Three more years for East Yorkshire oil site

Councillors have overwhelmingly backed a time extension at Rathlin Energy’s West Newton-B exploration site in East Yorkshire.

Rathlin Energy’s West Newton-B site, 2 December 2020.
Photo: West Newton and Sproatley Gateway to the Gasfields

The council’s planning committee voted by 10 to 1 in favour of allowing another three years of drilling and testing at the site in Mid-Holderness.

The decision followed a vote with the same margin in favour of 20 years of oil production at the company’s nearby West Newton-A site.

Rathlin Energy had blamed Covid-19 and securing an environmental permit for delays at West Newton-B.

It has drilled one well and side track and has permission for another well.

The company’s director, John Hodgins, said West Newton-B would help to ease the security of supply pressure felt by the UK and Europe.

He said energy infrastructure was well established in the Humber estuary and exploration at West Newton B was part of the region’s energy plan. The company had promised not to drill at the West Newton-B and A sites at the same time.

More than 250 people had objected to the application.

Cllr Andrew Walker, who spoke against the application, said its most worrying aspect was the proposed use of low volume hydraulic fracturing to stimulate the wells.

A condition of the original permission prevented hydraulic fracturing, without specifying the volume of fluid used. Rathlin Energy had not sought to change this condition.

But planning officers have added to the condition the definition used in the Infrastructure Act, which was not in force at the time of the first application. This now limits the condition to hydraulic fracturing of shale rock for gas using 1,000 cubic meters of fluid at each stage or more than 10,000 cubic meters in total. The application had not sought to target shale gas.

The local councillor, Jacob Birch, said this change to the conditions now allowed the use of low volume hydraulic fracturing.

Local resident Harry Clark urged the committee to consider changes, particularly the climate emergency, since planning permission was first granted for West Newton-B in 2015.

He said:

“the creeping industrialisation of Holderness is abhorrent to residents. This application is totally inappropriate in a rural area, it is incapable of being screen and will be a blight on the countryside.

“We do not need any further drilling. This is inconsistent with the council’s declaration of a climate emergency.”

Mr Clark said local roads were unsuitable for heavy goods traffic. No account had been taken of new rules in the Highway Code, which require drivers to leave 1.5m distance when overtaking cyclists and 2m for horse riders. Exhaust emissions would affect communities on all parts of the lorry route, he said.

Another local councillor, Tim Norman, said the time extension should not be allowed:

“Rathlin Energy had already had many years to explore the site and had not come up with anything achievable.”

He urged the council to refuse the application and “get the area back to the beautiful countryside that it once was”.

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