Environmental groups are asking questions about the techniques that could be used for proposed oil and gas extraction at a site in East Yorkshire.
A decision is expected next week (17 March 2022) on an application by Rathlin Energy for long-term production at the West Newton-A site, plus four additional wells and enlargement of the existing pad.
The questions focus on whether any approved wells would need stimulation to produce commercial quantities of oil or gas. And, if they do, how would stimulation be done.
Rathlin Energy has repeatedly said it is not looking at high volume hydraulic fracturing in shale rock: most recently at last month’s meeting of community representatives. A key document in the planning application said Rathlin Energy did not seek to drill into the Bowland shale, at a depth of about 3,000m.
But concerns have been raised in a public consultation that other forms of stimulation could be used on the wells to release hydrocarbons from the Kirkham Abbey formation, the shallower target rocks at West Newton-A.
Hull Friends of the Earth asked for:
“clarification as to whether [the application] contains the intention for any high and/or low volume hydraulic and acid fracture stimulation for any hydrocarbon.”
Fossil Free East Yorkshire (FFEY) said in its comment:
“FFEY believe that this application for the extraction of oil could be accessed via an acid wash, matrix acidisation and low volume hydraulic fracturing.”
The group added that the environmental impact of high volume and low volume hydraulic fracturing “can be very similar”. It said East Riding of Yorkshire Council must “absolutely be satisfied” that regulatory regimes would work effectively at West Newton and “not simply assume that they will”.
CPRE North and East Yorkshire said it was:
“concerned that the applicant [Rathlin Energy] is proposing to undertake hydraulic fracturing to access the conventional mineral”.
The groups referred in their concerns to a series of planning documents.
In 2020, Rathlin Energy sought pre-planning advice for the West Newton-A scheme from East Riding of Yorkshire Council.
The company has refused to make public its document asking for advice. But the response from the council was published with the West Newton-A application. This said:
“The supporting document [from Rathlin Energy] suggests low volume hydraulic fracturing is proposed”.
The planning statement in the current application does not discount the use of any form of hydraulic fracturing or stimulation in the Kirkham Abbey formation.
The current application is a scaled back version of one that was refused permission by East Riding of Yorkshire Council in September 2021. As previously reported by DrillOrDrop, documents in the current application have been revised since the refusal.
The latest version of the planning statement, submitted in December 2021, repeated that: “the primary approach is to utilise acid to treat the wells”… .
But it omitted a sentence in the previous version which continued:
…“below the formation fracturing pressure. For the avoidance of misinterpretation, this is not an acid fracture stimulation”.
The planning statement also deleted the word “conventional” from the reference to the target reservoirs. “Conventional” typically refers to formations where oil or gas flow readily into wellbores, without the need for stimulation.
Stock market statements
The issue of stimulation was also referred to in stock market statements published in the past six months by Rathlin Energy’s partner companies at West Newton.
In October 2021, a statement said well tests had not achieved sustainable flows of oil or gas. It added that studies would look at a “wide range of potential reservoir stimulation treatments, the results of which could be applied to the West Newton series of wells, in order to achieve optimum flow rates”.
In January 2022, the partners reported on modelling which concluded that with horizontal wells and acid stimulation a single well at West Newton could initially produce 1,000 barrels of oil per day or 35.6 million standard cubic feet of gas per day.
DrillOrDrop asked Rathlin Energy and its partners:
- Does acid stimulation, referred to in the modelling statement, mean acid fracturing?
- Would the acid stimulation referred to in the statement fracture rocks?
- Is acid fracturing needed to make West Newton-A commercially viable and is it being considered for the site?
Rathlin Energy replied:
“We have clearly detailed our scope of work in our publicly available planning application and Environment Agency Permit application documents. Any work outside of the scope of these documents would require applications to the relevant authorities which we are not currently undertaking. Additional background information can also be found in the notes from the February Community Liaison Group meeting.”
We put it to Rathlin Energy that the environmental permit application did not refer to stimulation and pre-dated the stock market statements. The revised planning statement referred only to acid treatment and clean-up, not acid stimulation. There were no references in the community liaison meeting minutes to acid, treatment or stimulation. We also asked whether the company considered it was misleading to investors to publish information about production figures based on stimulation if stimulation was not being considered.
Rathlin Energy did not respond.
So far, more than 400 members of the public and local organisations have submitted comments on the West Newton-A application, along with more than 25 statutory consultees.
Parish councils representing Ellerby, Preston, Skirlaugh, Sproatley, Aldborough and Withernwick have objected to the proposals.
Their concerns include the impact of heavy vehicles travelling on narrow lanes through villages to the well site and threats to pedestrians and horse riders.
There were also objections about the industrialising effect of the site on the landscape, along with noise, emissions and light pollution. Many objections were about the impact of the site on climate change and carbon reduction targets, contradicting East Yorkshire’s declaration of a climate emergency.
Simon Caley, a supporters of the scheme and a representative of the site landowner, said he would plant a 10m strip with mixed trees alongside Fosham Road and provide a footpath for pedestrians, if the application were approved.
Yorkshire Water: No construction works shall start until measures to protect the public water supply infrastructure within the site boundary have been implemented
Environment Agency: The noise impact assessment submitted with the application does not include an emissions profile for the generators and associated equipment such as coolers, fans and pipework. The agency said low frequency noise and tonal noise outputs and off site impacts had not been assessed, and mitigation had not been considered in detail. This sort of equipment could be heard off-site, it said.
Humberside Fire and Rescue Service: The council should consider whether there are adequate water supplies to fight fires appropriate to the proposed risk
Natural England: No full assessment of potential impacts on statutory nature conservation sites or protected landscapes
Environmental control specialist: No objection
Humber Historic Environment Record: No need for archaeological work
Lead Local Flood Authority: No objection
Land Drainage Team: No objection
Public Protection: No objection
Trees Team: No objection
Sustainable Development Office: Not likely to have a significant impact on two designated local wildlife site less than 1km away
Building Conservation: No objection
Humberside Police: No objection
Humberside Airport: No comment
NATS: No safeguarding objections
Ministry of Defence: No objections
Historic England: No comment
Planners at East Riding of Yorkshire Council (ERYC) are expected to publish their recommendations on the application on Wednesday 9 March 2022.
A pre-planning committee meeting at 2pm on Monday 14 March 2022 will hear presentations from supporters and objectors. This can be viewed on the council’s Youtube channel.
The ERYC planning committee is expected to decide the application at a meeting beginning at 10am on Thursday 17 March 2022 at County Hall, in Beverley. That meeting is also expected to decide on an application by Rathlin Energy for a further three years at its nearby West Newton-B well site.
Updated 9/3/2022 to change start time of planning meeting