Long-term oil production and more drilling have been approved for a site in rural East Yorkshire.
The county council’s planning committee voted by 10 to 1 this morning to allow 20 years of extraction at Rathlin Energy’s West Newton-A site.
They also backed four more wells, an expansion of the well pad and further testing of the existing wells.
The scheme is a scaled-back version of an application that was refused in September 2021.
The approved version will increase the total number of wells at the site from two to six and the site area from 0.9ha to 2.52ha.
The new wells would target the Kirkham Abbey formation and oil would be taken by up to 10 tankers a day to South Killingholme refinery.
The current application was opposed by eight parish councils and three environmental groups. There were more than 400 objections from members of the public.
Opponents said approval of the plans would turn the area of mid-Holderness into an industrial “sacrifice zone” and mean “at least 25 years of misery for residents”.
The local county councillor, Jason Birch, told the committee the application would have a devastating effect on his ward. The previous application had been refused because it was not an appropriate scale for the location, he said.
The revised scheme was not that different, he said. It should be treated in the same way and be refused.
It is not fair that the lives people of Mid-Holderness should be ruined by visual intrusion, flaring, drilling and heavy traffic on narrow roads, Cllr Birch said. By allowing this to go ahead, it would turn the area into a sacrifice zone.
The opponents’ planning consultant, Katie Atkinson, said Rathlin had not assessed the entire lorry route: it was neither safe or suitable.
The two proposed lorry routes to the site were too narrow for heavy lorries and would put pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders at risk.
High-volume fracking for shale gas was not sought by the application but Ms Atkinson said other forms of hydraulic fracturing and unconventional well treatments could be allowed under the planning permission.
Cllr John Holtby, another local councillor, said it was disappointing that little had changed in the application. It did not address the concerns of residents, who felt they were being encroached on from all sides, he said. It was excessive development in a rural area without the infrastructure to support it.
Many objections also said the scheme would contribute to climate change and was incompatible with East Yorkshire’s declaration of a climate emergency.
Speaking for them, Cllr Andy Walker said:
“we need new energy supplies and bringing renewables onstream is quicker and cheaper than fossil fuels – we should leave the oil in the ground.” He added that the safety of vulnerable road users was not negotiable.
Cllr Tim Norman said the industrialisation of the countryside would deter visitors to the area. He said Rathlin Energy had not addressed the worst-case impact on the area. As well as the 55m drill rig, there would be other tall equipment, including a flare, crane, workover rig and coiled tubing unit, he said. Much of the proposed landscaping was outside the application site and outside of the company’s control or would not screen the equipment.
Planning officers had backed the application with 21 conditions. East Yorkshire’s strategic planning manager, Andy Wainwright, said the new scheme addressed the concerns that councillors had with the previous application.
In a report to the committee, officers had said there was still a need for a “secure and reliable supply of energy sources” during the transition to a low carbon economy.
They said government policy supported the use of traditional sources of energy in this period. “Emissions to air need to be viewed in this context, however unwelcome”, they said.
John Hodgins, for Rathlin Energy, said the company had revised the scheme and reduced the impact of the proposals.
Fewer wells would mean less traffic and shorter drilling times, down from 24 months to 17.5. the company said.
Mr Hodgins offered to install a pipeline to the refinery to avoid tanker journeys, if justified by production volumes. But the committee heard there was no guarantee that a pipeline would be viable or approved.
New planting proposals would help to screen the site from a footpath and nearby village, Mr Hodgins said. The company also planned to construct passing places on part of the lorry route on Pasture Lane.
Gas would be flared from the wells for up to 180 days during the testing phase, the meeting heard. During production, gas would be used to generate electricity for the site.
Rathlin has argued that the proposals would close the gap between UK oil demand and supply. They were compatible with the government’s carbon budget, advice from the Climate Change Committee and the Oil & Gas Authority’s projections on domestic production, it said.
Mr Hodgins estimated in its application that the scheme would raise £50m in government taxes. The company had previously estimated £95m in inward investment and a community benefit fund of £50,000.
Cllr Nigel Wilkinson said there was not enough room on the lorry route for a heavy goods vehicle and a horse rider or cyclists, now needed under the highway code. But he supported the application because he said domestic oil would be “better for the environment”. It would not increase consumption, he said.
Cllr John Whittle said Rathlin Energy had listened to councillors’ concerns and he was concerned that a refusal would lead to an appeal with the risk of costs. He supported the application.
Cllr Geraldine Mathieson, who supported the application last time, said she was pleased Rathlin had reduced the scale of the scheme. She moved to grant permission.
Cllr David Rudd said he was “very happy to support” the scheme. Cllr Gary McMaster said it was better to use domestic fossil fuels. There was nowhere in the UK that did not have to put up with something for the wider community.
Cllr Mike Stathers said he was satisfied Rathlin Energy had taken enough action to support the application. Cllr Phil Davison said he agreed with most of the grounds for objection, particularly traffic concerns and the need to move away from oil. Cllr David Winter said.
Cllr Anne Handley said she would support the application because Rathlin had worked with the council and residents.
Committee chair, Cllr Leo Hammond, said he also supported the application.