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Who decides about onshore oil and gas?

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Ruth HayhurstUK
In this week's newsletter: decisions by government, industry and communities shape the future of onshore oil and gas in the UK

Wales extends fracking moratorium

Wales has extended its moratorium on unconventional gas and oil developments to underground coal gasification.

Natural Resources Minister, Carl Sargeant, issued a notification decision on 25th March 2016. This required local authorities to refer any planning application for coal gasification to the Welsh government, unless they proposed to refuse permission.

Mr Sargeant issued a similar direction in February 2015 preventing local authorities from approving unconventional techniques for the onshore exploration and production of shale gas and oil.

Mr Sargeant said:

“The direction has been issued to require that any planning application connected to the gasification of coal must be referred to Welsh Ministers where local planning authorities are minded to approve them."

"I have issued it in order to avoid any ambiguity and to ensure our precautionary approach extends to UCG.”

Frack Free Wales said the announcement did not mean that the threat of UCG was over in Wales. A spokesman for the group said:

“Westminster has issued 27 UCG licences across Wales, England and Scotland. The Welsh UCG licences were granted several years ago – each seeking to burn millions of tonnes of coal under the sea.”

“If it wasn’t for the tireless campaigning of community groups, this new industry would be proceeding unobstructed.”

Welsh Government announcement

IGas calls time on another coal bed methane site

IGas has confirmed it has no permissions or plans for work at its Lesters Lane site, near Lower Kinnerton, in Cheshire.

The site has 20-years of planning permission for coal bed methane exploration and production.

But in a letter to the Alyn and Deeside MP, Mark Tami (left), IGas said it had no “current operational timeline” for the site.

Earlier this year, protesters evicted established a camp at the site. They said they were concerned that IGas would drill horizontally into Flintshire and would remain until IGas confirmed it had abandoned plans for coal bed methane exploration and production.

In the letter to Mark Tami, the IGas chief executive, Stephen Bowler, said a well drilled in 2011 had been plugged and abandoned and the site restored to its original condition.

He said:

“The planning permission held for this site only permitted a vertical exploratory well into the coal seam.”

“We undertook no work on the site last year. Further, there has been no recent work taking place on site”.

“We have no current planning permissions for any further drilling operations and no intention of drilling horizontally under the border into Wales. We also have no current operational timeline for any further work on the site.”

This is the third Cheshire site this year where IGas has confirmed it has no plans for coal bed methane operations. In February, IGas announced it was abandoning its sites at Duttons Lane, Upton, and Mickle Trafford near Chester. Last year, it gave up on another coal bed methane site at Dudleston Heath in north Shropshire,

Campaign group warns of increasing impacts as Horse Hill well claims “outstanding” flow rates

On 21st March, the majority investor in the Horse Hill oil well near Gatwick claimed record UK onshore flow rates.

After completing initial tests on the well, UK Oil & Gas described the results this morning as “outstanding” and equivalent to flow rates from the North Sea.

In a statement it said it would now seek permission for extended production tests at the site on the edge of Horley. It also said it would apply for a horizontal side-track well and, possibly, a new development well. The current planning permission is for the existing vertical well and short-term testing only.

Executive Chairman, Stephen Sanderson, said:

“The flow test results are outstanding, demonstrating North Sea-like oil rates from an onshore well. This simple vertical well has achieved an impressive aggregate oil rate equivalent to 8.5% of total UK onshore daily oil production.”

“We are delighted, therefore, that this discovery has the serious prospect of being a meaningful addition to the UK’s own supply of oil in a period where North Sea production is declining more rapidly than expected.”

The statement coincided with a warning from Frack Free Surrey of increasing numbers of wells and impacts across the county. The group quoted Mr Sanderson as saying:

“This type of oil deposit very much depends on being able to drill your wells almost back to back so it becomes very much like an industrialised process … Generally you have to drill a lot wells close to each other so you can maintain a certain level of production.”

In response, it warned

“As more and more wells are drilled, the imp acts [air pollution, traffic, leaking wells] accumulate and it is the cumulative impacts of this industrialisation which eventually becomes the dominant factor.”

Keith Taylor, MEP for South East England, said the scientific consensus on climate change had never been greater. The best chance we had of averting catastrophe, he said, was to leave large reserves of oil in the ground. He said:

“The extraction of oil at sites like Horse Hill not only risks damaging our environment and health, it is a distraction from the work that must be done to build a sustainable future based on a low carbon, democratic energy system.” More details

Campaigners rally in round two of Llanharan drilling fight

Picture: Frack Free Wales

Politicians from three parties, including two members of the Welsh National Assembly, joined residents of a village in South Wales to begin the next round of a campaign against drilling for unconventional gas.

Last year Rhondda Cynon Taf Council refused permission to Coastal Oil and Gas to drill a test well at Hendre Farm, Llanharan, near Pontyclun.

The council said the scheme would have “an unacceptable effect on the interest of residential amenity, cultural heritage and landscape importance”. 

But the company has appealed. Local residents now have until 4th May 2016 to put their case to the Planning Inspectorate.

A spokesperson for Llanharan Against Fracking. said:

“We need the community to come together again because this is the point where most communities loses their fight. Don’t assume others can fight to keep you safe. We need to show a united community.”

Coastal Oil and Gas is one of 17 mostly energy companies based on an industrial estate in Bridgend in Mid Glamorgan. Details. Gerwyn Williams is a director or consultant engineer of all of them.

Camp to put pressure on Welsh election candidates

Campaigners set up a camp in South Wales on Easter Saturday to promote renewable energy and raise awareness of local unconventional gas developments in the run-up to the Welsh Assembly elections in May.

The camp, established under the banner “Energise Wales”, is on the A48 near Llantrithyd in the Vale of Glamorgan.

There are five sites with planning permission for gas exploration in the area: at Llantrisant, Merthyr Mawr, Llantrithyd, Llandow and Dyffryn. All the planning permissions are held by Coastal Oil and Gas (see above).

A sister company, UK Methane, has permission for gas exploration at Penllergaer and Llangyfelach, near Swansea, and Foel Fynyddau Forest, at Pontrhydyfen, in the Afan Valley.

The campaigners are concerned that initial exploration will lead to applications to extract gas using fracking.

Sian-Elin Jones, Chair of Llantrithyd Residents’ Association, said:

“The scientific evidence of the risks of fracking has been mounting during the years of our campaign. For example recent reporting of how much methane leaks from gas wells and their associated infrastructure in the USA suggests that fracked gas is on par with coal for greenhouse gas emissions.”

“Given the almost unanimous agreement at the Paris climate conference last December, it’s time we took our responsibilities to future generations seriously and implemented a swift transition to renewable energy.”

MP's questions on local decision-making

Cat Smith, (pictured left) Labour MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, put two questions to government ministers this week on local decision-making in fracking decisions.

She askedthe Energy Minister, Andrea Leadsom:

"Does the hon. Lady agree with me and many of my constituents that it flies in the face of Ministers’ claim to be the greenest Government ever when local people have a veto on onshore wind, but that when it comes to fracking, particularly for my constituents in Lancashire, local views are not heard or represented?"

Mrs Leadsom replied:

“The hon. Lady is of course completely wrong, because all shale applications are subject to the local planning system, so communities absolutely do have a say on every planning application for hydraulic fracturing.

Cat Smith asked the Communities and Local Government Department if it would ensure that the final determination on fracking applications were made by local authorities.

James Wharton, the local government minister, replied: "Local authorities lead the process for the consideration of planning applications for shale gas exploration under the Town and Country Planning regime."

He said companies had a right of appeal to the Secretary of State. But he added:

“Community involvement in planning applications and people’s safety and the environment will remain paramount.”

Scottish Government connections with fracking

Scotland's Energy Minister, Fergus Ewing, said his week that the Scottish Government has had no contact with the lobbyist, Charlotte Street Partners, in relation to fracking.

This appears to contradict findings by Spinwatch in its report, Holyrood Exposed, which revealed that Charlotte Street Partners had organised a dinner discussion with Nicola Sturgeon, and “wined and dined” her special adviser on energy and enterprise, Malcolm Fleming and the government’s head of policy, Colin McAllister. More details

Other news

Egdon abandons another Lincolnshire oil well Egdon Resources has been moving equipment off its oil exploration site at Laughton in Lincolnshire after deciding to abandon the well drilled earlier this year. The company announced last week the hydrocarbon shows were “not sufficiently encouraging to warrant testing”. More details

IGas won't pay for Upton eviction Correspondence between IGas and the Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire suggests the company is unwilling to pay the estimated £200,000 cost of evicting protests from a coal bed methane site. Police from four forces were involved in the operation in January. Three weeks later IGas said it was abandoning the site because it was not commercially viable. More details

Scottish research costs Scotland's Energy Minister, Fergus Ewing, gave details of the contracts awarded to companies as part of the Scottish Government’s research into fracking. £41,994 goes to the British Geological Survey for work on induced seismic activity; £51,102 to AECOM on decommissioning; £61,980 to the Committee on Climate Change; and £103, 176 to KPMG for economic impacts.

Ruth Hayhurst is the only journalist reporting from the UK fracking front lines. You can read daily reports on her website

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