Regulation

Breaking: Councillors refuse 15 years of oil production at Biscathorpe as climate talks get underway

As world leaders in Glasgow pledged this afternoon to cut carbon emissions, councillors 300 miles away blocked plans for long-term onshore oil production in an area of outstanding natural beauty.

Lincolnshire County Council planning committee meeting to discuss Biscathorpe oil production application, 1 November 2021. Photo: DrillOrDrop

The decision by Conservative-controlled Lincolnshire County Council coincided with the gathering of heads of state and government at the COP26 summit, hosted by Boris Johnson.

He urged the 200 nations represented at the talks to reduce emissions to limit temperature rise to 1.5C.

In a remote country house hotel near Louth, the council’s planning committee voted by 7 to 4 with two abstentions, to refuse plans by Egdon Resources for 15 years of oil extraction. They said the scheme would harm the AONB and noise from the scheme would be unacceptable.

The decision was greeted by cheers from members of the public. It went against the recommendation of council planning officers. This is the fourth consecutive refusal of UK onshore oil and gas planning applications and the fifth refusal in 2021.

The proposal at Biscathorpe in the Lincolnshire Wolds could produce almost 4 million barrels of oil, the company has estimated.

A recent report concluded this would generate 1.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. Opponents have said the carbon emissions in one year would be nearly ten times the council’s entire carbon saving target for 2023.

Egdon has applied to drill a sidetrack well at the Biscathorpe site to target the Westphalian sandstone and deeper Dinantian Carbonate. It has estimated there could be up to 30 million barrels of oil in the formations.

Climate change objections

There have been more than 200 local objections to the scheme and a petition against it with more than 1,800 signatures this afternoon.

Opponents included the local MP and justice minister, Victoria Atkins, as well as Lincolnshire Climate Commission, the countryside charity CPRE, Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust and five parish councils closest to the site. In some villages there was overwhelming opposition to the scheme.

Many people who objected to the application said oil production at Biscathorpe was incompatible with local and national policy on climate change.

Donington-on-Bain parish council drew attention to Lincolnshire’s 2019 carbon management plan in which the county council said it was “determined to play a full part in delivering on hour collective responsibility to reduce carbon emissions”.

Lincoln Climate Commission quoted a report in May 2021 by the International Energy Association in which it concluded “from today, no investment in new fossil fuel supply projects” if the world is to limit temperature rise to 1.5C.

But Egdon Resources argued that domestically-produced oil has a lower carbon footprint than imported oil. The UK would continue to need oil and gas during the transition to a low-carbon economy, the company said.

A report by council planners for today’s meeting said production from the new Biscathorpe sidetrack well was consistent with current government objectives on climate change.

Officials told councillors they needed to consider only the potential impacts of carbon emissions arising directly from the proposed development, not from the use of any oil produced. This issue is the subject of a legal challenge at the court of appeal in a fortnight.

Councillors urged to “lead by example”

Speaking against the application, retired army major Nick Bodian urged the committee to “show real leadership”. He urged them to:

“set aside the narrow confines of current planning policies and make the brave decision that your constituents and the country demand at this critical time.

“You must reject this and any future plans to extract fossil fuels in this green and pleasant land.”

Mr Bodian, chair of the community liaison group for oil drilling at Biscathorpe and a member of the local campaign group SOS Biscathorpe, said council environmental policy aimed to “lead by example”. He said:

“Here, on the first day of COP 26, you have an opportunity to do just that. The question is, will you? Will you allow 15 years of oil production in our AONB and take a backward step in the fight to save our planet or will you fulfil your own stated objective?

“There is an urgent imperative to translate rhetoric into action and stop any further fossil fuel extraction.”

Mr Bodian said there would be “no benefits to the local community” from the scheme.

“Aside from the substantial negative impacts on our AONB, tourism will suffer and the stress on the community continue for another 15 years.

“The Biscathorpe site will contribute a miniscule amount of oil to our country (only 0.03% of UK consumption). The carbon emissions it will produce in just one year are equivalent to nearly TEN times LCC’s entire carbon saving target for 2023, and that’s without including the emissions involved in getting it from well to wheel and any methane flaring that may occur. How can that justify the harm to our AONB?”

He said to reach its target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, the UK needed to put all its efforts into “truly sustainable energy”. He added:

“Be under no illusion that this ends with Biscathorpe. New sites are often developed within and close to existing operations. If you give the green light at Biscathorpe you risk a proliferation of oil-sites across the Wolds.”

He also questioned why the council had not asked for more information from Egdon about its plans because the company had not addressed issues raised during the consultation:

“Egdon have not yet completed exploration, they have not hit oil, but they are asking you to approve 15 years of production. Using what methods? We do not know. Vagueness in the application regarding the methods of production are extremely worrying.”

“No need for more oil”

Hugo Marfleet (Conservative), one of the county councillors for Biscathorpe, accused the planners of producing a biased and misleading report.

He told the committee, there were plenty of existing oil wells offshore. There was no need to redrill for more oil, he said. If we carry on accelerating climate change there is a risk of huge flooding to parts of Lincolnshire on the east coast, he said.

He said the prime minister had said oil extraction was a local decision. So we can make a decision, he said.

The Biscathorpe well would not improve energy security in the UK, he said. If we rely on one little well in the Wolds we are in real trouble, he said.

The way forward is renewable energy, he said. The Biscathorpe proposal offered no local benefits, no local jobs and no local prosperity, he said. I believe this is the wrong application. This is local democracy. I am saying no to protect the Wolds and Lincolnshire.

Another local county councillor, Stephen Bunney (Lib Dem), said he also supported local opponents on this applications.

It is imperative that we set an example to the International Energy Agency’s advice against all new fossil fuel developments. There needed to be large reductions on carbon emissions to reach net zero by 2050, he said.

Cllr Bunney said the company’s estimated ranged from nearly 4 million barrels to 30 million barrels. This would have no impact on energy security, he said.

The jobs benefits for local people would be minimal, he said.

Many of the reasons for objection were material planning arguments, he said. There could be impacts on local tourism.

The potential miniscule reserves, small job creation and potential impact on environment meant  that the application should be refused, he said.

Exceptional circumstances

National planning policy says major applications like the Biscathorpe scheme should be refused unless there were exceptional circumstances and the scheme was in the national interest.

East Lindsey district council said Egdon Resources had not demonstrated that the Biscathorpe application met this planning hurdle. Other opponents said there would be no benefit locally or nationally from the scheme.

The UK currently uses about 1.5 million barrels of oil a day so, based on company predictions of 4 million barrels, Biscathorpe would meet national needs for less than three days. If the oil formations produced 30 million barrels, this would provide 20 days’ supply.

Mark Abbott managing director of Egdon Resources, told the committee national energy policy was aimed at reducing carbon emissions. But he said there was no policy to stop use of oil. Net zero emissions in 2050 would not result in an economy that was carbon free.

Oil would continue to be needed and use up to and beyond 2050, he said. Oil was an important industrial feedstock. Biscathorpe would not increase use of oil but it would help to reduce oil imports.

There will be environmental impacts from any oil drilling, Mr Abbott said. The company had worked hard with officials to reduce these impacts, he said. There were concerns about pollution from the site reaching the River Bain, he said. But this would be prevented by regulations, he said. There would be enhancements to biodiversity which would be lasting, he said. There would be benefits to the local community. He hoped planning permission would be granted.

Council planners had concluded “there is a national need for the development which would therefore be in the public interest nationally”. Though small in comparison to offshore oil production, the planners said, the proposal would “make a valuable contribution” to meeting national need.

Neil McBride, the head of planning, said the government continued to support the production of fossil fuels. There was no government guidance on what minimum level of oil would make it nationally important. He said a previous planning inquiry had concluded that two-four days would contribute to energy security. He urged the committee “to steer away from emotive issues like climate change”.

Egdon said the scheme would create up to 36 fulltime (of which 12 would be in Lincolnshire) and seven parttime jobs during the drilling phase. During production, this would fall to a maximum of 14 full and parttime jobs.

During production, the company promised to donate £50,000 a year to a community fund and estimated it would pay business rates of £50,000-£100,000.

Discussion

Cllr Robert Reid said no climate legislation helped the committee. There was no solid climate ground for refusal, he said. He recommended refusal on the grounds that it failed to comply with local planning policy.

Cllr Nigel Pepper said 15 years of oil production was just a temporary application.

Cllr Thomas Ashton, the committee vice chair, described the proposal as an “emotive issue” for local people. But he said he was not convinced there were policy grounds to refuse the application. Climate policy had not caught up, he said. The country will be reliant on fossil fuels for year to come, he said. The potential impacts of the proposal did not amount to sufficient harm to justify a refusal. He recommend approval but this was rejected by six votes to three.

Cllr Marianne Overton said councillors already had the tools to refuse the application because it would be an unwanted visual intrusion in the AONB.

Cllr Alison Austin said could not support the application. She was disappointed by the small number of jobs generated by the development, she said. I acknowledge we need oil, even in a low carbon economy, she said. But the amount of oil from this proposal would be very small. This means the benefits do not outweigh the potential impact. She also said she was concerned about the impact on local chalk streams.

Cllr Susan Blackburn said there was not enough to gain from the proposal and called for the application to be refused. She said the reasons included the effect on the AONB, and the impacts on noise, lighting and biodiversity.

Cllr Ian Carrington said there was no evidence of exceptional circumstances to justify the application, as required by planning policy. What is it that qualifies the proposal to be exceptional, he asked. Mr McBride said the national need for oil justified the application.

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24 replies »

  1. Heavens above. Even the Tories are starting to sing from the same hymn sheet. Anyone would think there are votes to be lost. Who knows, maybe COP26 will result in some tangible and urgent action, or is that just wishful thinking?

  2. That’s a second refusal for a UJO stake in the last month, in another (pretty hardcore) Conservative Council too.

    Looks like councils are moving pretty much together in a pincer movement, not much unlike the ferocious Allied response that decided the outcome of the Battle of the Bulge.

  3. This is idiotic if they stopped importing oil from Abroad. I could understand their Logic but to do this while still shipping oil half way round the world makes no sense at all.

    • The oil and gas will still be produced and exported around the world without this excuse for a company, only those invested have sour grapes about the decision.

    • In the absence of legislation that prevents UK oil being exported, you can’t argue that this oil will be used in the UK. (it might, it might not.) So you can’t claim that it will displace imports. Your argument is based on a false assumption. What is certain, is that it is ADDITIONAL oil to current world output…..which, you may have heard, needs to STOP NOW.

      • Oh no it isn’t Alex. Not to output, only to available.

        If it was exported from UK it would replace another supplier. It is not additional output. Oil supply alters continually to make certain supply is not increased if the demand is not there. That would reduce price. Cartels (OPEC) do not like that, and their reason to exist.

        If it was exported to another country then that country would not require the same oil from it’s previous supplier. It really is very simple and exists for many global supply chains. Sorry if you do not understand global supply chains, but they are not based on false assumptions but the reality that is there for any exporting or importing company. You have made this false statement before, but repetition does not change the reality.

        If it was exported to another country and suddenly that country decided it did not want that type of oil, what would happen? It would get it from somewhere else (maybe the previous supplier!) and that export market would disappear for Egdon and then it would be available to be used in UK to replace a little of that oil imported, as UK is a net importer, and predicted to become even more so.

      • I agree, Alex. The argument that new sources replace existing ones is simplistic in the extreme. The polluters seek to open up new fossil fuel resources in order to increase their profits in the short term and no doubt eventually to replace exhausted resources. At that point in time there will be yet more new resources waiting to top up, increase available fuel, and await the replacement point. This is the ideal scenario for the polluters in a world where more of the same is tacitly encouraged, where fossil fuels will continue to be used for as long as they’re sitting there ready for use and for exploitation. Arguments to the contrary are dishonest and obfuscatory despite obvious attempts to divert attention, to impute ignorance on the part of interlocutors, to stifle dissent. I’m asked to believe that if I stop importing from X, X will acquire a conscience and grow beans instead. No thank you: time to break the cycle of duplicity.
        It’s that fellow Maths. again, perhaps in his corporate identity which by-passes arithmetic.

        • No need to grow beans. Just turn a valve. Done routinely for a very long time. Biden was only asking many valves to be turned the other way very recently. Was he that stupid if that couldn’t be done easily, and quickly?

          For those who have previously admitted they know little about the industry, it is still no excuse. Research is quite easy to do.

          So, no dishonesty on my part, no obfuscation, just some effort to do some research.

          [Edited by moderator]

          • And, if you watched Biden yesterday being interviewed by the US media, there he was again referring to OPEC and Russia being “requested” to turn on the taps to try and reduce cost of living increases! So much effort for something that does not happen routinely-apparently.

            I can understand that “request” although it is a bit hypocritical when $trillions are being pumped into the US economy which wiser men than me eg Buffett, has warned will be likely to produce inflation! That’s politicians for you-create a problem and find someone else to blame for the problem, although in this case it doesn’t appear to be working if the polls are accurate.

            However, interesting that at COP26 the US President should be repeating his “request” for more oil and gas production! Wonder what media coverage there would have been if that had come from Brazil? And if it had come from Trump? Interesting pointer to making sure one is aware of the action rather than the spin. Not everyone producing the “news” is focusing upon that.

  4. The urgent action is being taken by China in order to secure its energy security and reduce CO2 emissions in a move away ( a bit ) from coal.
    This by looking to fund the 65 $$Billion N.Slope LNG project. https://www.nesfircroft.com/blog/2021/06/5-major-lng-projects-to-look-forward-to-in-2021. Oil projects look well funded as well, with Rosneft looking to secure a good share of global production. https://www.nesfircroft.com/blog/2021/04/top-oil-and-gas-projects-creating-jobs-in-2021 Looking at the reasons why Biscathorpe was rejected, i am sure we can rely on the same councillors to reject solar, wind and nuclear ( nuclear waste disposal ) as it would not be pretty and presumably there for hundreds of years. Ho hum.

  5. So climate change is seen as an emotive issue by the Head of Planning…? This is deeply worrying. What other smaller projects are being passed on the nod as a result of this attitude?

    • The head of planning speaks the truth. Housing is also an emotive issue, along with chicken farms, roads and now solar farms. If the person had said that no one cares a fig about climate change, would that attititide prevent planning decisions going through ‘on the nod’?

      • The head of planning speaks the truth according to the National Planning Policy Framework and the Local Plan (if there is one). Neither national or local policy is necessarily effective, efficient or fit for current purpose. The truth (from policy) also comes in many – possibly 50 – shades of grey, and is therefore very much open to interpretation.

        • Mike Thanks. The head of planning advises the council in line with the law and various documents. That people are emotive about an issue is based on observation of those involved. I live in Lincs, and there are lots of planning issues which prove to be emotive, down to the erection of fences. I am not sure why the head of planning should be criticized for telling the truth. Having spoken to protestors at few protests and planning meetings, i fully concur with them.

        • Indeed Mike.
          I agree it is not fit for purpose. The biggest issue is the conflict between local democracy and national policy. It is not possible to have one locality making one decision and another locality a contrary decision if there are no material differences between the localities. That is what is happening, and why there is an Appeal process. It should not be an excuse for local Councillors just to pass the buck, as it adds up to a huge drain on resources that gets added back to costs for the population. UDI does not feature within the planning process, but is adopted too often.

          • It IS possible to have one locality making one decision and another locality a contrary decision if there are no material differences between the localities, simply because of the deliberate lack of precision in planning policy, whether local or national. It can therefore be interpreted differently by planning officers in different localities, or very likely head of planning if it’s a particularly contentious application. That’s why there is an appeal process, as others may well not agree with that interpretation. Strangely, there is no right of appeal when an application is approved, even if the interpretation is extremely suspect.

            • Indeed it is, Mike. Whether that can stand is another matter.

              It is quite difficult to show that fairness has been applied to an applicant who can show they met the same criteria as another where the application was passed and theirs was not, if no material changes to regulations were made inbetween.

              • That’s a faster u-turn than a govt trying to allow private companies to repeatedly dump raw sewage into our rivers, and with the distinct whiff of what comes out of their storm overflows.
                Planning decisions are not about fairness. They’re about complying with national and local policy. However, I already explained that, as policy is not allowed to be too prescriptive, it will always have deliberately imprecise wording and consequently grey areas open to interpretation, resulting in the possibility of different decisions. Still, as ever I’m sure you must be right, despite apparently having little idea about planning, beyond a layman’s vague but certain knowledge.

                • Oh dear Mike. No need to start speculating about what I know or don’t know.

                  Perhaps others have more knowledge than you are comfortable with? There are a load of us out there who do have knowledge of the planning process. Some of us even have to consider the applicants position, and have been involved with many an application where legal council will readily introduce precedence to direct interpretation. If there is enough precedence it is usually pretty compelling within a decision at Appeal stage, where interpretation is far less of an issue. That is knowledge that should be handed to Committees by the Officers.

                  That process is known inside out by the Officers and should be communicated to members of the planning committees so that interpretation doesn’t run riot. They can ignore and “interpret” a different way. However, this chap without your superior knowledge, has been involved in Appeals and overheard a Planning officer being told by his legal colleague after just 20 minutes of the Appeal-“this one is lost”. Why? Simply because the previous interpretation was found to be invalid. They already knew that of course. They would have communicated that previously, possibly even providing a probability rating, but it was ignored.

                  You make a valid point, except you ignore the role of the Planning and Legal Officers. This layman looks at the full equation and what it usually produces, and why. But then I am not a campaigner, so horses for courses.

          • It is also complete nonsense to say that councillors just pass the buck. They can and will legitimately have different interpretations of policy, admittedly sometimes for political reasons. Providing the LPA has acted reasonably and lawfully and justified their reasons for refusal, costs will not normally be imposed if a decision is overturned at appeal.

            • The clue there Mike, is the time it usually takes for a decision for refusal to be properly laid out to the applicant. There is often a long wait whilst the decision has to brought into some semblance of shape that is defensible, yet it has to closely resemble what was the focus of the meeting. Often that shape is the issue, as it was not been seen by the Planning Officers but was by the Councillors, yet the Officers are expected to come up with something that might work, even though they should have already given the Councillors a probability rating that it will not.

              I don’t envy the officers that task.

  6. And now the Appeal.

    This process has been built into the house building sector for some years, and is simply added as a cost to the buyer, whilst keeping “expert” witnesses well healed. Maybe it is democracy, maybe it is just a waste of tax payers money. It is what it is.

    Maybe Egdon will fund the Appeal by withdrawing the Community Fund?

  7. Really Alex?

    And the community has no unfilled requirements, that £50,000/year would not help to fill?

    I can think of many possibilities in my own community.

    Besides, I suspect you have just about destroyed any possibility of achieving 1.5 degrees with that approach! And, good education? Nope, if you haven’t enjoyed it you won’t miss it.

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