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A week of leaks, rallies and taking a stand on fracking

Ruth Hayhurst photo
Ruth HayhurstUK
In this week’s newsletter, leaks from wells and the cabinet, constituents clash with their MP, anti-fracking groups hold rallies across the UK and another council comes out against shale gas.

Leaked letter reveals government plan to take over fracking decisions

A leaked government plan, published by The Telegraph today (31/1/2016), proposed taking decisions for fracking wells away from local councils.

The 10-page document, signed by three cabinet members and sent to the Chancellor, aimed to create the conditions to establish a shale gas industry in the UK within a decade.

It was written on 7th July 2015, within days of the decisions by Lancashire County Council to refuse permission to Cuadrilla to frack wells at Roseacre Wood and Preston New Road.

The signatories, Liz Truss (Environment Secretary), Amber Rudd (Energy and Climate Change) and Greg Clark (Communities and Local Government), proposed classifying fracking sites as “nationally significant infrastructure”. If approved this would give decisions to unelected planning inspectors instead of local authorities.

The letter set objectives for UK shale:

· Exploration within two years

· Production within five years

· A mature shale gas production industry within 10 years

It recommended what it called “a long-term approach to planning which is suitable for handling the large number of applications that would be seen in a full production stage”. The authors said:

“We are therefore minded to bring commercial shale production within the Nationally Significant Infrastructure planning regime and to be ready to begin the move from early 2016 for large scale applications”.

Craig Bennet, chief executive of Friends of the Earth, which acquired the letter, said:

“David Cameron said communities would have a voice in whether or not fracking should happen near them but clearly they are saying one thing while privately pursuing quite another.  Communities and local councils could have an opinion on what colour they want the security gates to a shale gas site to be painted but seemingly little else. This Government appears to promise democracy, they don’t intend to deliver”.

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Anti-fracking campaigners take on MP who said shale gas was too good to miss

Anti-fracking campaigners outside Kevin Hollinrake's surgery in Thirsk, North Yorkshire, yesterday

Opponents of fracking in Ryedale rallied outside the constituency surgery of MP Kevin Hollinrake yesterday in protest at a planned meeting next month with shale gas operators.

Dubbed an operators’ summit, it is designed to agree a regional plan for fracking in North Yorkshire.

Campaigners believe Mr Hollinrake, who represents Thirsk and Malton, has abandoned his earlier demands that fracking should not take place near homes under pressure from the chancellor, George Osborne.

They also feel he has broken a promise to protect the landscape of Ryedale and the health of residents by voting to allow fracking under National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

In September, Mr Hollinrake said fracking wells should be at least a mile from homes. But Third Energy is applying to frack at Kirby Misperton, in the MP’s constituency, 400m from homes.

Last week, Mr Hollinrake told MPs Britain couldn’t afford to ignore the opportunities offered by shale gas.

During a debate in Westminster Hall, he said five different operators have licences to drill for shale gas across almost all the Thirsk and Malton constituency.

He said he received dozens of letters and emails every week about the plans and he understood the concerns of residents. Yet despite this opposition, he said of shale gas extraction:

“This is the right thing for the UK and a real opportunity for UK manufacturing. I believe the advantages for our national and local economies far outweigh the disadvantages”.

He quoted from a report by EY which said a UK shale gas industry could support 64,000 jobs and £33bn of investment. Fracking would require 12,000km of steel tubes and the recycling of waste water would be a £4.1bn opportunity, he said.

But he added that any new industry would have to be compatible with daily life in North Yorkshire. He repeated his call for a single regulator, independent monitoring and a five-year local plan.

Frack Free Ryedale, which opposes Third Energy's plan to frack at Kirby Misperton, described Mr Hollinrake as "a cheerleader" for the shale gas industry and accused him of "shamelessly peddling myths about fracking".

A spokesperson for the group said:

“According to DECC’s own 2013 report, fracking could only create 15,900 to 24,300 jobs nationally – direct and indirect – at peak construction in the mid-2020s. This would require many thousands of fracking wells across an increasingly industrialised countryside, and is far fewer than the 27,000 jobs already lost or under threat because of the government’s cuts to the renewable energy industry.”

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30% of abandoned wells leak but emissions average less than a single cow

A study of decommissioned onshore oil and gas wells in the UK found that 30% were leaking methane. But the average leak produced lower emissions than a breeding dairy cow.

The research, published in the journal Science of The Total Environment, concluded that the leaks were caused by well integrity failure and that wells were most likely to leak within 10 years of being abandoned.

The industry body, UK Onshore Oil and Gas, said the study should reassure people. But Greenpeace said it raised questions about the development of fracking in the UK.

The study was by the ReFINE research consortium on fracking, led by Newcastle and Durham Universities and funded primarily by Centrica and INEOS.

One of the authors of the study, Professor Fred Worrall, told the BBC:

“The point is that even with proper decommissioning you will still have those wells that leak as cement cracks and steel corrodes and so monitoring is important. Overwhelmingly wells are properly decommissioned and our study shows that when methane does leak the levels are low, for example when compared to methane produced by the agricultural use of the land”.

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Swansea takes a stand against fracking

Labour-led Swansea Council voted overwhelmingly for a motion signalling they would oppose planning applications for unconventional exploration or extraction of gas.

It was the fifth council in less than a fortnight to approve motions critical of fracking.

The motion said the council was minded to adopt a policy which had a presumption against supporting planning applications for fracking and other forms of unconventional gas development. This would include test drilling, which is not covered by the Welsh Government Direction against approving fracking applications.

The council will consider a report in March on the implications of a change in planning policy on fracking. It will also write to the Welsh Government asking for the Direction to be extended to test drilling. No councillors voted against but three abstained.

Keith Ross, of Frack Free Wales, said after the meeting:

“This does not mean that fracking is banned in Swansea. There is still work to be done before we can confidently say Keith that. But it does send a very strong message to the fracking companies that they are not welcome in the City and County of Swansea”.

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Two steps forward and one step back for IGas at Misson

IGas began work at its potential fracking site at Misson in north Nottinghamshire this week. The company began moving in equipment to drill up to 12 small boreholes which will monitor groundwater for methane. This is now a legal requirement before fracking could start.

The company also submitted an application to the Environment Agency for a mining waste permit for two proposed exploration wells at the site. A public consultation on the permit application is now underway and runs until 8th March.

But the company’s planning application now faces a delay. Nottingham County Council confirmed that it would be asking IGas for more information on its planning application. When the information has been supplied the council will begin another public consultation. A council spokesperson agreed that a decision on the planning application was now unlikely to be made until at least March, if not later.

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New details on Cuadrilla fracking appeals

The public inquiry into Cuadrilla’s application to frack at two sites in Lancashire is now likely to last five weeks.

The inquiry, which starts at 10am on Tuesday 9th February, will be chaired by a planning inspector, Wendy McKay. But the decision will be made by the Communities and Local Government Secretary, Greg Clark.

The hearings, at Blackpool Football Club Conference Centre, will examine the refusals of permission by Lancashire County Council for fracking of up to four wells each at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood in the Fylde. They will also review the refusal of permission for a monitoring scheme at Preston New Road and a condition on over-wintering birds for monitoring at Roseacre Wood.

As well as the company and the council, seven groups will call witnesses and cross examine speakers. Of these, six are opposed to the applications and one is in favour.

The inspector has set out the key issues she expects will be discussed. She has also called extra sessions for public contributions.

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35+ anti-fracking events across the UK

Protest this morning outside Cuadrilla's site at Balcombe in West Sussex

From Lochaber in the Scottish Highland to Portland on the Jurassic Coast of Dorset: more than 30 anti-fracking groups organised events at the weekend.

Under the banner, No Fracking Way, the events included film screenings, debates, marches, information stalls and social gatherings.

The organisers say the weekend was designed to raise awareness about fracking in local communities.

Other news

The Charity Commission is to review its policy on the on the naming of non-charitable campaigning groups connected to charities. It follows a failed complaint by Cuadrilla about a fund-raising leaflet about fracking distributed by Friends of the Earth Ltd, the campaigning arm of the charity of the same name.

UK Oil & Gas Investments plcannounced it would put in a planning application this year for work at a well drilled at Arreton on the Isle of Wight. A review of oil in place at the well, drilled in the 1970s by British Gas, produced a best estimate of 219 m barrels. UKOG said it would “accelerate its discussions with the local planning authority”.

Executives from INEOS faced the public in Frodsham, Cheshire, to talk about their plans for fracking in area. A meeting organised by the Conservative MP for Weaver Vale, Graham Evans, also included representatives from agencies regulating shale gas and local experts.

Infrastrata, which wants to explore for oil in County Antrim, has been let off drilling a well by March this year as a condition of keeping its licence. The North Ireland Department ofEnterprise, Trade and Investment has quashed the requirement and Infrastrata can now move into a second five-year licence term.

The House of Lords debated drilling for coal bed methane in the Forest of Dean. Labour’s Baroness Royall, said the strategic environmental assessment on licences areas issued under the 14th round was regarded by many as “flawed and inaccurate”. The government minister, Lord Bourne, said the regulatory system was “extremely robust”.

Ruth Hayhurst is the only journalist reporting from the fracking frontlines in the UK. You can read more of her reports on

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