Objections to Planning Application Ref: 15/03056/STVAR
I am writing to object to the above planning application by Rathlin to extend their existing Planning Permission at West Newton A for a further 36 months.
Executive Summary of Objections
Section 3.3. The Need for Petroleum Development relies on outdated DECC guidance and does not provide any current economic and political case for oil and gas exploration. The lack of an economic case for oil and gas production at West Newton should be balanced with the known realities of a local economy based on farming and tourism. In addition there are known risks to the East Riding Council taxpayer if Rathlin withdraw from their operations and declare bankruptcy or dissolve the Company.
Section 3.5 Regulatory Framework fails to recognise the impossibility of safe regulation of onshore oil and gas exploration. Local Authority planning teams lack the expertise or capacity to monitor the industry. Similarly the other regulatory agencies do not have sufficient capacity to regulate an industry which aims to control unknown pressures deep beneath the ground. All oil and gas exploration involves high risks and recent experience in Lancashire and Yorkshire demonstrates the failure of the “heavily regulated” industry to manage them. An elementary study of the reports on Preese Hall and West Newton A will support the rejection of this application on grounds of safety and the longer term health and welfare of residents.
Climate Change. Officers and members of the Planning Committee should note that Rathlin have made no reference to the ERYC policy on Climate Change in their application. However the Planning Committee must consider how best to mitigate the impact of Climate Change on the East Riding in line with Council policy and should therefore consider whether it is rational to allow Connaught and Rathlin to continue to lay the foundations for 25-50 years of industrial gas production in Holderness.
I have been closely involved in monitoring the activities of Rathlin Energy UK Ltd in the East Riding since they commenced well testing for shale gas at their sites at Crawberry Hill and West Newton A in May 2013. I therefore have first-hand experience of the gap between the case made by Rathlin for their operations and the reality in the East Riding. There are alternatives to gas as a form of energy in the context of the increasing evidence of climate change impacts on the East Riding which are directly related to the use of fossil fuels, including conventional oil and gas and shale gas.
I have three principle objections.
Objection to “The Need for Petroleum Development” (Section 3.3. Pages 18-19 of the application)
This is a standard justification used in all such applications which is out of date and no longer bears any relation to the current position on world oil and gas prices or the specific features of the world energy market in the context of an increased understanding of the impact of fossil fuel on climate change. It is therefore invalid as a basis for decision making.
It relies on old DECC statements in 2007, 2010 and 2011 and can be assessed in the context of prices and potential profits when Rathlin first engaged in the East Riding and their planning applications since then.
Spot prices for natural gas $/MMBtu (MMBtu = I million British Thermal Units)
Sources: (1)International Monetary Fund (Henry Hub USA prices)(2) Bloomberg Energy
The price of all fossil fuels, including natural gas, is determined by global supply and demand. The current low prices for gas relate to huge oversupply arising partly from the shale gas boom as a result of fracking in North America and also from the determination of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to improve market share by increasing supplies to outcompete the USA. The consequent severe pressures on the economies and government finances of other gas suppliers, notably Russia and Norway, underlines the extent to which reliance on gas for economic and political security is unwise in a global marketplace.
One specific example reveals the extent to which the economic and political arguments for energy security based on onshore gas exploration may be misleading.
The Cheniere Energy Liquified Natural Gas terminal in Louisiana is due to start operating later this year. Originally built to import Middle Eastern LNG, its owner anticipated the possibility of exporting shale gas and converted the plant for export.
In October 2011 a deal was signed to sell $8billion of gas over 20 years to British Gas, the world’s largest natural gas trading company. (The spot price for gas was $3.4-$4.00 that month compared to $2.3 in November 2015.) Even if gas prices fall Cheniere Energy have guaranteed profits because 80% of the capacity is contracted to buyers who have to pay whether they take the gas or not. (Source: America’s most unlikely energy project is rising from a Louisiana Bayou. Bloomberg News 2/9/15)
With such a business model it is clearly naïve to believe that Connaught/Rathlin will produce gas to ensure our secure energy supply. Like all other companies they will sell at the best price and if prices do not cover costs they will stop production. We will continue to be at the mercy of profit-making corporations as long as we rely on oil and gas, wherever it is produced. The only secure and stable sources of energy are those which do not rely on global markets for fossil fuels. While the UK government has withdrawn support for renewable energy at the same time as “going all out for gas”, the rest of the world is moving towards wind and solar energy.
“Wind power is now the cheapest electricity to produce in both Germany and the U.K., even without government subsidies, according to a new analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). It's the first time that threshold has been crossed by a G7 economy. (Note: Denmark, not part of the G7, said that last year they had passed the same milestone.)
The economic advantages of wind and solar over fossil fuels go beyond price. ( Note: They also provide predictable electricity prices and a stable return on investment, and they avoid the negative externalities of burning fossil fuels, including climate change, asthma and heart disease.)Still, it's remarkable that in every major region of the world, the lifetime costs of new coal and gas projects are rising considerably in the second half of 2015, according to BNEF. And in every major region the cost of renewables continues to fall.” (Bloomberg News 6/10/15 Tom Randall ) http://bloom.bg/1WK34MZ
If economic and political security are the issue then local, community based, wind,tidal and solar power schemes are obviously the safest sources of energy, especially with recent improvements in battery storage of electricity announced by TESLA.
East Riding of Yorkshire Council has an additional responsibility to consider the impact of fossil fuels on climate change. Flooding is an increasing source of concern for farmers, local residents and businesses in the county. Huge resources have already been spent on flood defences here and elsewhere in the country but much more will be needed to address severe weather events in future. East Yorkshire also has serious problems arising from a combination of rising sea levels, coastal erosion and severe weather events leading to flooding in 2000, 2007 and 2013. The recent announcement of the need to find £40 million to improve flood defences on the River Hull is one example of the price we pay for global warming fuelled by carbon emissions.
The economic and political case for Rathlin’s application fails to address the impact of fossil fuels on climate change. While it may be claimed that shale gas is a “clean” fuel which will provide a bridge to a renewable energy world the fact is that all fossil fuels contribute to climate change and shale gas/methane is particularly dangerous because it is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas when it leaks, unburnt, into the atmosphere. ( See next objection on grounds of regulation of gas leaks.)
Finally, the report does not address the cost of cleaning up sites in the immediate and longer term if Connaught or Rathlin, like many American fracking companies,cancel projects or go bankrupt if oil and gas prices continue at a low level or fall further. Experience from a failed gas storage installation at Carnaby in the East Riding in 1999 shows that it is the local authority i.e. residents, who had to bear the cost.
This is specifically relevant to Connaught’s current investment strategy where they have recently arranged disposal of all their gas exploration and production investments in Canada in order to concentrate all of their assets on their UK operations. (See objection e-mailed to Matthew Sunman at Development Control 13th November 2015).
Rathlin’s decision to withdraw from Crawberry Hill in August 2015 on the grounds of market conditions proves that profitability rather than a concern for UK energy security is there objective.
Connaught’s decision to withdraw from their once lucrative Canadian shale gas operations also proves that profit rather than UK Energy security is their driving principle. If their investments prove similarly short- term here and they dissolve Rathlin Energy UK it will no longer be the landowner, Norman Caley Ltd., who will bear the cost of restoring the orphan wellsite and dealing with any longer term detriment to neighbours and water supplies. The Infrastructure Act 2015 removes the liability of the landowner. The default position for orphan wells will, in perpetuity, fall to the East Riding of Yorkshire Council, DECC, the Environment Agency and Yorkshire Water – all funded by taxpayers and water charge payers.
ERYC officers and members of the Planning Committee have a fiduciary duty to address this issue by ensuring adequate financial safeguards to decommission and manage any pollution from orphan wells before granting planning permission.
In summary, Paragraph 3.3. relies on outdated DECC guidance and does not provide any current economic and political case for conventional oil, gas and shale gas exploration. The lack of an economic case for extending the temporary permission to explore at West Newton A should be balanced with the known realities of a local economy based on farming and tourism.
In addition there are known risks to the East Riding Council taxpayer if Rathlin withdraw from their operations and declare bankruptcy or dissolve the company.
Objection to “The Regulatory Framework” (Section 3.5. Pages 24-26 of the application)
The applicant uses the standard wording – “The oil and gas industry is heavily regulated…”and concludes with the standard advice to planning officers and members of the Planning Committee – “MPAs are advised that where other regulatory bodies have responsibility, the MPA should rely on their assessments.” ( Introduction to 3.5. p. 24)
Experience of two shale gas exploration wells proves that the “heavily regulated” UK industry is far from safe.
In April – May 2011 Cuadrilla operated their well at Preese Hall, Lancashire, for 6 weeks knowing that there was a problem with well integrity which was connected to minor earthquakes. They had all the licences and permissions required by “heavy” regulations but chose not to inform any of the regulatory agencies. Once permissions are granted the industry is entirely self-regulated, relying or reporting by the gas exploration company.
In August – November 2014 Rathlin Energy UK Ltd encountered repeated problems with their exploratory well at West Newton A. Initial complaints from residents were dismissed but eventually the Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive confirmed serious breaches of regulations, after the event. Gas had been allowed to leak unburnt from a failed flare. Vibration, noise and gas leaks had affected the health of residents and contributed to the deaths of hundreds of shrews and mice with a consequent impact on barn owls in the area.
In August 2014 a group of local residents wrote to the Director responsible for Planning at East Riding Council with a list of breaches of planning permission at Rathlin’s Crawberry Hill site where protestors had stopped exploration work.
Complaints included several breaches of the traffic management plan, deaths of listed mammals ( brown hares) through inadequate fencing, failure to comply with the lighting plan to the detriment of local residents and failure to prevent surface water leaking from the site onto adjacent farmland.
The ERYC Director, supported by the Chief Executive, dismissed these concerns as either not warranting their intervention or being the responsibility of other agencies.
No officers from East Riding Council had visited the site since the start of drilling the first well in 2013; the Environment Agency officer was due to go on leave so did not visit to inspect the leaking water storage tank.
Officers and elected members of ERYC will be fully aware of the significant reductions imposed on local authority staffing in recent years. The financial year 2016-17 will see the greatest cutbacks in local authority funding of the current austerity regime. Similar cutbacks affect civil servants at DECC and the capacity of the Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive. The National Planning Guidance that members of the Planning Committee “should rely on” on the assessments of these agencies is clearly unacceptable.
There is little impact from “heavy” regulations if there is insufficient capacity among the regulators to check on safe implementation. In any case regulations are meaningless when the gas exploration operators cannot be certain what is happening miles under the ground and have the option to choose what information they release.
Members of Lancashire County Council Planning Committee set a precedent when they ensured that expert advice from other agencies and independent experts was presented to them in a 3 day extended meeting when considering Cuadrilla’s latest application there. They also obtained independent legal advice before reaching a decision.
Given the repeated failure of exploration companies to abide by regulations, members of Planning Committee also need to exercise their duty to thoroughly consider whether fracking can ever be regulated safely. The assurances given by the Chairman of Rathlin, David Montagu-Smith, that they have “…done nothing wrong..” (At the October 2nd 2015 Planning Committee) may be contrasted with the reality at West Newton A last year.
The independent and balanced report “What went wrong at West Newton”, which is based on Environment Agency reports and correspondence with Rathlin, shows that “heavy” regulations do not provide practical safeguards. The reassurances of gas exploration companies count for little when they are confronted with failures to manage the risks which are part of their search for unconventional gas reserves. (Source drillordrop.com )
Recent experience at Crawberry Hill highlights some specific omissions from the current application by Rathlin for the extension of permission at West Newton A. in addition to the serious issues identified in the Drill or Drop report.
In Para.3.1 page 14 of their application Rathlin state they do not need to provide additional surveys to those provided for the original planning application. This avoids any reference to the actual problems and risks encountered during drilling and testing of the West Newton A number 1 well. Significant concerns voiced by local residents about gas leaks, noise pollution and intrusive lighting are therefore given no consideration. In particular the original Ecology report has proved to be deficient in reality, hence the welcome intervention of the ERYC Biodiversity Officer who has rightly required an updated report.
How can officers or members of the Planning Committee make a rational decision without updated reports covering lighting, noise and gas leaks – all documented by the Environment Agency and specific complaints from residents?
There is no reference to new information about hydrogeology or the drilling programme for the second well at West Newton A in this application. Para.3.3. page15 West Newton 1 confirms the well was drilled right through the Bowland Shale to a depth of 3200m, i.e. Rathlin fully explored the shale gas source rock that is the target of the Government’s drive to develop the shale gas industry in the UK.
In contrast to Crawberry Hill, the West Newton A planning permission does not exclude hydraulic fracturing.
The application does not modify the existing permission in this respect and in contrast to West Newton B planning permission, approval of the current application will permit Rathlin to drill and test for shale gas with a mini-frac, the technique which tests suitability for unconventional, high-volume fracturing (fracking).
There is no explanation of the reasons for failing to meet the three year allocated for exploration at West Newton A under Condition 2.
The notice of decision (17/01/13) clearly states the time limit of 3 years …”is imposed because this is a temporary permission to allow a period of exploration and testing in the search for hydrocarbons to take place. At the end of the period the site needs to have been restored to its former use in the interests of protecting the visual amenities of the area.” (NOD Condition 2. Page2.)
This condition makes clear that temporary means no more than three years.
It would therefore be irrational for Planning Officers or Planning Committee Members to allow an extension which stretches the current temporary permission for an additional three years.
Similarly there is no reference to Rathlin’s wish to amend Planning Condition 4.(9)
This states: “There shall be no discharge of foul or contaminated drainage from the site into either the groundwater or any surface waters, whether direct or via soakaways.” Rathlin have applied to the Environment Agency to discharge surface water into the adjacent drain which, in turn, feeds into the Lambwath Stream running through the nearby SSSI.(NOD Condition 4(9) page 3.)
In Para.6 page35 Rathlin claim: “The Applicant concludes that any impacts associated with this proposal will be negligible due to the short duration and temporary nature of the operation.”
This statement is contradicted by following statements by Rathlin in the report as well as the following facts.
In the same paragraph Rathlin explain that if permission is granted they intend first drill and test up to 2 wells at West Newton B, then drill and test the second well at West Newton A to “assess whether the West Newton A discovery could be the basis for a conventional gas production development, which would be the subject of a separate planning application.
Rathlin have stated in the High Court that their lease agreement for the site at West Newton A runs for 25 years with the right to extend for a further 25 years.
This is consistent with the statement on Connaught’s website in 2014 that they believed PEDL 183 had the potential for oil and gas development similar to the North Sea reserves.
The initial 25 year lease is also consistent with Rathlin’s statements in Para. 1.4 about the long term need to secure energy from onshore oil and gas.
Connaught’s decision to dispose of all Canadian assets to concentrate on UK activity is not consistent with a temporary development of only three years – there is a clear intention to develop the stated plans of creating up to 6 wellsites in the West Newton area i.e. oil and gas production on a long-term industrial scale. It would be irrational to invest in excess of £30million on the basis of having to restore West Newton A and B to agricultural land after three years on the basis of this “temporary” application.
The experience of decommissioning at Crawberry Hill, currently underway, also shows that the current application and the previous report to Planning Committee upon which permission was granted is significantly deficient.
Question 19 in the Application form asks if the Applicant intends to use and store hazardous substances. Rathlin answer – “No”. However explosives are currently stored on site at Crawberry Hill for use in the decommissioning of the well.
If, for the first time, Rathlin actually comply with planning conditions and conclude temporary exploration by restoring the wellsite at West NewtonA within three years there are further concerns. They have given new details of the well restoration process which involves further light and noise pollution which is not mentioned anywhere in this or previous applications. “Well decommissioning works are due to commence shortly and take seven(7) weeks to complete. Following well decommissioning a period of monitoring will be undertaken for a period of two(2) months.The final approved development phase, restoration, will commence in February 2016 and take up to six(6) weeks to complete. As set out in the original 2012 planning statement the working hours during restoration phase are 7.00 - 18.00 Monday to Saturday. As the majority of site restoration will be undertaken during the winter months portable tower lights may be used to illuminate the site during the periods of early morning and dusk to supplement low levels of daylight. When lighting is not required it will be switched off." E-mail from E.Walker to Development Control 7th October 2015.
In reality the well decommissioning work is proceeding well into the night, past the 18.00 hours deadline, so there could be an additional 7 weeks of noise from a workover rig and generator and obtrusive lighting from spotlights. This is in addition to the noise and artificial light generated by drilling the second well ( 5-10 weeks) and well testing (90 days) – in total up to 210 days.
It is disappointing that these issues have had to be identified by local residents observing operations at Crawberry rather than by the officers of the appropriate agencies.
In summary, Section 3.5 Regulatory Framework fails to recognise the impossibility of safe regulation of on shore oil and gas exploration, including fracking. The Local Authority planning team have lacked the expertise or capacity to monitor Rathlin; had they done so they would have insisted on information to cover the gaps exposed above. Similarly the other regulatory agencies do not have sufficient capacity to regulate an industry which aims to control unknown pressures deep beneath the ground. All oil and gas exploration involves high risks and recent experience in Lancashire and Yorkshire demonstrates the failure of the “heavily regulated” oil and gas industry to manage them. An elementary study of the reports on Preese Hall and West Newton A will support the rejection of this application on grounds of safety and the longer term health and welfare of residents.
Finally, our home is in an area designated at risk from flooding by the Environment Agency. There is no doubt that the continued use of fossil fuels, contrary to the recent reports to the International Panel on Climate Change that 50% of existing gas reserves must stay in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change, will add to the risk of flooding and damage to our property.
Officers and members of the Planning Committee should note that Rathlin have made no reference to the ERYC policy on Climate Change in their application. However the Planning Committee must consider how best to mitigate the impact of Climate Change on the East Riding in line with Council policy and should therefore consider whether it is rational and in the best interests of residents to allow Connaught and Rathlin to continue to lay the foundations for 25-50 years of industrial gas production in the East Riding.