Opponents and supporters of plans for a major expansion of an oil site in East Yorkshire put their cases to councillors this afternoon.
If approved, the scheme, proposed by Rathlin Energy for its West Newton-A site, would see six more wells and oil production for 20 years.
There have been more than a thousand objections to the planning application, which will be decided by East Riding of Yorkshire Council later this week.
At a pre-meeting, before the council’s planning committee, opponents described the scheme as “fundamentally flawed”, lacking in key information and likely to turn beautiful countryside into an industrial “sacrifice zone”.
Rathlin Energy said West Newton-A could contribute to UK energy security and help in the transition to a low-carbon economy.
“Act now in line with the climate emergency”
Charlotte Foster, a 14-year-old from Long Riston, said:
“I am here today to ask the Planning Committee Members, to consider my future and that of my generation, when they make their decision on this planning application.”
She said the 25-year period of the proposal, though classed as temporary, was a long time in anyone’s lifetime.
“Climate Change is the thing that most threatens the security of future generations, developments such as those proposed at West Newton, contribute to the causes of Climate Change in their construction, production operations and in what they produce.”
During site construction, there would be 60 heavy goods vehicles per day, she said. This would be more than 3,600 HGV journeys during the 12 weeks of work.
Drilling, testing and well cleaning would result in 35,000 HGV journeys. In the 20 years of oil production, there would be another 146,000 HGV journeys, “all passing through small rural communities”. Each journey would emit diesel fumes, brake dust and tyre rubber, all harmful to people and the environment, she said.
Rathlin plans to flare waste gas from the site during drilling and well testing. It may, if technically feasible and safe, be used to generate electricity during the production phase.
Charlotte Foster said flaring would emit 20,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, adding to the poor record of East Yorkshire and Humberside, already the worst counties for CO2 emissions. Electricity on the wellsite during drilling and testing would be produced by diesel generators.
She also criticised Rathlin’s assessment of the carbon footprint of West Newton-A oil. It did not take account of road transport of oil when stating that it would have half the emissions of imported oil.
“If this development is allowed to proceed, it flies in the face of the advice received from a steadily increasing number of sources [on climate change] whose views we hear from news and other broadcasts every day.”
She also quoted the climate warning by Boris Johnson to the United Nations general assembly last week:
“you must act now in line with the climate emergency you have already declared and recognised, say no to this development and save my generation and its successors, from the fate described by our Prime Minister.”
Caroline Foster, Rathlin’s operations engineer, told the hearing that oil and gas would continue to be needed in a low carbon future. They would be needed to make products such as wind turbine blades and medical equipment.
In a video shown to councillors, she said:
“Net zero does not mean a future without hydrocarbons but we will have to use them more responsibly and we have to find other sources where possible.”
She said emissions from the proposed expanded West Newton-A site represented 0.02-1.34% of the fuel supply industry’s carbon budget.
“The multitude of carbon reducing initiatives, harnessing and storing energy from renewable resources and reduction in the use of hydrocarbons will form part of a complex and diverse set of solutions for a net zero future. A future that Rathlin supports and can be part of. “
Lorry route is “not safe or suitable”
Gerald Kells, a transport advisor to opponents of the scheme, said there were “inherent deficiencies” in the proposed lorry route to the site.
“These are rural roads not designed for large articulated lorries.”
Their use by large farm vehicles did not justify additional HGV traffic, he said.
“I am simply not convinced that these narrow winding rural roads shared with cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders are safe and suitable.”
The impacts might be intermittent, he said, but they would continue for around 20 years with peaks of HGV use.
National planning policy did not require roads to be safe and suitable some of the time but all of the time, he said.
Many of the HGVs would be the largest OGV2 articulated lorries which created particular risks for vulnerable users, Mr Kells added.
Rathlin Energy has proposed two lorry routes to West Newton-A.
Mr Kells said the blue route, via Ellerby, failed because of the width, visibility and the bends. Unclassified sections of the other orange route, which passed the front of Burton Constable Hall, failed more seriously, he said, because of long sections of straight road that were likely to encourage speeding.
He said there were sections of the lorry route where HGVs would have to cross into the opposite carriageway.
Rathlin did not appear to have considered the impact on roads of convoying equipment to the site or the effect on Burton Constable Hall, Mr Kells said. There had been no assessment on sections where pedestrians would come into contact with HGVs, such as the Hornsea Rail Trail.
There were also no proposed holding areas for HGVs entering the orange route, he said. It appeared that lorries could visit at any time of day or night and there would be no cap on the number of visits during a single day.
Each route had to be capable of accommodating all the lorries. There were no proposals to close roads to the site so there would be oncoming traffic, in some cases travelling up to 60 miles per hour, he said.
Rathlin Energy has reduced the maximum number of daily tanker visits during production from an estimated 25 to 10.
Mr Kells said the committee would hear that the overall number of lorries would be small. But he said it was actually similar to that proposed at the Roseacre Wood and Woodsetts shale gas sites, on which he gave evidence, and which were refused permission by planning committees on traffic grounds.
He said one section of the orange route narrowed to 4.8m near Pipers Lane. There was no pavement he said, and bollards to prevent encroachment onto the grass verge. This part of the route was likely to be used pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders.
Mr Kells said a standard HGV was 2.55m wide and a car 2m wide.
“That section of road is hardly wide enough for a lorry to meet a car, let alone a van, let alone for two HGVs to pass each other.
“What exactly are pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders expected to do if there is a car behind them and an articulated lorry in front?
“It is hard to conceive of a location less suited to articulated OGV2 lorries.”
He urged councillors to refuse permission.
Local resident, Samantha Hallett, said her family used the proposed lorry routes every day. There were no passing places, she said, and the roads were not treated in winter.
“Before anyone makes a decision, councillors should go and drive these country roads and see for your own eyes that these roads are not wide enough for HGVs.”
Mrs Hallett lives a mile from both the West Newton-A and B sites and can see them from her bedroom window. The impact of the West Newton-A expansion would be enormous, she told the committee.
“It seems we have turned into a sacrifice zone, where East Riding of Yorkshire Council says yes to everything that is going”
She said Rathlin was turning “beautiful countryside into a no-go area”.
“The cumulative impact was getting out of hand.
“The beautiful East Yorkshire countryside is turning into industrial blight that is more in common with heavy industry, stripping the landscape of its beauty, peace and quiet.”
Tourists would no longer want to visit “an industrial zone”, she said.
The county council ward member, Jacob Birch, said the lack of a cumulative impact assessment for West Newton-A was a “fundamental flaw” in the planning application.
National and council policies required this assessment but there was no evidence that this has been done, he said. Rathlin should have considered local windfarms and a biomass plant, along with proposals to expand the company’s nearby West Newton-B site.
“By allowing this application to be approved, based on the information provided, and also the total lack of information, you could be endangering surrounding countryside, turning what was a pleasant place into a sacrifice zone.
“The risks outweigh the benefits”.
Cllr Birch said a hydrogeological report commissioned by Fossil Free East Yorkshire identified missing details about the construction of the current site.
There was no information on whether the existing containment liner beneath the wellpad was in a suitable condition for the proposed extended timeframe and future possible use.
“With this fundamental key piece of information missing how can you councillors decide on this application?
If it were unsuitable, Cllr Birch said, pollutants could seep through the liner into the aquifer.
Cllr Birch said the assessment of flood risk in the application was based on anecdotal information, rather than evidence of the suitability of the existing containment system.
He said the application contained assumptions and conclusions about the underlying geology that were not supported by detailed information. Surface water flooding also did not appear to have been assessed properly, he said.
Elizabeth Walker, the company’s planning consultant, said the development would have no unacceptable impacts and it complied with national and local planning policy.
But Tony Page, another opponent, who had worked as a safety officer, described the impact of the West Newton-A expansion on public health as “a catastrophe waiting to happen”.
People would be subjected to round—the-clock flaring, he said, and pollution from the site would “ruin the area”. Local people could suffer lung damage and breathing problems as a result, he said.
Jonathan Foster, Rathlin’s health, safety and environmental manager, said the membrane underlying the site would be assessed and the directional drilling plans would be reviewed by the Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive.
He said the site would be lit at night only when it was staffed and operating. Up lighting would be minimal or zero, he said. The 55m drilling rig would not be on site permanently, he said, because information from the first well drilled would inform the next one.
The meeting also heard that indigenous trees, including holly and Scots Pine, would be planted on the bunds to help screen the site.
“Source of energy and feedstocks”
Tom Selkirk, Rathlin’s country manager, told the hearing the sites were based in East Yorkshire because this was where the Permian basin, a prolific producing region, came ashore from the North Sea.
The company believed the West Newton-A proposal would provide oil for industrial feedstocks and gas for hydrogen.
Mrs Walker, for Rathlin, said other benefits of the scheme included:
- Help to meet UK energy needs
- Reducing dependence on imports
- Helping the transition to a low carbon economy
- Provision of employment and support for local supply chains
- Temporary and reversible
She said the Environment Agency had not objected to the proposals, though the meeting heard that Rathlin Energy had not yet applied for changes needed to its environmental permit.
Planning officers were satisfied that issues put before the committee have or would be adequately addressed by the relevant regulator, Mrs Walker said.
“Based on the information submitted and your officers’ recommendation we hope that the committee will be able to support this application.”
Questions and decision meeting
After the presentations, councillors asked questions on issues including air pollution, road widening, landscaping, the climate emergency declared by East Riding of Yorkshire Council, viability of a pipeline, the site liner, and what represented an unacceptable level of disturbance or impact on local roads.
These questions are expected to be answered at the decision meeting on Thursday 30 September. This meeting, at County Hall, in Beverley, begins at 10am. It can be viewed on the council’s YouTube channel. DrillOrDrop will be reporting on this meeting.