Ineos Can Sue Trust for Park Access
The UK’s Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) has given Ineos Shale the green light to sue the charity National Trust. The chemical producer-cum-gas explorer is seeking access to the Trust’s Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire for a geophysical survey to assess shale gas deposits.
Up to now, the charity has declined to engage with the company, despite threats of legal action. The UK arm of the Swiss-based group applied to the OGA for permission to take the Trust to court to exercise its powers under the Mines Act 1966 to conduct surveys on land without the landowner’s permission.
With the oil and gas authority behind it, Ineos will now take its case to the UK’s High Court, where it last year successfully won a temporary injunction – extended twice – against protestors at its shale gas sites. It said the case will be heard by a judge who has the power to grant it access to the Trust’s land in Nottinghamshire, where “similar surveys” were carried out between 1959 and 1989.
Both Ineos Shale and the authority have called the surveys “non-intrusive,” saying they represent no threat to the landscape and all data gathered would be donated to the UK for future research. In the past, Ineos said it would pay for access to the park and “fully restore the land” if any damage were caused by the testing, which would involve creating soundwaves from a truck or by drilling 8 meter-deep holes and placing small explosive devices in them.
In allowing the legal challenge to go ahead, the OGA pointed to the UK government’s support for a shale industry, adding that the geophysical survey is required for the company to explore for resources in its licensed area.
“Legal action has been the last resort, and we have used powers which prevent landowners from blocking projects which benefit the wider community and the nation as a whole. These surveys are both routine and necessary across the UK, including on National Trust land,” said Lynn Calder, commercial director of Ineos Shale.
“The National Trust’s position is very disappointing as we have had positive relationships with a range of stakeholders and landowners during surveys,” Calder said.
“We have addressed a variety of stakeholder concerns in the past and are sorry the National Trust wouldn’t even have discussions with us in this case owing to a political objection to shale gas.”
The Trust denies that its opposition to shale gas is political.
With the threat of a lawsuit looming, in late 2017 Clumber Park’s general manager, Beth Dawson, wrote to Ineos saying the Trust “is not motivated by politics and has no desire to become a campaigning group. We are a conservation charity, funded by our supporters, to look after beautiful places for the nation, forever. We cannot prevent you from taking legal action, but I do also believe that you are reasonable people who recognize how much we as a nation love our countryside and heritage.”
According to Ineos, losing the case could cost the charity “hundreds of thousands of pounds.” If the surveys showed there was sufficient gas, Calder said, the UK company could go back to court to force the charity to allow it access to drill and extract the gas. Alternatively, she said, the company could drill sideways under the estate from a site just outside it – a scenario about which some legal experts are skeptical.
A spokesman for the Trust told the newspaper The Times: “We believe Ineos has not yet followed the proper planning process, which would involve them fully considering the potential environmental impacts.
“In our view, he added. “Ineos hasn’t demonstrated why it is necessary to carry out any surveys here or address our other reasons for refusing to grant access. “We have no wish for our land to play any part in extracting gas or oil. We are already seeing the impacts of climate change at many of our places.”