Saturday, 20 September 2014

Write to your councillor re potential fracking threat to Hull area water

Dear Councillor

Re: Rathlin Energy Application to ERYC. Ref 14/02622/STVARR

The current public consultation - which ends on 11th September 2014 - invites opinion on whether or not to allow a further 24 months for Rathlin to complete operations at Crawberry Hill, near Walkington.

I am concerned that –

· There is a significant risk to the Chalk aquifer below the site. This aquifer supplies all water to Hull (below).

· No assessment of any pollution threat has occurred, despite Rathlin seeking to double its permissions for the site from 2 to 4 years. Pollution of this aquifer would have a huge impact on residents and businesses in Hull and could take years to clean up.

· Continued, unchallenged permissions to explore for oil and gas in the East Riding will set dangerous precedents for the thousands of wells being planned across the region.

· Fracking, on land, is highly unregulated and an unproven industry.

· Fracking has health implications.

· There has been no formal submission from Hull City Council on any of these matters to date.

I call on you to raise the following concerns with ERYC formally:

· To note that the underlying Chalk aquifer supplies all the water to Hull residents and businesses.

· That they confirm that Rathlin is indeed asking for two more years of site permission.

· That the requirement of an Environmental Impact Assessment be enforced given the High Court submission putting the site over 1 hectare, thus making it a legal requirement.

· That the EIA should be conducted on a number of other grounds, viz. Schedule 3 Selection Criteria, especially given documented groundwater breaches of planning permission, existing levels of pollution, the risk of accidents highlighted by well problems at West Newton and the proximity to the densely populated areas in and surrounding Hull.

· How does Rathlin’s proposal fit with our UN IPCC commitment to a lower carbon economy?

· If exploration is successful, what then does Rathlin Energy plan, especially by way of prior consultation?

· What is the status of Rathlin’s right to lease the Crawberry Hill site for up to 50 years as revealed in the High Court on July 9?

· What procedures are Rathlin using to safeguard the Chalk aquifer from contamination?

· The Hydrogeological Risk Assessment is inadequate as it fails to mention the Blackpool experience of earthquakes and release of contaminated water.

· That the HRA admit the possibility, and assess the probability of contamination of the aquifer, and note how this may extend over 50 years, as referred to in Court.

· To call for the company to explain why the focus of the HRA is limited to a 2km radius.

· For the HRA to include analysis of the special protection areas for sources pertaining to the aquifer.

· To press for some reveal of the range of industrial chemicals being used, even if only to a limited number of officials, respecting business confidentiality.

I include references below for fuller information.

Yours sincerely,


Climate Change

The latest IPCC report from the UN states that 80% of current known fossil fuels must remain unused if we are to avoid reaching a tipping point where global temperature rises trigger substantial sea-level rises. Hull has experienced increasing risk from flooding in recent years and this year Hull and the East Riding have experienced local flooding from severe rainfall events. Do you not agree that opening up new fossil fuel exploitation flies in the face of an urgent need to move to a lower carbon economy?

Lack of response by Hull City Council

No response was made to the original planning application for exploratory drilling at Crawberry Hill and West Newton by Hull City Council. However, Hull City Council should have objected to these proposals because of the risks to water and so to residents and businesses in the city.

The American experience has thrown up any number of problems, from dozens of towns literally running out of water, to headaches from contaminated water and to more severe medical conditions traceable to fracking.

What is currently temporary could become ‘permanent’.

In both applications, it is explained that exploratory drilling “is [a] temporary proposal of short duration.” (5.1.1. p20. See also pp 19,22,23,26,28.)

However, in their conclusion, Rathlin also state,

“Rathlin Energy is proposing to vary condition 2 of the planning consent for the Crawberry Hill wellsite to allow for a further 24 months to complete the site activities as detailed in the original planning application. This will allow the Applicant to gain a further understanding on the characteristics of the reservoir and evaluate its potential as a commercial prospect.”(6. Conclusion p34)

Residents of both areas, and of Hull whose water is threatened, deserve to know how temporary this wellsite is or isn’t, and how long the threat to the aquifer will remain, as well as other disruptions.

50 year threat

Moreover, and revealed nowhere else to date, is Rathlin’s right to lease Crawberry Hill and West Newton sites for up to 50 years. This was revealed in the High Court of Chancery on the 9th July 2014. This implies a much more significant proposal requiring a completely different level of prior community consultation before any planning considerations. Rathlin should have informed and consulted all local residents, including Hull City Council, before putting in this new application.

Hydrogeological Risk Assessment

As you will be aware, and as confirmed in a report by the British Geological Survey this year, half of all UK drinking water aquifers lie beneath areas already licenced by Government for fracking.

In the Hydrogeological Risk Assessment (HRA) commissioned by Rathlin, the sensitivity and extent of the risk to water supply is acknowledged.

“The site is underlain by a Principal Aquifer, the Chalk. This aquifer is extensively used for water supply in England. The public water supply for the region including the conurbation of Hull water is entirely derived from this Chalk aquifer. Yorkshire Water is licensed to abstract 65Ml/d from sources in the Cottingham and Berevely (sic) area. Groundwater abstraction in the area is potentially close to the sustainable limit at low-flow periods Smedley et al (2004).” (URS report for Rathlin Dec 2011 3.4.1 p15)

Two diagrams confirm that the well site is on the catchment area supplying pumping stations at Springhead, Keldgate, Cottingham and Dunswell (URS Fig.11 p22) and that it is also on a Major Aquifer of High Vulnerability (URS Fig.12 p23)

The HRA covers only a limited 2km radius. There is no explanation why.

In addition, the HRA makes no reference to a major relevant report “The Chalk aquifer of Yorkshire” (Gale and Rutter, British Geological Survey 2006).

The HRA does not acknowledge the significance of the well-publicised incident at Preese Hall, Blackpool in 2011, when drilling and hydraulic fracturing in the Bowland Shale triggered earthquakes and released contaminated water.

Pumping stations take 14% of the water from the aquifer. Springs feed another 55% of aquifer water into the River Hull which also provides water supply for the East Riding and Hull. (Gale and Rutter, p.49)

They also refer to water source protection,

“A series of special protection areas exist for individual sources, in which various polluting activities are either prohibited or strictly controlled. Such activities include:

· Physical disturbance of aquifers/groundwater flow

· Diffuse pollution of groundwater

· Additional activities or developments which pose a threat to groundwater quality.”

The proposal to continue testing, by use of a “mini-frac” in the Bowland Shale together with recent well problems experienced at Rathlin’s similar West Newton site after a “mini-frac”, suggest that residents across the East Riding and Hull could be affected by pollution of their water supply.

This is a material consideration for residents of the whole area and for businesses, including many in Hull, which extract 45 Million litres / day from the aquifer.

ERYC: Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) “not required”

Water supply issues are also grounds for consideration of an Environmental Impact Assessment.

The Crawberry Site is reported to be less than 1 hectare, the area which would require an Environmental Impact Assessment. However, this is questionable. In his signed statement for the High Court eviction order, Tom Selkirk, Country Manager for Rathlin, stated,

“Rathlin has a 2.5 acre site being land at Knights Garth Frarm, Callas, Bishop Burton in the East Riding of Yorkshire known as Crawberry Hill.” (Claim HC/4602820 22/07/2014) 2.5 acres are 1.01 hectares – thus requiring an EIA.

Moreover, Schedule 3 Selection Criteria for screening EIA decisions, identifies the following characteristics which must be considered:

c. the use of natural resources;

e. pollution and nuisances;

f. the risk of accidents.

It goes on to highlight the environmental sensitivity of a geographical area likely to be affected by development must be considered, having regard, in particular, to –

a. the existing land use;

b. the relative abundance, quality and regenerative capacity of natural resources in the area;

c. the absorption capacity of the natural environment, paying particular attention to the following areas-

(vii) densely populated areas.

Given the importance of the aquifer for the East Riding and Hull, documented groundwater breaches of planning permission, the existing levels of pollution, the risk of accidents highlighted by well problems at West Newton and the proximity to the densely populated areas in and surrounding Hull one would reasonably expect an EIA to be required.

It is therefore shocking to read that the East Riding of Yorkshire Council, “determined that an environmental impact assessment was not required.” (14/02622/STVAR para 3.3 page 16)

The ERYC Development Plan and the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)

Rathlin’s current application is largely a description of the national and local planning policy framework. The emphasis is on the economic benefits of indigenous oil and gas production for future wealth and security while preserving the environment.

“An environmental role – contributing to protecting and enhancing our natural, built and historic environment; and, as part of this helping to improve biodiversity, use natural resources prudently, minimise waste and pollution, and mitigate and adapt to climate change including moving to a low carbon economy.” (5.1.1 p18)

It goes on to describe how this might be done:

“Protecting and enhancing valued landscapes…”

“Preventing both new and existing development from contributing to or being put at unacceptable risk from, or being adversely affected by unacceptable levels of soil, air, water or noise pollution…..” (Page 18)

On p19 measures to protect the environment and avoid harm to the aquifer are described but above all;

“The development approved is temporary in nature and of short duration.”

There is a similar contrast between assertion and reality in Rathlin’s reference to their compliance with the Hull and East Riding Joint Waste/Minerals Plan (pp 21-25).

“This development is temporary and of short duration….”(p23)

The Joint Structure Plan for Kingston Upon Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire is considered on pp25-26.

Rathlin asserts they have ensured no adverse effects on a Local Wildlife Site only 100 metres from the site. They acknowledge the Plan’s emphasis on the need to protect the distinctive character of the Yorkshire Wolds and the site location within the area. Rathlin seeks to reassure,

“The development is temporary and will be completed in a short period of time; it will subsequently be restored to its pre-existing condition, thereby ensuring any effects are temporary.” (p26)

How long will this “short period of time” be when Rathlin have already failed to complete in two years and are now asking for a further two years?

All of this reassurance is stated with fingers and everything else crossed on behalf of Rathlin which has already spent over £7 million at each of the East Riding sites.

Prospecting for fracking

The proposals are only temporary if no commercial oil, gas or shale gas is proved.

If Rathlin prove oil, gas or shale gas within the extra 24 months requested to complete a second drilling (max. 10 weeks in the original report) and an extended well test (up to 90 days in original report) they will stop work, apply for planning permission to build a production site at Crawberry Hill on top of the Chalk aquifer and exploit the site for up to 50 years.

Having given “temporary” planning permission once, East Riding of Yorkshire Council will be stretching credibility if they allow another “temporary” permission which will give Rathlin four years instead of the three they initially wanted. This will pave the way for the first two oil and gas production sites in the most rural parts of the East Riding, one of them on top of the aquifer supplying water to Hull.

A more straightforward approach, from the outset, would have been for Rathlin and ERYC to entitle the original application –

“Application for Construction of a temporary drilling site with associated access, to drill an appraisal borehole for the purposes of mineral exploration (petroleum) as a preliminary to the possible construction of a permanent petroleum production facility at Crawberry Hill … subject to the outcome of exploration and the submission of a second Planning Application.”

This honest approach would have transformed the consultation process and would have undoubtedly allowed members of the ERYC Planning Committee to assess the full implications before reaching their decision.

It would certainly have required a full Environmental Impact Assessment and this in turn would have required consultation with Hull City Council.

Throughout the planning and operation of their explorations in the East Riding Rathlin have categorically denied they are involved in unconventional, high volume hydraulic fracturing to extract shale gas – a process known as fracking.

However they are prospecting in the Bowland Shale at a depth of over 2700 metres and the only way to extract shale gas is by fracking.

There is a rapidly growing body of medical and environmental evidence to show that fracking can have long-term consequences for water and air quality with subsequent serious health impacts. France and Germany, among others, have placed moratoriums on fracking and several English Local Authorities have adopted a ban on fracking. Experience in the East Riding shows that the current regulatory regime is inadequate.

Therefore you are urged to consider how Hull City Council could debate a ban on fracking.

Please now consider how best to represent the concerns of Hull residents and employers regarding Rathlin’s application for another 2 years of exploration at Crawberry Hill as a preliminary to full scale oil and gas production in the East Riding.