Proposals by Rathlin Energy for 20 years of oil production and six new wells at its West Newton-A site in East Yorkshire have been supported by council officials.
There have been more than 1,000 objections to the scheme, including seven parish councils, members of the public, campaigners and the local county councillor.
But a 90-page report published today by East Riding of Yorkshire Council planners recommended approval when the scheme is decided next week (30 September 2021).
This is one of the largest planning applications for UK onshore oil and gas in recent years. If approved, it would treble the footprint of the West Newton-A site in Holderness and could permit oil production until after 2050, by which time the UK should have achieved net zero carbon emissions.
The report said “in excess of 999 objections” had been received from the public, with more than 60 reasons given for refusal. There were five letters of support.
This afternoon opponents said the planners had failed to mention key issues identified in the objections.
The West Newton-A wellsite, off Fosham Road, was first approved in January 2013. Two exploratory boreholes were drilled in 2013 and 2019. The duration of the permission was extended in 2015 and 2018. The current consent expires in November 2021.
Many of the objections were about the scheme’s impact on climate change.
But the planners’ report said the application complied with local and national policy, even though both the county council and UK government have declared climate emergencies.
Its author, East Yorkshire’s director of planning and economic regeneration, Alan Menzies, said:
“Whilst there is a firm commitment on the part of Government to move to a low carbon economy, in the transition period there will still need to be a secure and reliable supply of energy sources.
“Whilst the burning of hydrocarbons produced by the proposals will undoubtedly give rise to unwelcome carbon emissions, it is important to note that the consent is limited to 25 years and that during that time it is anticipated that there will be a substantial restructuring of the UK economy to enable it to become based upon low carbon.
“In the transition period the economic component of sustainable development means that it is essential for the UK to be able to draw upon traditional sources of energy, which comprise a resilient form of supply.
“This is fully supported by UK Government policy. Such emissions to air need to be viewed in this context therefore, however unwelcome.”
Landscape and traffic
Another major concern of local people has been the impact of the extended site on the surrounding landscape.
Rathlin Energy has proposed using a 55m rig to drill the new wells. This would be 19m higher than the rig permitted at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road shale gas site in Lancashire.
Mr Menzies said the development was “considered acceptable in landscape terms” if permission was limited to 25 years”. He said the rig would “introduce a feature generally uncharacteristic to this landscape”. But, he said, it would be on site for “a relatively short time”, totalling 24 months and would be limited to 55m.
“The relative isolation of the site also reduces any potential impact on the visual amenities of the nearest properties, and also assists in negating the impact of noise on the nearest residential properties.”
Many objections also focussed on the impact of increased traffic visiting the site, including heavy lorries and tankers.
Mr Menzies said:
“The development is considered acceptable from a highway safety, access and parking prospective, whilst heritage assets will be safeguarded from harm. The proposal is a very heavily regulated on technical and environmental grounds by a number of other public organisations.”
In his objection, the ward councillor, Jacob Birch, said any oil produced should be sent to a refinery by pipeline, rather than road tanker. He said the local community had worked with Rathlin Energy for the past 10 years on the
basis that oil would be piped out.
Parish councils representing Aldbrough, Bilton, Burton Constable, Ellerby, Roos, Skidby and Withernwick raised additional issues, including noise, public safety, policing protests and lighting.
The campaign group, Fossil Free East Yorkshire commissioned a review by a planning consultant, which described the application as “fundamentally flawed”.
The group also commissioned a hydrogeological assessment, which suggested Rathlin Energy had not adequately assessed potential pollution risks.
Mr Menzies did not mention these reports, nor an objection from the local tourist attraction, Burton Constable Hall, about the potential impact on its visitors.
The report said there were no objections from the Environment Agency, Natural England, Yorkshire Waters, Humberside Historic Environmental Record, the local highways authority, local flood and drainage teams, Humberside Fire and Rescue Service, National Air Traffic Service, and council officials responsible for conservation, ecology, sustainable development, public protection and trees.
There were no responses to the application from Humberside Police, Spectrum, National Grid, Civil Aviation Authority, Garton and Humberside Airports, Ministry of Defence and the council’s rights of ways officer.
The report recommended 20 conditions. These include a ban on high-volume hydraulic fracturing, which Rathlin Energy has said it did not intend to use.
If the application were approved, Rathlin must begin work on site within five years of the any permission and restore the site within 25 years.
The conditions also recommend a height limit of 15m on the flare stack, limits on operational noise and the agreement of plans covering management of traffic, construction impact on the environment, wildlife enhancement, lighting.
Fossil Free East Yorkshire said this afternoon:
“We can only echo that drilling for oil now, in 2021, ‘is just insane’ (local councillor) and ‘beggars belief’ (Hull MP).
“The head of the UN says it’s “code red for humanity” and the “death knell for fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet”; the International Energy Agency says “we do not need any more investments in new oil”; and the world’s top scientists just reported the vast majority of fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground, and our situation “is absolutely desperate”.
“This planning application in particular is inadequate, incomplete, contradicts a number of local and national policies, and is “fundamentally flawed” – as detailed in our report by Independent Planning Consultants. Oil will have to be tankered out by hundreds of thousands of HGVs. Unbelievably, all the gas would just be wasted and burnt on site in a flare.
“So just about everybody objects to it – the local ward councillor, the Parish Councils, nearby businesses and tourist attractions like Burton Constable Hall, and over a thousand members of the public.
“And yet Approval is recommended? Our system must be beyond broken.
“The Councillors on the Planning Committee, the same councillors who just declared a Climate Emergency must refuse this application, for all our sakes, and our future.”
Local resident, Harry Clark, who objected to Rathlin’s application, said:
“Having now read the report I am of the opinion that, the planners are considering this development in isolation and failing to comprehend the cumulative affects on the environment and local communities, of this development and potential further development at the West Newton B well site.”
Another opponent of Rathlin Energy’s proposals, Peter Hamilton, said:
“I respectfully disagree with the planning officers decision, there is a massive amount of important information missing from the planning application, despite the reports that were commissioned by Fossil Free East Yorkshire (FFEY).
“The report was carried out by a highly experienced team of consultants and was the most detailed and robust objection submitted. Despite the points raised in the FFEY report, none of them appear to have been considered in the planners report.
“FFEY submitted a further objection from an experienced hydrogeologist today. This assessment has identified a number of significant issues with the current planning application in relation to the assessment of risks to the water environment, this has also been sent to the environment agency.
“On Monday the 27th at 2pm five representatives of the immediate local communities will be afforded thirty minutes airtime with the planning Committee to represent their case for objection.”
Rathlin Energy said:
“We welcome the officers’ recommendation but recognise that the planning decision will be taken by the elected members of the council’s planning committee.”
DrillOrDrop has invited Fossil Free East Yorkshire to comment on the recommendation. This article will be updated with any new responses.
Pre-planning meeting 2pm, Monday 27 September 2021, County Hall, Beverley. Rathlin Energy and opponents can make presentations to East Riding of Yorkshire councillors lasting a total of 30 minutes each.
Meeting of East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s planning committee 10am, Thursday 30 September 2021, County Hall, Beverley.
- DrillOrDrop will report on both meetings, which the council says will be livestreamed on its YouTube channel (link).