Regulation

Rathlin Energy seeks environmental consent for West Newton oil production – despite planning refusal

The company behind one of the largest onshore oil production projects in recent years is pressing on despite being refused planning permission.

Rathlin Energy’s West Newton-A site, 19 November 2021. Photo: Used with the owner’s consent

In September 2021, East Riding of Yorkshire Council rejected Rathlin Energy’s plans to expand the West Newton-A site, drill extra wells and extract oil for 20 years.

Eight parish councils and more than 1,100 people objected to the planning application, citing its impact on climate change, local roads, landscape and the health of residents.

To go ahead, the scheme will need both planning permission and approval from the Environment Agency (EA).

Today, the EA announced that Rathlin Energy had applied for a variation to its environmental permit.

A public consultation began this morning and runs until early January, including an online question and answer session next month.

The variation application, which includes more than 25 documents, reveals some new details of the scheme.

The non-technical summary said the company planned to drill eight sidetrack wells to existing and future boreholes. These were in addition to the six new boreholes headlined in the planning application.

There was also a separate section in the non-technical summary on drilling lateral wells to each new borehole. The details would be provided in future on an Environment Agency form on well design and casings, the company said.

It also explained that well perforation, clean-up operations and extended well tests may be carried out several times on each well because the company wanted to target different rock formations.

There was no reference to low-volume hydraulic fracturing, which appeared to have been raised in pre-application discussions with East Riding of Yorkshire Council.

In the permit application, Rathlin Energy said a wash would be applied to the rock formation “under pressure not exceeding the fracture pressure of the formation”.

The company is also seeking permission to use engines to generate electricity from waste gas. It said this was classed as the best available technique during any production phase.

But before that, during well testing, Rathlin Energy said it planned to burn any waste gas in a flare, converting methane to carbon dioxide, which would then be released into the atmosphere. The Committee on Climate Change has recommended that in four years’ time flaring on oil and gas sites should be permitted only for safety reasons.

DrillOrDrop asked Rathlin Energy today what it proposed to do with waste gas during well testing after 2025. We asked what the total number of wells would be, including sidetracks, at West Newton-A. We also asked about the difference between sidetrack and lateral wells and whether one or more of both would be drilled from a single borehole.

Earlier this week, we asked Rathlin Energy about the planning status of West Newton-A. The existing planning permission lapsed on Friday 19 November 2021, and the company has not complied with a condition to restore the site to farmland.

Rathlin has not replied to any of these questions. At the time of writing, the company had not announced whether it would appeal against the refusal of planning permission. East Riding of Yorkshire Council has also not responded to our questions about the planning status of West Newton-A or any enforcement of conditions.

“Strong local feelings”

Kathryn Richardson, area environment manager at the Environment Agency, said today:

“We know the community has strong feelings about the potential for oil and gas drilling in West Newton, so we are seeking their views as part of our consultation and offering them an opportunity to learn more at a virtual drop-in session.

“In assessing this permit variation, we will undertake a detailed and rigorous assessment of Rathlin Energy’s application. We will ensure the operating techniques and control measures at the proposed facility will comply with the legal requirements of the Environment Permitting Regulations. We do not permit activities that pose an unacceptable risk.

“Our regulatory controls for the onshore oil and gas industry are in place to protect people and the environment. We may only refuse a permit application if it does not meet one or more of the legal requirements under environmental legislation, including if it will have an unacceptable impact on the environment or harm human health. If all the requirements are met, we are legally obliged to issue a permit. 

“We welcome comments from the public and interested groups on local environmental factors that people feel are important.” 

Emissions and conditions

Rathlin Energy’s current environmental permit allows it to flare more than 10 tonnes of gas a day at West Newton-A. This will not change if the permit variation is approved.

Burning 1kg of methane completely will release 2.75kg of carbon dioxide (CO2) (source). So, West Newton-A has permission to emit more than 27.5 tonnes of carbon every day from the flare. The average UK person is responsible for emissions of nearly 13 tonnes of CO2 equivalent each year.

Ms Richardson said:

“Limiting carbon emissions is the most effective way to combat climate change. The Environment Agency has a central role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving energy efficiency through the industries it regulates. It does this through the conditions imposed through environmental permitting, which require the use of Best Available Techniques.”

In a press release today, the Environment Agency said:

“The company has operated at West Newton in East Yorkshire since 2013 under the conditions of an environmental permit.”

In 2014, the Environment Agency found that the West Newton-A site had breached at least 14 conditions of the permit in four months. Details here and here

Last month (October 2021), there were local complaints about smell at West Newton-A. The Environment Agency said the site had complied with the environmental management system and the permit at the time. But it asked Rathlin Energy to carry out a review by the end of this month (November 2021) on the site odour management plan and identify any additional measures to reduce the impact of smell from site operations, including flaring.

Details

Consultation period: 25 November 2021-7 January 2022

Link to online consultation

Permit number: EPR/BB3001FT/V005

Site: West Newton-A well site, Fosham Road, Marton, Hull, East Yorkshire, HU11 5DA

Zoom online engagement event: 6pm on 16 December 2021
Link and more details here

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