A former senior council officer is challenging the authority he worked for over its support for the major expansion of an oil site.
Jon Mager, the director of adult and children’s services for the East Riding of Yorkshire until 2006, has objected to the council’s backing for 20 years of oil production and six more boreholes at the West Newton-A wellsite in Holderness.
He accused the council of failing to disclose all the “relevant information” to residents, businesses and other local authorities in a report on a planning application.
The application by Rathlin Energy is one of the largest for UK onshore oil and gas developments in recent years.
A decision is due tomorrow (Thursday 30 September) at a meeting of East Yorkshire’s planning committee.
“Deliberately omits information”
Mr Mager is a long-standing opponent of onshore oil and gas developments in East Yorkshire and elsewhere.
In a written objection to the council sent yesterday, he criticised a report by the director of planning and economic regeneration which recommended approval of Rathlin Energy’s plans.
“[the report] deliberately omits information about the cumulative impact arising from his recommendations so the Planning Committee are not in possession of all relevant information”.
The council and Rathlin Energy have refused to make public a letter about expansion plans for West Newton-A and the nearby West Newton-B site, where an extra eight wells and 20 years of production were also proposed.
The council’s reply, which has been published, said officials were “supportive” of the proposals “subject to consideration” of a range of planning issues.
Mr Mager told DrillOrDrop:
“People have a right to know the full picture – not be given one bit of the picture at a time.”
In his objection, he said:
“This is a wholly inadequate report with serious omissions so that there cannot be material consideration of cumulative impact on the environment.
“Only by full disclosure of Rathlin’s strategy, already supported by the Director, can members of the Planning Committee serve the best interest of East Riding residents and businesses. All information should have been made available as part of the public consultation.
“The Director may wish to argue that the Planning Committee can only decide on the application for development at West Newton-A. The fact that he is fully aware and in principle supportive of a much larger development at West Newton-B is of crucial relevance to the West Newton-A application.”
“A major issue arising is whether the Secretary of State was briefed about the full scope of Rathlin’s strategy when he concluded that a full environment impact assessment was not required.”
“Council support is illogical on climate grounds”
Mr Mager said the decision on West Newton-A should be postponed until after the international climate conference in Glasgow in November.
“The Planning Committee should reject the report and instruct the Director to review all relevant local planning policy in the context of COP26 and the Climate Emergency.”
He told DrillOrDrop:
“If plans for a Cumbrian Coal Mine are seen as politically controversial I am mystified why there is no interest in the proposed new oil and gas field in the East Riding.”
The council report said Rathlin Energy could extract an estimated 283 million barrels of oil and 265.9 billion cubic feet of gas held in Permian age rocks.
Mr Mager said the support for this was illogical in the context of a climate emergency and the quest for reduction in greenhouse gas emissions
“It is not clear whether the estimated oil and gas volumes are for just West Newton-A or for both the West Newton sites.
“If the volumes are considered a material benefit but involve West Newton-B, as well as West Newton-A, that is another reason why the council should specifically refer to the cumulative impacts of both sites in its report.”
Mr Mager also said local planning policies, used by the council to support approval of the application, were “clearly inconsistent to deal with the climate emergency”,
He added that the committee report failed to draw attention to the changing approach to UK energy policy.
“There is every justification for a pause until UK planning policy changes arising from COP 26 become clear.”
“Industry is self-regulated”
Mr Mager also criticised the report’s conclusion that the oil and gas industry was heavily regulated. He said:
“The truth is that onshore oil and gas exploration is largely self-regulated.
“the Planning Committee is not offered any evidence or explanation of how the huge volume of desk top examination of paperwork translates into safe oversight and regulation of an inherently dangerous industry.”
He said the UK has no dedicated inspectorate for onshore oil and gas sites, no regime of annual or unannounced inspections and no regulatory regime for traffic management plans.
Mr Mager said Rathlin Energy had a relevant history of failing to adhere to regulations. DrillOrDrop reported that the company had breached at least 14 conditions of the West Newton-A site environmental permit in four months in 2015.
It took repeated reports of gas leaks from West Newton A by local residents before the Environment Agency took action, Mr Mager said.
On traffic management, he said:
“Any complaints lead to a fruitless display of finger pointing between ERYC, Humberside Police and Rathlin.”
DrillOrDrop has invited East Riding of Yorkshire to comment on Mr Mager’s criticisms and his question on the estimated oil and gas volumes.
We reported last week on the planners’ recommendation to approve.
The officer’s report said the application complied with local and national policy on climate change and other planning issues.
The proposals were “considered acceptable in landscape terms” and highway safety, access and parking, the report said.
There have been more than one thousand objections to the application.