Derbyshire Planning Committee Rejects Fracking

06.02.2018 -

At a more than four-hour meeting on Feb. 5, the planning committee of the Derbyshire County Council in northeast England voted to deny permission for Ineos to carry out pre-fracking tests in Bramleymoor Lane in the village of Marsh Lane, near Eckington.

The decision is only symbolic, however, as Ineos has already taken its case to a higher instance, the national Planning Inspectorate. The Swiss-based group asserts that the council has taken too long to make a decision on its plans to erect a 60-meter rig and drill around 2,400 meters below ground to investigate the suitability of the rock for fracking.

In late January, the council said it was disinclined to consider a repeat application by the chemical producer, which has branched out into gas. The council said Ineos had submitted its first application in May 2017 but in December, before the county’s governing body had found time to deal with it, submitted a second application before appealing to the higher instance.

It will now fall to the Planning Inspectorate to make the final decision, following a public inquiry starting Jun.19. Despite widespread grassroots opposition, the chances to prevent shale gas exploration look fragile, as despite the Feb.5 vote, local authorities appear divided.

While the head of planning services at the Derbyshire council said he was "satisfied" that the proposals “would not be unacceptable," the chairman of Eckington Parish Council said Ineos will bring no jobs locally and also will contribute nothing to the national coffers.

At the meeting, a number of local residents and property owners spoke out against shale gas exploration. No one from Ineos spoke.

Meanwhile in Yorkshire, where seven companies have been granted licenses for shale gas exploration, test drills due to start imminently outside the village of Kirby Misperton – as soon as the company involved, Third Energy, has its financial accounts signed off by the government. This would be the first test drill since an investigation in 2011 found it “highly probable” shale gas test drilling by another firm, Cuadrilla, had triggered earth tremors in Lancashire.

In Yorkshire, too, there is considerable opposition to fracking, due not least to concerns about safety of conducting fracking in former coal-mining areas. Rother Valley MP Kevin Barron has written to the highest national instance, the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA), to inquire whether research has been commissioned into how the process of extracting shale gas hundreds of feet underground using a high-pressure water and chemical mixture on rocks will work in areas where there are believed to be abandoned coal mine workings under domestic dwellings.

The OGA said it has commissioned the British Geological Survey to assess the maximum depth and location of historic coal mines in South Yorkshire and the East Midlands using Coal Authority data, with the study not expected to be complete until April. An eight-day public inquiry on Ineos’ application to conduct test drills at Harthill starting on Apr. 24 is pending.

Barron said the OGA survey does not go far enough. While it locates the old mine workings, it does not assess the impact of fracking on them. "It will not be possible to review the information from the study in detail prior to the public inquiry, given the findings are not due until the same month,” he said.