25 years of oil and gas extraction from a site in East Yorkshire is unlikely to have significant effects on the environment, council planners have ruled.
The decision means that revised proposals by Rathlin Energy for the West Newton-A site in Holderness do not need an environmental impact assessment (EIA).
The company is preparing a new planning application for oil and gas production, following the refusal of an earlier scheme in September 2021
Rathlin has said it will now apply to drill four new wells, in addition to the two existing boreholes. This is two fewer than had been planned previously.
It also wants to expand the site to 2.52ha, up from the current 0.84ha. The company says this is a 25% reduction on its previous expansion plans.
The ruling by East Riding of Yorkshire Council follows a previous decision in 2020 not to require an EIA on the more extensive application for West Newton-A. This was later confirmed in February 2021 by the local government secretary.
The council’s latest decision, dated 14 December 2021, concluded that the revised proposal did not comprise EIA development as it “would not have the potential to have significant adverse impact on the environment” within the meaning of regulations.
The scheme meets two of the criteria for an EIA because it is larger than the size threshold and involves deep drilling and industrial installations for the extraction of petroleum.
But the council’s scoping opinion said the site was not in a sensitive area, despite being in open countryside. It also said the effects of the proposals would be limited to the local area and the impacts would be mitigated against.
In a report submitted to the council, Rathlin gave details of possible impacts from operation of the site.
It said it planned to burn gas in a flare on the site for up to two years. The gas volume would be limited to a maximum budget of 330 million standard cubic feet (mmscf), it said.
The company acknowledged that flaring would emit nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, sulphur dioxide and greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.
It said the greatest impact of the releases on air quality would be at the immediate wellsite and surrounding area. “No significant impact in terms of human health” was anticipated at the nearest home, which is 478m from the site, the company said.
Rathlin said it was “highly unlikely” there would be any “significant ecological impact” from nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide emissions at the nearest designated wildlife site, about 1km away and. Acid deposition could exceed agreed levels, depending on how much gas was burned and the sulphur content of the gas, the company said. This pollution was “unlikely to have any meaningful influence on critical load compliance”, it said.
Rathlin has estimated that flaring was likely to release about 19,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e). It said:
“The release is not considered significant in view of the expected limited timescale of the project.”
The government’s advisors, the Climate Change Committee has recommended a ban on venting and flaring at oil and gas sites from 2025.
Rathlin has said it would also use gas to generate electricity in four proposed gas engines planned for the site.
It also said it expected to store on site 490 tonnes of crude oil on site and 170,000m3 of gas at any time, should the application be approved.
Rathlin has said it will submit its revised planning application by the end of 2021 and expects a decision in the first half of 2022.
The company told the local community liaison group (clg) earlier this month it still planned to limit the number of oil tankers visiting the site during production to 10 a day. The possibility of installing a pipeline and passing places on Pasture Lane were also being considered.
The company said the reduction in the number of proposed new wells from six to four would cut drilling time from the previous estimate of 24 months to 17-and-a-half months in the revised plans.
The company said it had new proposals for hedge and tree planting to screen the site from public view. The height of storage tanks would also be reduced.
Rathlin revealed to the clg that hydrocarbons had been found at both West Newton-A and its other local site, West Newton-B. But neither of tested wells had flowed commercial volumes of oil or gas.
It said the revised West Newton-A application had removed plans for wells to target the Cadeby formation. If approved, the site would target the Kirkham Abbey layers.
The company also intended to submit another application at the end of 2021 to extend the life of West Newton-B. Planning permission for that site expires in April 2022.
Proposals for a further two sites, to be called West Newton C and D, announced in 2020, were “not now being progressed”, the clg was told.
DrillOrDrop reported last month that Rathlin Energy is also applying for an environmental permit to allow oil production at West Newton-A.
A webinar by the Environment Agency (EA) last week confirmed that Rathlin Energy’s past record would be considered when the application was decided.
The EA also welcomed the offer of an independent hydrogeological report commissioned by opponents of the West Newton-A scheme.
A recording of the webinar is on the EA Youtube channel.
The deadline for comments on the permit application is Friday 7 January 2022.