There are two applications for permits at the Environment Agency (EA) for waste-water re-injections wells that are open for comments. One is at Ebberston Moor South, the other is at Pickering. This page is designed to help people make clear and material objections to both of these applications.
OK. Let’s deal with Ebberston first. Fill me in on the background.
Last year Third Energy applied for conventional gas production at their Ebberston Moor South website, which is in the North York Moors National Park. This application includes establishing two re-injection wells, which would re-inject the waste water that comes up with the gas back into the ground. The gas would be taken from a strata of rock called the Kirkham Abbey Formation, and the waste water would be re-injected back into the strata above, called the Sherwood Sandstone layer. If you want more detailed background information, go to our Ebberston Briefing page.
So is this fracking?
No it isn’t. It’s conventional gas production and there is no high-pressure injection of frack fluid (a mixture of water, sand and chemicals).
If it’s not fracking, what are you worried about?
We are concerned about a number of things, mainly centred around the use of re-injection to dispose of the waste water.
Firstly, this waste water is going to be toxic, due to radioactive NORMs (Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials) being brought up from the ground in the waste water. The water will also be heavily saline and contain heavy metals and hydrocarbons, which are hazardous to the environment, wildlife and human health, and . This raises complex issues of environmental safety both above and below ground.
Third Energy want to re-inject about 2.3 billion gallons of this radioactive waste water back under the North York Moors National Parak, and we are concerned about the effect this might have on nearby water supplies, in particular the Corallian Aquifer, which supplies drinking water to Scarborough and surrounding areas. The two proposed re-injection wells would have to go through this aquifer, which could leave it vulnerable to contamination through migration of re-injected water or future well failure. Also, as the Corallian aquifer is very near the surface, it could also be vulnerable to contamination from groundwater spills soaking down through the ground into the aquifer.
There are also issues of seismicity to consider, as waste water re-injection has been shown in the USA to be a major cause of earthquakes in places like Oklahoma, now the earthquake capital of the States.
OK, so what’s this particular Environment Agency consultation about?
In order for Third Energy to begin the work, they need to obtain permits from the Environment Agency (EA). The EA consulted with the public on this back in October last year – many of you may have objected at the time – and they have now published what they call a ‘draft decision’ on this.
Where can I read about this application and the EA draft decision?
Go to this EA Ebberston South Consultation page. Here you can see a green box at the bottom with seven fairly weighty PDF documents you can download. Enjoy!
So what have the EA decided?
The EA are ‘minded to approve’ the permits at both the Ebberston and Pickering sites, subject to certain conditions.
What a surprise. Has the EA ever refused a permit to the oil and gas industry?
That’s an interesting point. However, they say this is not the final decision and their draft decision is open for another round of public consultations. And we believe that there are still some key points which have not been addressed.
What’s the deadline?
This draft decision is open for comment until 23.59 on Thursday 30th July. So you need to act now. Like, right now!
I’d like to take my time over my objection. Can you give me some guidance on what to say?
Please download this document and follow the guidelines included. This might take a few seconds, so be patient.
Ebberston and Pickering EA Consultations – suggested comments for objections
Er, I’m in a bit of a rush. How can I make an objection quickly?
Please go to the EA Ebberston South Consultation page and click on the Add Comments tab, which is just above the long green box, on the right. You then need to provide an email address, and we recommend you say yes in the next section, when you are asked if you want confidentiality.
Alternatively, you can email your comments as an email or as an attachment to: PSCpublicresponse@environment-agency.gov.uk
Put the following reference numbers in the subject lines:
Ebberston Moor – EPR/BB3699AW/A001
Pickering – EPR/BB3699EY/A001
Please start by including a few brief comments about who you are and your interest in this application.
For example, if you live in Yorkshire, say where you live and how important the North York Moors National Park is to you and your family.
If you live in Scarborough or surrounding areas, you could mention that the Corallian aquifer provides your drinking water and that no such operation should be allowed that would place this at any risk.
If you live somewhere else in the country, you may wish to mention that you visit, have visited, or are planning to visit the North York Moors National Park, and the importance of National Parks remaining protected places, rather than places for major developments such as these.
Then you can add some of the comments that we have prepared for you below. If you have time add or change them, that would be great. Note that most of these are appropriate for both Ebberston and Pickering well-site, apart from the last four. (For how to object to the Pickering well-site, see the short section that follows these suggested comments. Please do both!).
SUGGESTED COMMENTS FOR YOUR OBJECTION
I would like to object to this draft decision for the following reasons.
– The Environment Agency is claiming that the waste water from the process should be allowed to be re-injected into the Sherwood Sandstone layer because it is radioactive, and therefore excluded from the Waste Framework Directive. However, if the waste water wasn’t radioactive, it would not be allowed to be disposed of in this way, and would need to be trucked off-site. Shouldn’t radioactive waste be subject to the same – or higher – standards of management and disposal than non-radioactive waste?
– Disposal of waste in or under land is regulated under the Landfill Directive (1999/31). The planning application proposes that Ebberston Moor South is used for the purposes of disposing of waste water in land. It is therefore a landfill site, and should be regulated as such.
– Liquid waste may not be disposed of at this well-site because this is contrary to the Landfill Directive (Article 5(3)(a)). The produced water is not properly classified as radioactive waste, hence the Landfill Directive applies.
– Re-injection of waste water is only allowed ‘provided that the injection does not contain substances other than those resulting from the above operations’. However, the Applicants intend to inject water that contains two chemical additives, Coortreat and Glycol, which do not result from ‘operations for extraction of hydrocarbons’. It is therefore illegal to re-inject this water.
– The over-reliance on self-monitoring by the Applicant of most aspects of the application is extremely worrying. For example, relating to the re-injection pressure, the draft permit document states that ‘The operator is required to monitor the rate of discharge and report this to us annually.’ I am shocked that the re-injection pressure of the produced water is only monitored by the Applicant and is only reported to the EA once a year. An EA technician should be required to make inspections at least monthly and monitor the rate of discharge, independent of the operator.
– The site is situated above a major aquifer which supplies potable water the surrounding area. By drilling a well between groundwater and the target strata, Third Energy will create a pathway between the aquifer and the pollutants, in the event of poor well construction, well failure or a seismic event. The Agency cannot allow the use of this risky technology in such a sensitive area, particularly given its obligations under EU water legislation (see the Water Framework Directive (2000/60)) to protect groundwater (Article 4).
– The borehole and Sherwood Sandstone aquifer are a waste disposal facility. Why is there no requirement for long term post-closure environmental monitoring as there would be for landfill?
– There is currently no requirement for monitoring of radioactivity in groundwater or surface water environment, or monitoring of groundwater levels in the Corallian aquifer or formation pressure in the Sherwood Sandstone formation.
– There is considerable evidence (eg: from the United States) of the seismic risk posed by re-injection wells. A recent survey by the US Geological Society points to a dramatic increase in seismic activity across 10 states in the US following uptake of this disposal technique. Given the proximity of the sites to nearby fault lines, I am concerned about seismic risk in this area, particularly given proximity to groundwater.
– It appears that the EA have not undertaken any independent work analysing the potential cumulative impacts from these sites – as opposed to merely accepting the Applicants’ own analysis of this risk – in the draft decision and should not grant the permits until it has done so.
– There appears to be no requirement for ongoing monitoring or aftercare of the boreholes when they are decommissioned. The Landfill Directive states that the operator should be responsible for the maintenance, monitoring and control of the borehole ‘for as long as may be required by the competent authority’.
– We are concerned that by granting permits in this case, the EA will set a precedent which will green light the use of this risky and harmful technology across the country.
– EU environmental law requires organisations such as the EA to adopt a precautionary approach (see Article 191 TFEU). In this particular case, proximity to groundwater means that precaution is explicitly required through the requirements of the EU Water Framework Directive.
– [Ebberston only] The likely upward pressures from the Sherwood Sandstone to the Corallian aquifer are still not known, which means that there may always be an upward pressure forcing the waste water upwards through any weaknesses in the decommissioned borehole structure to the overlying drinking water aquifer. The Environment Agency should not grant a permit when such key elements of the groundwater conditions are unknown.
– [Ebberston only] There has been no opportunity for the public to scrutinise the environmental monitoring proposals, which will be submitted for approval to the EA after the permit is granted. These are a key factor in guaranteeing the environmental performance of the scheme, and should be open to public scrutiny and comment before any decision is made.
– [Ebberston only] The EA will be aware that the site is situated within the North Yorkshire Moors National Park. The National Park status protects both the scenic beauty and sensitive ecology of the designated area. It is not clear how the EA seeks to square these facts with the proposal to undertake this harmful technique in this locality which poses risks to groundwater and therefore to the surface.
– [Ebberston only] It is surprising that the permitting you are suggesting for Ebberston Moor South does not include a Planning Condition requiring the abandonment of the permit for similar waste water injection at the Applicants’ other site, Ebberston A, where 1,900 m3 is allowed to be re-injected. It is a minimum requirement of any permitting that the EA permits for Ebberston A be rescinded as a planning conditions.
Note yet. Please also object to the Pickering re-injection well decision too. You just have to do the same thing again. Go to the EA Pickering Consultation page. Click on the Comments tab. Then fill in the comments box with some of the comments listed above – apart from the last four, which relate only to the Ebberston application. You may wish to include different comments, or put them in the correct order.
Right, is that it?
For now. We will shortly be posting similar guidelines for commenting on the EA Consultation on the permits for the KM8 fracking application. Check back with us soon! And thanks for helping!