavailable until late March 2022.

    On Wednesday, British electricity prices for the following day jumped by 19% to £475 per megawatt hour (MWh).

  4. Why is it distressing?

    Any planning application will provide this information.

    I would have thought that distress could be caused from inquiries that may be amended considerably when a planning application is finally submitted. All that worry and concern about what is not then applied for.

    I certainly know of several local situations where inquiries have been made regarding planning matters (inside information) which were not followed through, or considerably altered.

    Patience is a virtue.

  5. And, back in the real world, Brent Crude is still above $70/barrel, as confirmed for anyone topping up their car, and the inflation figures produced this week. So, if that maintains-and “forecast” to do so (OPEC forecasts are a bit more certain than other forecasts, cartels do that) any UK production should produce some reasonable levels of local taxation that can be re-invested into all sorts of things, and may prevent further NI rises. (Apart from reducing that large transport emission footprint with over 50% of UK gas and oil being imported in Q1.)

    “In the real world” is appropriate. I was recently in a major hospital and working out with a nurse how to get a coffee out of a rather sophisticated piece of kit, and in the background, on TV, there was the leader of the Labour Party on his latest, probably not final, re-launch. She looked up and then offered that piece of advice, “he needs to live in the real world”, so apart from that being the voice of the working class (lol), or the “average” nurse as stated in the Commons yesterday (what an insult) it did remind me that living in the real world is what is still key to most people’s lives. (I did also note the frequent flights of the air ambulance-saving lives from the use of fossil fuel. One of the most successful networks of fund raising in the country who offer support for that very reason, in the real world.)

    I also noted yesterday reference to a late harvest this year, and it certainly is. So, in my real world, I trust the weather will smile, and the red diesel will be consumed as much as is needed, and the grain driers will be supplied with all the fuel they need, otherwise in the real world food bills will be inflated for the next twelve months, during which eating and heating will become an issue for many.

    • Martin, food prices will also not be helped with the halting yesterday of fertiliser manufacturing operations at both Billingham and Ince due to high natural gas prices, with no estimate for when production will resume.

  6. Good morning Martyn

    Thanks for your interesting information.

    So what you information highlights is the urgent need for more green energy in the UK.

    More offshore wind energy, more low-cost bulk storage of electricity from offshore wind, and more solar electricity.

    Perhaps as many as 20 onshore oil and gas fields upon depletion might be repurposed to produce local space heating where there is demand from hospitals, industry and not least from agriculture notably for heated horticultural production of supermarket foods and flowers.

    In the real world, hundreds of onshore PEDL license holders are sat on very deep geothermal energy but lack the investments or motivation to develop it. Most have failed to drill a single hole for oil or gas and most failed to complete their obligatory work programme and with a few exceptions failed to do much extra seismic surveys. These non-compliant PEDL holders have been given a free lunch by the Government to sit on their PEDLs for decades more. With a few major exceptions the PEDLs are not fit for purpose as the purpose was for explore and produce oil and gas, of which the frackable Bowland Shales has largely been a failure due to speculative projections by the Government based on the overly optimistic assumptions of the British Geological Survey BGS.
    For instance with few exceptions PEDLs in North-West England are unattractive vehicles for oil and gas exploration or production but remain on the books of investors for decades. So the Government does not have to admit it is a time-up busted flush and the investors can dream on they have an asset.

    If the Conservative Government or its successor is to make any sense out of this mess, some PEDLs should be rebadged as DGEDLS – Deep Geothermal Exploration and Production Licenses for exploring and producing geothermal energy from depths of more than 3km, not for electricity but for space heating. Ellesmere Port No.1 would be a sensible place to start.

    Robin Grayson MSc FGS
    Liberal Democrat

  7. Really, Robin?

    You mean that Green Energy which was unable to supply when the wind and sun were absent, and UK switched on a coal fired power plant? Perhaps your response again will be “dream on” to that fact, except anyone-again-can check and find it is fact. More of something, that has issues of secure supply, just means more insecure supply.

    Geothermal? With or without fracking? With or without the subsidence as evident in Germany?

    I have no issue with geothermal, but it does have potential hazards. It has been quite successful for a number of years in Southampton, but it is hardly a game changer and will certainly not go anywhere near to supplying the many new houses planned in that area-or, on the IOW.

    Ellesmere Port? Hmm. Maybe even better to extract the gas, and then do the geothermal? Two, for the price of one-maybe not the price but the disturbance certainly.

    I used to live in Suffolk and there was a malting plant there which supplied heat to their own green houses, and that was being done decades ago. I also know of an oil fired power station that supplied excess heat to their own fish farm! Perhaps there should therefore be more oil fired power stations?

    On current performance, if you wait for the “successor” then I suspect it will all be too late! But, I did hear yesterday a Lib Dem joyfully proclaiming the progress for a space launch facility in his constituency, and whilst I agree with that, it does add to issues with respect to the environment. Perhaps it just means that some projects do need to be looked at with both sides of the equation included?

    • Hi Martin To some extent I agree with you. However you might go green with envy once you pay attention to changes in wind power and solar. When the sun ain’t shining is not a problem once battery storage is solved without lithium.When the wind ain’t blowing is no longer a problem once battery storage is solved without lithium. Smart investors are investing heavily in large scale battery storage without lithium.

      Are you a smart investor or just peddling PEDLs for petroleum? There is a wind of change blowing across the energy market. Robin Grayson MSc FGSLiberal Democrat

  8. We have experienced 18 successive weeks with low wind speeds, 15 of which resulted in wind load factors below 20%.

    How soon will they solve the battery storage without lithium and be able to build a system large enough to cover that kind of scenario, if ever?

    The plain fact is that wind is variable, intermittent, unreliable and uncontrollable. If you make it the main source for electricity generation and continue to reject the likes of nuclear for large scale base load and back up, you risk becoming trapped with continued fossil fuel use.

    • John Harrison – The future is now and the problems you speak are real enough but have all been solved. Completely.
      Would you like some more details?

      Robin Grayson MSc FGS

      • Yes please – look forward to reading your solution. You need to replace about 15GW x 24hrs x 18 weeks x 7 days = 45,000 GWhrs of gas usage with storage or something else to cover John’s concern? Plus coal plus now the out of service interconnector. Today it would have been much more as the wind LF is much lower than 20%.

        • Hi Paul, Martin and Paul – You are all very keen at disproving what I have to reveal, and I have not revealed it on Drill or Drop – yet.
          Have a great weekend.


          Robin Grayson MSc FGS
          Liberal Democrat

          • Well you will be the first assuming it is realistic. No one else on this BB / Greenpeas / EOI / XR / LibDems / David King / God etc has come up with anything that will be effective in eliminating fossil fuels at reasonable cost and “keeping our lights on”…..

  9. I do await the Once, Robin. However, there are many things I wait for, and meanwhile, have to get on with today and tomorrow. I also wait for fusion energy supply. Some people with deeper pockets than mine seem to believe that wait might not be too much longer.

    (Mind you, I did wait an hour when Mrs.C was late for our first date! I remind my sons how close they came to not being born, regularly.)

    Perhaps I am a smart investor already, Robin? One investment does not preclude another. No problem with lithium, but local production has some advantages regarding transport emissions, security of supply and UK taxation. I see absolutely no difference between that material and oil/gas in such considerations. Although, I do await the radioactivity shrieks regarding Cornish extraction of lithium if they are not swept under the green carpet-where there is already a large volume of dirt.

    Maybe, if I wait long enough the off shore wind sites will be incorporated as marine preservation areas also, because the two could fit together well. Then, maybe my wait may also see lovely moorland areas without wind turbines. I really don’t see they add to the appearance of such natural, previously quiet, places, and with off shore, I don’t see the need.

    • Martin Collyer – Seems you are fishing offshore to find out and ending up in very deep water indeed.


      Robin Grayson MSc FGS

      • No fishing, Robin, just see that the infrastructure to service off shore wind could so easily be integrated into servicing fish nurseries, sea grass meadows etc. etc. in the same spots.

        Meanwhile, I will remember the selenium speculation and what that revealed!

        But, patience is indeed a virtue-or, a necessity, if one is a Lib.Dem.

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