A council which backed fracking nearly six years ago has adopted new planning rules that could restrict proposals for the controversial process.
North Yorkshire voted today for minimum distances between homes and well pads and for greater controls around protected areas.
It also supported a wider definition of hydraulic fracturing than used in national legislation.
But councillors rejected calls for a local ban on fracking.
The controls, in the minerals and waste joint plan, will shape decisions on fracking in North Yorkshire if the government lifted a moratorium, in force in England since November 2019. It also covers conventional oil and gas developments not covered by the moratorium.
Work on the plan was already underway in 2016 when North Yorkshire County Council approved proposals by Third Energy for fracking at its site at Kirby Misperton. That operation was later blocked by the UK government because of financial concerns. Earlier this year, Third Energy was taken over by a renewables company.
Some of the controls in the final version of the plan, which also covers York and the North York Moors National Park, were weakened following examination by a government-appointed inspector.
But key principles survived. These include:
- Definition of fracking based on the fracturing of rock under hydraulic pressure, regardless of the volume of fracture fluid
- 3.5km zone around the edge of National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs)
- 500m distance between homes and wellpads
- Limits on the density of wellpads
The plan will be used to decide planning applications until 2030. It replaces policies on minerals and waste that date back more than 20 years.
Opponents have six weeks in which to lodge a legal challenge.
Cllr Derek Bastiman, for the council’s ruling Conservative group, told today’s meeting:
“This plan takes into account the concerns raised by many people and in my opinion is a plan that gives security and safeguards because not having this plan is no safeguard whatsoever.”
But Cllr Bryn Griffiths, Lib Dem, said fracking was still on the national agenda, despite the moratorium. The council should not allow further gas to be extracted and burnt, he said.
“I cannot believe that we as a council are continuing to support this option of fracking in the local minerals and waste plan.”
His amendment to defer the vote until a fracking ban could be considered was defeated.
Cllr Stuart Parsons (Independent) said it was sad that the council had continued to maintain access to fracking in North Yorkshire, given “all the government’s targets for carbon reduction”.
“I would have thought that the council would have … moved to make a welcome decision for the vast majority of our inhabitants that fracking would be banned in North Yorkshire and thus help reduce the possible impact of that on our carbon footprint.”
Cllr Liz Colling (Labour) said fracking was not sustainable and was not a solution to the current energy crisis. “This is something we should be looking to ban”, she said.
But Cllr Greg White (Conservative), who represents an area with shale gas licences, said:
“If we had tried to outlaw fracking it would have been struck down. It would have been a pointless gesture.”
After the vote, Steve Mason, a member of Ryedale District Council, said:
“This is a significant moment for Ryedale. Yes there is a moratorium on fracking but this new plan gives extra assurances to residents that in the event of the moratorium being lifted they will have extra protections in place.”
The definition of hydraulic fracturing in the plan does not rely on the minimum volume threshold of fracturing fluid used in the 2015 Infrastructure Act. Instead it covers any operation that fractures rock using hydraulic pressure.
Policy M16 of the plan states that surface hydrocarbon proposals involving fracking will not be allowed in National Parks, AONBs, protected ground water source areas, Fountains Abbey/Studley Royal Heritage Site and other protected areas.
Sub-surface operations will be allowed in these areas only where it can be demonstrated that “significant harm” will not occur.
The definition could cover conventional oil and gas operations, as well as shale gas developments. The plan said:
“it is considered that where hydraulic fracturing is proposed for the purposes of supporting the production of conventional gas resources, there is potential for this to give rise to a generally similar range of issues and potential impacts”.
But it said exceptions to the policy could be granted for conventional oil and gas operations where the authorities were satisfied there would not be unacceptable impacts on protected areas.
Visual sensitivity zone
The plan seeks to avoid harm to National Parks and AONBs from a cluster of fracking sites around their edge.
It originally proposed a 3.5km buffer zone around the boundary of these areas. This has since been renamed a visual sensitivity zone.
The plan said applications in these zones would need to include a detailed assessment of the potential impacts, unless it was demonstrated that this was not required because of the particular circumstances of proposed site.
The plan’s policy M17 states that proposals for surface hydrocarbon development, particularly that involving fracking, would be permitted within 500m of homes only following the “particularly careful scrutiny” of information which “robustly demonstrates how in site specific circumstances an unacceptable degree of adverse impact can be avoided.”
The plan said:
“A 500m distance from the well pad boundary (excluding site access) is considered to represent a reasonable distance of immediate sensitivity taking into account the potential for a complex range of individual and cumulative impacts on amenity and public health.”
Policy M17 also aimed to limit the number of pads and wells within a licence area to prevent unacceptable cumulative impacts.
It said it was unlikely that more than 10 operational and restored sites in a 100km2 licence area would comply with the policy on density. A lower density maybe appropriate for licences in the greenbelt, it said.
- Today’s council meeting was the first held in person since February 2020 and the final meeting of the council before elections for a new unitary authority.