Arguments from a fracking front line

The cases for and against fracking are being made through the pages of Ryedale’s local paper, the Gazette and Herald

Jill Hopkins, Great Barugh, in the letters page
WITH more data becoming available on the hazards to human and animal health of fracking for shale gas, it is time to put the brakes on the development of the process so that a greater international assessment can be conducted.

When the big carrot of finance is dangled before government, investors and land owners, reason and democracy have flown out of the window, with some people in Ryedale prepared to accept that we are the sacrificial lamb in a very dangerous game.

It is extraordinary how people do not stop to consider why Germany, Holland, France, Czech Republic, Scotland, Wales, and now several states of America have banned or introduced a moratorium on fracking; or the reasons behind our Government’s disregard for the need (and indeed EU directive) to reduce the use of fossil fuels. Perhaps in 30 years time with access to information, the truth will out.

Sadly, democracy does not seem to rule, and the concerns of a rural agricultural area are disregarded, coupled with local and regional councillors prepared to follow their party whip before listening to their constituents. Happily, there is one glorious exception in the shape of North Yorkshire county councillor and Ryedale district councillor Linsday Burr, who has put her constituency before her party and resigned from the Lib Dems, a woman with moral values.

If you happen to be sitting on the fence regarding fracking in Ryedale, or if you have slithered over to the pro side, I recommend you go to isfrackingsafe.org, a website showing all the issues.

It has been researched by Dr Tim Thornton, who was a local GP for 30 years, and his brother, Eddie. The facts are there and cannot be disputed by Third Energy, which presents a sanitised version of the process of, as they term, “Gas farms” – of which there will be hundreds.

The physical and mental health problems associated with the process are showing a wide range of problems from birth defects to cancer clusters, and even to horses needing steroids for breathing difficulties. We cannot rush into fracking, the next generations will not forgive us.

David Cragg-James, Stonegrave, in the letters page
SO. Where now? On Wednesday, February 4, Ryedale District Council’s Unpacking Fracking meeting at the Malton Milton Rooms did little to allay public fears about fracking.

Ranged against the embattled John Dewar, of Third Energy, who believes still that modern day British frackers have the answer to all our worries, and that the best regulatory system in the world, (the British of course) would not allow a repetition of the ghastly US and Queensland experiences, were the lively Mike Hill, from the British fracking capital – West Lancashire, a researcher into these same regulations who denied that they exist in any meaningful and effective form, and our own Chris Redstone, of Frack Free Ryedale, who more than held his own with a wealth of information encompassing all aspects of the question.

The admirably-informed Professor Richard Davies, of Newcastle University, who leads the ReFINE (Research Fracking in Europe – qv for impartial information) consortium which addressed the recent Kirkbymoorside meeting, maintained an impressive impartiality. An impartiality which, I felt, reinforced the beliefs of the anti-frackers rather than the opposition, (but then, I am parti pris.) Further challenges to the official Government line were posed by informed questions from the floor.

The meeting was recorded and filmed, audio already accessible through the Ryedale District Council website. Perhaps the answer to the question is the Milton Rooms at Malton, where on February 17, at 6.30pm, at a meeting open to the public, Ryedale District Council will decide whether to declare themselves anti-fracking, whether to come out against the threat to our scarce global water resources via exhaustion and possible contamination over time, the threat to the air we breathe as a result of emissions and flaring with the possible consequential effects on public health, the unknown threat posed by large scale interference with our age-old geology, the threat to our national integrity arising via our preference for perceived national economic gain over the common good of humanity and the planet endangered by the rise in greenhouse gases.

A resounding “Yes” will give us much more clout when the North Yorkshire County Council consider planning applications.

Frank Colenso, Hovingham, in the letters page
I WOULD like to congratulate to Ryedale District Council for setting up the “Unpacking Fracking in Ryedale” on Wednesday, February 4, in Malton, and specifically to Janet Waggott for effectively chairing such a large group.

This meeting should be the touch paper for all potential 2015 elected representatives in Ryedale, parish, district, county council and Parliamentary candidates to declare their position on fracking.

Many candidates already have and a special thanks to them for leading the debate during the past few months. However, far too many elected representative are sitting on the fence or simply using institutional legalese to hide behind giving an answer.

Most reasonable residents will accept a “Yes” or a “No”, but a do not know or not able to tell you, is not what people expect or respect. I humbly suggest that potential 2015 candidates who are not definite about the issue need to come out now. I was disappointed about one issue on Wednesday evening – the full attendance of our councillors.

After the meeting, I asked about councillors’ attendance. I was informed that 19 attended and 11 were absent. I know people have planned holiday and have very good personal reasons not to be there (one of the most important public meetings Ryedale District Council have had in recent times). However, if the number was correct, then 36 per cent of our elected representatives were not at the meeting. Somehow, this does not fill you with confidence, does it?

Then, we looked forward to the open meeting at Ryedale District Council last night, where we saw politics in action. I was hoping for straight talking and a straight-forward decision on the motion (could even accept an amended motion to get around the legalese). Anything else would not be representative of Ryedale or North Yorkshire.

Steve Kirby, Malton, in the letters page
WITH respect to Councillor Paul Andrews’ letter in February 11 edition of the Gazette & Herald, it is unfortunate the councillor shows some fundamental misunderstanding.

The UK regulations are “goal setting”, that is they lay out the objective to be achieved; the regulations require the operator to ensure the integrity of a well, from design to abandonment.

The French and German regulations are highly prescriptive, which do not allow the optimum engineering of the well design. The UK regulators are much more experienced than their EU equivalents; over the last six years, the UK drilled 240 exploration wells compared to 48 each in Germany and France.

The regulation and industry standards used in the UK are considerably higher than those in the US. The websites of UKOOG (United Kingdom Onshore Oil and Gas, ukoog.org.uk) and OGUK (Oil & Gas UK, oilandgasuk.co.uk) have links to the applicable industry standards and guidelines. UK industry guidelines are highly regarded around the world.

The regulations clearly define the role and independence of the well examiner; the logic of the councillor means that his car always passes its MOT since he is paying for it. All industries are self-regulating with the objective of conforming to the applicable legislation e.g. the Factories Act.

It is perhaps unfortunate that the Health and Safety Executive talk about risk being mitigated or managed. In simple terms this means reducing probability of failure to be as low as possible. Risk cannot be eliminated; an example would be flying in an aeroplane, a failure can be catastrophic, even fatal, but the aircraft industry constantly works to make the probability as low as possible.

I am not sure if this clarification will give the councillor more confidence or reassurance. I hope that it will give him a different perspective on the issue.

Anne McIntosh MP for Thirsk, Malton and Filey in the letters page
MAY I respond to Simon Wilkinson and take this opportunity to explain parliamentary proceedings around the Infrastructure Bill.

Firstly, I was delighted Third Energy attended the recent meeting I arranged with the parish councils of Barugh, Habton and Kirby Misperton. It was an excellent opportunity for a briefing and local concerns to be addressed.

I then did as I promised and raised the issues and tabled amendments during the Parliamentary debate on the Bill, calling in particular for the Precautionary Principle to apply.

Usually it is only the Opposition amendments which are put to the vote. In this instance, the Government accepted one of Labour’s amendments and agreed to ban fracking in a National Park.

As the Infrastructure Bill relates to a number of other issues in addition to fracking, and as I explained to constituents, I do support other parts of the Bill that relate to matters other than fracking.

Although it is the official policy of the coalition Government to hydraulically fracture for shale gas, I believe I have adopted a principled position which reflects the views of my constituents who have raised their concerns with me. I did as I undertook to do and I will always work to reflect the views of my constituents.

Philip Tate, Butterwick, in the letters page
NOWHERE in the “public consultation” organised by Third Energy is it disclosed that if the test frack at Kirby Misperton leads to full production, then a further 50 wells will need to be drilled on the same site.

Each well, according to the operations director, will take about 100 days to drill. That would take 12-and-a-half years. Winter and summer, night and day, including Christmas.

Again if successful, the roll-out programme anticipates a further nine such sites in Ryedale alone, and this would be just phase one of the project. Further sites would be necessary to extract the remaining 95 per cent of available shale gas.

It is this multiple of scale that fully supports the forecast that processing at this level of intensity would amount to an industrialisation of a rural landscape. And it all starts with just one well. Then another. And another.

James Stephenson, in the farming column
THE great fracking debate in Ryedale has generated some polarised views, but the bulk of our electorate seem to sit with me, firmly on the fence.

The passionate anti-brigade foresee problems ahead and believe that farmers have been misled. Money only flows to the owner of the well and the question remains unanswered as to who pays for damage to neighbouring land etc.

What happens if a borehole is contaminated and livestock dies as a consequence? Along with insurance, these are real issues.

Conversely, most of the mining and geophysical experts seem relaxed about the consequences of fracking, and past experience has reaped benefit rather than disaster except in an odd isolated instance.

I am also mindful that every innovation in history invokes a negative reaction. I remember from my agrarian history lessons how Cornelius Vermuyden came over from Holland to drain the fens only to have his ditches filled in by thousands of marsh dwellers who believed it would damage their environment, and that was in 1640!

There will be a public consultation event at Kirby Misperton Village Hall tomorrow (Thursday) from 2pm to 7pm. For me, I would just report that a Bill called the Infrastructure Act was rather rushed through Parliament last week dealing with the fracking issues; and I believe was defective in the following matters:

  • Land owners and occupiers will not have to be notified if fracking is to take place under their land; and this must be wrong;
  • There is no provision for compensation to a land owner or indeed anyone else affected by fracking.

Our own MP Anne McIntosh was at the debate and I sense that she had the same reservations as she abstained from the vote.

1 reply »

  1. The localism act has changed the law of predetermination. so that councillors can campaign, and express an opinion and retain their right to vote at committee. It has been established that this does not mean that they have a ‘closed mind’ So where was John Clark’s motion, (especially when amendments were offered that seemed reasonable) at fault? The council solicitor was putting the frighteners on with out of date information.

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