Regulation

Councillors back local fracking controls for North Yorkshire

A council which backed fracking nearly six years ago has adopted new planning rules that could restrict proposals for the controversial process.

Protesters on Frack Free Pickering march and rally Pickering, North Yorkshire

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.

Debate

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.”

Key details

Definition

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.

Separation distances

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.”

Well density

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.

14 replies »

  1. All the statements by various councillors are all contradictory!
    Sitting in the proverbial fence!
    Cowards! All the knock back is political not scientific if any off these so called servants had an understanding of the energy industry then they should research it, and not just take the mental age of a five year old approach, and take the head of public opinion!

  2. From what the government says they are not intending to lift the moratorium. And the restrictions in the North Yorkshire plan would cripple the industry even if it was lifted.
    Such good news.
    And this unproven, potentially unviable industry, would likely be a decade away before it became established. So it could never be a solution to the current high gas prices.

  3. Ermm, if the moratorium was lifted, then wouldn’t the Government set conditions?

    So, this all seems somewhat of a pointless gesture that would be overtaken by events.

    Have they no business in North Yorkshire that will actually impact their residents?

    Perhaps they could look at a twinning with areas in USA who are doing their job for them? But, probably without the controls that would be applied in North Yorkshire, so that is the planet protection argument down the pan.

    Looking at KatT’s last two sentences, it would appear that most renewables will not be requiring any investment then!

  4. During December 2021, the three UK LNG terminals between them, took delivery of over 60 billion cubic feet of fracked gas from the USA or roughly one LNG tanker every other day.

    It seems unbelievable that people are willing to accept, purchase and use such large amounts of fracked gas with a much larger carbon footprint and no UK tax revenue benefit, but are still not open to the idea or possibility of the UK producing its own.

    • There is a huge increase in the number of significant geological faults in Europe, this makes safe shale oil and gas extraction unrealistic, as has been demonstrated.

      That is not to say fracking in the US has gone off without a hitch either, it’s just even more problematic here. The entire policy to go all out for shale was a huge mistake, especially as it was done at the expense of renewables.

      Here’s what the president of the API said in 1965; https://www.desmog.com/2018/11/20/american-petroleum-institute-1965-speech-climate-change-oil-gas/

      There has been scientific consensus on climate change for the last 50 years, now it’s effects are upon us, mega-droughts, fires, floods, famine. That’s at 1.2 degrees heating, we have much worse to come, COP26 puts us on a path to double that, well that past the critical threshold for plant and animal life.

      Arguing for fracking in the UK is deluded.

  5. The government conditions set for fracking before operations by Cuadrilla and before operations intended by Third Energy and others were initiated, were deemed inadequate by those who contributed to the plan. Furthermore the EA protections, largely derived from regulations governing fracking elsewhere, which themselves had not prevented harm, were considered likely to be similarly inadequate. Since then of course the EA has been shown to be inadequately resourced to monitor other environmental risks, such as those governing sewage discharge and water protection. Not only is the plan in question not a pointless gesture, it is a statutory requirement for local authorities and likely to be seminal, even after the inspector’s changes.
    It would of course be the height of folly to lift the moratorium, especially in response to a call by the misinformed who imagine that domestic gas provision is an answer to the current fuel crisis, a belief fostered by those with an interest who perceive the current fuel crisis as yet another opportunity to enrich themselves.
    Renewables are proving themselves as we discuss. How much more they could do and how much more quickly were the huge government and private resources, investment and subsidies to be placed at their disposal and denied to the polluters!
    How long before government has the courage to confirm its undoubted awareness of these facts? It would be catastrophic were the last gasp of this toxic regime to be the cowardly handing over to the polluters, the reversal of what has been achieved towards decarbonisation and the ultimate betrayal of those it was elected to serve.

    • Ahh, the cost of living deniers are rampant!

      No, renewables are NOT proving themselves as “we” discuss. [Edited by moderator]

      Apart from that, 1720, you did not elect the government to serve, so perhaps not appropriate to speak for those that did?

      Ostriches with their heads in the sand. An amusing spectacle, but as a defense, somewhat lacking.

      And, John, thanks for the facts you provided, that were simply ignored by the deniers. I note the last week of new drilling rigs in USA showed a rather large increase, so they seem to have seen that the opportunities will continue. Goodness, there are an awful lot of rigs in USA to mobilise. Trump will be drooling about how one thing can be promised and the opposite done, ready for the mid terms.

      • [Edited by moderator]

        Good that the Joint Waste and Minerals Plan has at last been adopted by NYCC! I think the other parties have still to follow suit.

        • [Edited by moderator] arguing anything has been demonstrated with respect to fracking in UK, Dorkinian, is a statistical nonsense. What has been done in USA has not been done at the expense of renewables, and now here “we” are relying upon it. Just think of all that revenue the US has been achieving from fracking. What is there stopping that being invested in renewables? Are you suggesting it would not be, as the profitability is not attractive? Oops! A Dorkinian slip akin to a Freudian one.

  6. The U.K. is a small, densely populated country, the US is not. The geology of the U.K. is different to the US and is considered to be more complex in the U.K. There have been issues with seismicity in the U.K.

    Independent peer reviewed studies have concluded that the initial estimates of the shale gas resource in the U.K. were significantly overestimated. In addition the amount of fixed surface development in the U.K. will limit the ability to extract shale gas to only circa 25% of of the existing resource. All very sound reasons not to frack in the U.K.

    The cumulative impacts in a small, densely populated country would have a significant negative impact on communities and environment, all good reasons to have development plans to take account of this. As the plan for York and North Yorkshire does.

    Gas is readily imported and exported in the U.K. as there is an extensive network of pipes between the U.K. and Europe. We import most of our gas from Norway via pipeline.

    The U.K. does export gas.

    Then of course there is the matter of climate breakdown and the fact we need to burn less fossil fuels not more. And many experts state extracting more fossil fuels leads to more emissions, more fossil fuels being burned and developing and extracting new reserves is not compatible with global commitments to limit emissions and limit the increase in global temperature, nor is compatible with Net Zero statute.

    These are all very good reasons why many people are not open to fracking in the U.K.

  7. KatT, in the scenario where we manage to decarbonise the energy sector by 2035 and reach net zero by 2050, it still predicts that the UK will be importing 1000bcm of gas. That’s a lot of unnecessary carbon emissions that can be reduced by home production.

  8. Irrespective of more hot air on here than a Cuadrilla calor gas flare, the MWJP has absolutely nothing to do with banning or restricting fracking. It’s a high level strategic planning document, about 7 years in the making, which puts sensible controls on those parts of various mineral extraction and waste handling industries that are withing the remit of the North Yorkshire County Council planning authority. The plan has been found to be legal, sound and compliant with national planning policy by an inspector, following a lengthy ‘Inspection in Public’ process and therefore implemented as policy to inform and guide every future application. In terms of the completely new section on hydrocarbons, it’s basically about providing as near to the promised ‘gold standard regulation’ as is possible within the planning system. What I find strange is that the massed ranks of highly paid fracking industry leaders, consultants and legal representatives fought every inch of the way to push back against pretty much every aspect of that ‘gold standard regulation’ that was promised by industry and govt from the start. I wonder why? A key point is that being probably the first strategic planning policy to comprehensively cover fracking as part of hydrocarbon extraction, it is likely to be plagiarised by other planning authorities, even though the prospect of fracking seems to be increasingly remote.

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