Councillors hear arguments over West Newton-A production – again

For a second time, opponents and supporters of plans for expansion at an oil site in East Yorkshire have put their cases to councillors.

Rathlin Energy artist’s impression of production phase of West Newton A well site in East Yorkshire

At a special meeting this afternoon, the two sides presented arguments about plans for 20 years of oil production, four additional wells and site enlargement.

Six months ago, a similar meeting discussed a scheme for six additional wells and a larger expansion, which was later refused by the council’s planning committee.

A decision is expected on the current application at a formal session of the East Yorkshire planning committee on Thursday 17 March.

Opponents said today said there was little difference in the impact of the new application on residents and the landscape. It risked turning “a green and pleasant land into a sacrifice zone” and should be refused, they said.

Local roads were not suitable for heavy traffic that would be generated by the site, the opponents said. Hydrocarbon production at West Newton-A would do nothing to help UK energy security or prices.

Representatives for Rathlin Energy told councillors the company had listened to the views on the previous application and revised its plans. The fewer wells would mean less traffic and drilling, they said.

The impact of the site would be reduced by changes to the layout and planting plans, the company said. The proposal would help to close the gap between domestic supply and demand for oil and gas and it was compatible with local and national policies, it said.

East Riding of Yorkshire planning committee meeting members at pre meeting on West Newton-A application, 14 March 2022

“Sacrifice zone”

Local county councillor, Jacob Birch, said there had currently been about 400 objections to the revised application and four in support.

He said the well pad had been reduced in size by 27%, not the 40% cut claimed by Rathlin Energy.

This reduction does not constitute any real reduction and will have little impact on the scale of devastation and industrialisation of the area and community.

The impact would be even greater when taking account of the neighbouring West Newton-B site, and possibly future West Newton-C and D sites., he said.

“The expansion of this site, in any form, constitutes building in the open countryside and has a blatant disregard for the area, residents and the wider community.”

Cllr Birch said the previous application was refused because it was not of an appropriate scale to its location. He said:

“The [current] application is essentially the same, but for two less well and a marginally smaller footprint.

“If this application is approved there is the potential for “creeping change” in that there could be expansion applications to install further well sites or expand current ones.”

He said the previous application had been refused because it was not an appropriate scale and did not respect the surrounding landscape.

Approval of the application could, he said “be endangering the surrounding countryside, turning what was a pleasant place to live into a sacrifice zone.”

A New Ellerby resident, Harry Clark, said:

“The industrialisation of Holderness is an increasing concern to the people of the area in which I live.”

He said the West Newton-A and B well sites and the Tansterne biodigester “destroy the rural nature of the area”.

“Many [local people] are expressing the view that Holderness has become a sacrifice zone to industrialisation, which is becoming a blight on the countryside. This trend must be reversed now.”

Mr Clark said:

“There is no good reason for allowing further expansion of the number of wells on this site.

“Please reject this application and help reduce pollution in East Yorkshire and Humberside, already one of the most polluted areas of the UK.”

“25 years of misery”

Helen Wright

Another New Ellerby resident, Helen Wright, can see the site from her home.

“In one direction there are 14 wind turbines around Withernwick.

“Turn slightly and you see Tansterne Biomass unit, another large industrial plant currently applying to grow even bigger.

“Turn again and there you see West Newton A and West Newton B behind it.

“All this means that it isn’t like living in rural East Yorkshire anymore but on an industrial estate.”

Ms Wright said:

“For almost 10 years the residents of New Ellerby and other surrounding villages have endured the effects of the drilling activity at West Newton.

“This planning application condemns the residents to a least a further 25 years of misery, and probably longer if permission is also granted for the West Newton-B extension.”

She said residents had found the past 10 years of Rathlin Energy’s activity “very stressful”. The negative impact of the project on the mental and physical health should not be underestimated and dismissed lightly, she said.

The new application was worse than the previous one, she said. The company now planned to drill horizontal wells under local villages and didn’t rule out the use of unconventional methods to make the oil flow.

If the application were approved, she said “let me paint a picture for you of what it will be like for a resident of Mid Holderness.

“First come the convoys of dozens of very large Heavy Goods Vehicles carrying materials for site construction. Then convoys of enormous drilling equipment and tanks of chemicals.

“Next the drilling with constant bright lights, odours and noise. 24 hours a day. 7 days a week with no respite.

“Then eventually, if the oil flows, there will be the constant noise of production equipment and the tankers travelling in and out every single day.”

During the drilling phase, local people would experience bright lights, noise and vibration, 24 hours a day. In production, there would be tankers visiting every single day, she said.

She dismissed as “a fantasy” the argument that West Newton-A would meet a need for energy security.

“Drilling has been undertaken at West Newton for nearly 10 years and, as yet, no oil has flowed. Enough is Enough.

“If any oil is produced it will be sold off at global prices to the highest bidder.

“Rathlin is a private company making money for their shareholders, there will be no benefit to the residents of East Riding, the local economy, the UK economy. Fuel and gas prices certainly will not fall because of it.”

Ms Wright said:

“Please do no sacrifice the health, well-being and safety of the Holderness residents the beautiful East Riding countryside and the target for tackling climate change for a flawed project which is neither wanted nor needed.

“Hydrocarbons not needed”

Rohan Lewis

Local resident, Rohan Lewis, told councillors that climate change would be a significant material consideration when they decide the application later this week.

He said Rathlin Energy had spent a lot of its planning statement on gas. But he said:

“At present, Rathlin’s only plan for fossil gas, if they encounter it, is to burn enough to generate electricity to power the site, and then flare off the rest.”

Its tentative later plans to exploit it for blue hydrogen depended on the Humber region having carbon capture and storage in place, he said.

Mr Lewis said gas was not a critical commodity in the UK, despite the crisis in Ukraine. Only about 4% of UK imported gas came from Russia, he said, and Britain exported gas equivalent to 3% of its annual consumption between September and November 2021.

On oil, he said, the regulator, the Oil & Gas Authority reported in 2019 a “healthy inventory of over 60 projects yet to be consented”, which would deliver an estimated 2 billion barrels.

He said any oil from West Newton would be sold at the current global market price.

“If the UK buys, it will go into a largely unreconstructed economy where most of it will be burned in heat-inefficient homes and internal combustion engines. The UK government will benefit only to the extent of any tax on Rathlin’s profits, the rest of which will return as dividends to the investors in Rathlin’s parent company in Canada.”

He urged councillors to refuse the application and conserve the resources in the ground for future use, if necessary, as a feedstock for high-end chemicals and plastics.

“Don’t let them be turned into carbon dioxide now and contribute further to climate change.

“We need to focus attention on renewable energy projects which are a win-win for energy security and the climate”.

Unsuitable roads

Transport consultant, Gerald Kells, told councillors the reduction of the number of wells from six to four did not affect the articulated lorries that would be using Rathlin’s two traffic routes.

Roads needed to be at least 5.5m wide for two HGVs to pass each other, he said. Most of the two traffic routes were below 5.5m and there were pinchpoints where it was hardly wide enough for cars to pass. At one point, the road was 4.8m wide, with houses, bollards anno pavement, bollards, he said

Mr Kells said there were no swept path analysis for bends on the route and no assessment on what happens where traffic and pedestrians meet.

“These roads are used by pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders: vulnerable road users at risk from large HGVs.”

He said the impact on the roads would be intermittent but planning policy required them to be safe and suitable for the whole time, not just part of the time.

He asked “who has tested that lorries can pass on the route? Who has checked that the updated advice on the highway code can be complied with?”

Changed plans

Nick Mace, Rathlin Energy’s development manager, said the company had reduced the scale and size of the application.

Fewer wells would mean less traffic and less drilling, down from 24 months to 17.5 months, he said.

In production, the company would seek permission for an oil pipeline to the South Killingholme refinery, if extraction exceeded 10 tanker loads a day.

Mr Mace said local roads were fit for purpose for this scale of development, with the addition of passing places in the application.

Photo montage of Rathlin Energy’s expansion plans at West Newton-A in East Yorkshire

On visual impact, he said the company had swapped vertical tanks for horizontal ones that could be more easily screened.

Caroline Foster, the company’s operations engineer, said the revised planting proposals would add more trees and hedges to screen the site from the nearby public right of way. The landowner had also offered to plant a 10m strip of trees north of the site to provide further screening from Withernwick.

She told councillors that business in East Yorkshire relied on raw materials from oil.

Tom Selkirk, Rathlin Energy’s country manager, said the company had listened to councillors and residents and revised its plans.

Any gas produced at West Newton-A would be flared only during testing, he said. In production, gas would used on site or to make blue hydrogen.

Production from the site would support UK security of supply and help to reduce the gap between demand and supply, Mr Selkirk said.

The proposals were compatible with the government’s carbon budget, the Climate Change Committee’s balanced net zero pathway and the Oil & Gas Authority’s domestic production projections, he said.

Councillors were told the site would result in £50m in government taxes, £95m in inward investment, a community benefit fund of £0.5m and local high paying jobs.

Mr Selkirk said the site’s production would have a lower carbon footprint than imports and a lower carbon intensity than the UK average.

The planning committee meeting on the West Newton-A application begins at 10am on Thursday 17 March 2022 at County Hall, BeverleyHU17 9BA.

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