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.
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.
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.
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.”