A local Conservative councillor has urged the levelling up secretary, Michael Gove, to intervene in plans by Rathlin Energy for long-term oil production and more drilling at a site in East Yorkshire.
Cllr Jacob Birch, who represents mid-Holderness, has asked Mr Gove to review the application for four more wells and 20 years of extraction at the West Newton-A site.
The scheme, by Rathlin Energy, was approved, by 10 votes to one, at a meeting of East Riding of Yorkshire Council on 17 March 2022.
But planning officers have not yet issued a formal notice finalising the decision, allowing Mr Gove to call in the application.
Cllr Birch said in a letter sent on 24 March 2022:
“It is my opinion that the proposal to permit this application for a large extension to a fossil fuel extraction site, is of more than local importance as there are significant effects beyond its immediate locality and there is the potential for substantial cross-boundary or national controversy and should thus be called in for your determination.”
Rathlin’s application was a revised version of a scheme for six new wells.
This was refused planning permission in September 2021 because it would result in “unacceptably increased industrialisation of a rural part of the open countryside” and the increase in heavy goods vehicles on narrow rural roads would be “visually intrusive” and “disproportionate”.
Cllr Birch said:
“I am of the firm opinion, supported by expert evidence, that the revised scheme did not fully address the reasons for refusal and was not adequately assessed in light of the evidence presented to both officers and members”.
Energy security and climate change
Cllr Birch said the planning committee sought to determine the application mainly on concerns about energy security caused by the conflict in Ukraine.
Committee members stressed the need to be self-sufficient in fossil fuels, he said.
But Cllr Birch said planning officers, nor Rathlin Energy, had responded to concerns put by opponents about the impact of West Newton-A on greenhouse gas emissions and the national climate targets for reducing fossil fuel use to tackle climate change.
He said three-quarters of output from North Sea oil fields was exported, because it was the wrong type of oil for UK refineries. 40% of production from UK refineries was also exported, he said.
If oil flowed from West Newton-A it would be sold on the global market and could be used to make plastics, rather than energy, he added.
“I believe that the development of a new fossil fuel extraction site is wholly inappropriate and cannot comprehend how the proposed development of this oil production site would fit with these statutory commitments to decarbonise the economy.”
Mitigation outside the red line boundary Cllr Birch said the revised scheme relied on a additional tree planting, outside the site planning boundary, to make it acceptable.
Tall infrastructure, which had concerned the council in 2021, would not be screened by tree planting by the end of the production phase, he said. The proposed planting would be out of the control of Rathlin Energy and the council had not sought a legal agreement to enforce it, he said.
Impact of tall equipment Rathlin Energy said it had shortened the use of a drilling rig at West Newton-A to 17.5 months in the revised application to reduce the landscape and visual impact. But Cllr Birch said this time period did not include the use of other tall infrastructure needed for well maintenance “as many times as necessary”. The company had promised not to drill at nearby West Newton-B, while drilling at West Newton-A. But this would not stop it drilling one site but using tall infrastructure, excluding the drilling rig, at the other, Cllr Birch said.
Roads An independent transport consultant argued that Rathlin Energy had not adequately considered the impact of heavy lorries on narrow roads on pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders, Cllr Birch said. The consultant considered the proposals failed the National Planning Policy Framework because neither of Rathlin Energy’s transport routes could be considered safe and suitable for HGVs. The application also failed to mention the impact on vehicle movements from the intention to drill sidetrack wells.