On this page you’ll find all the key information, background and problems with the Ebberston Moor South planning application. We hope you find the information useful and informative.
The planning application
Third Energy UK Gas Limited and Moorland Energy Ltd have applied for:
Identical planning applications were registered with both the North York Moors National Park Authority (application No: NYM/2014/0587/EIA) and the North Yorkshire County Council (application No: NY/2014/0275/ENV), as the works would take place in both areas.
You can view the applications by clicking on the numbers above.
Is this an application to frack?
No, it isn’t. The companies say in their covering letter that “the proposed development does not involve drilling into shales”, and we acknowledge that they are not currently asking for permission to frack.
The basis of the application is for conventional gas production, which they intend to transport via the new pipeline to Knapton Power Station. They have asked for permission to extract 571 million cubic metres of gas over a 25-year period. This gas would be extracted from a layer of rock known as the Kirkham Abbey Formation (or KAF), which is where most of the gas already extracted in Ryedale and transported to Knapton comes from.
So if this is conventional gas production, why should we be worried?
The main cause for concern is the re-injection wells. Third Energy are asking for permission to drill a new borehole to re-inject the waste – or ‘produced’ – water, which comes up with the liquid gas, back in to the layer of rock that lies above the KAF, called the Sherwood Sandstone Aquifer. They are also asking for permission to re-inject waste water at the existing borehole at the Ebberston Moor South well site.
The company is therefore planning to re-inject up to 10.4 million cubic metres of contaminated water back into the Sherwood Sandstone layer over a 15-year period, or 1,900 cubic meters a day. This is equivalent to 4,160 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
In order to be allowed to do this, they have had to apply to the Environment Agency (EA) for a Radioactive Substances Activity (RSA) permit to allow them to re-inject the produced water. This is because waste water will be contaminated with a variety of hazardous chemicals from within the earth, some of which are radioactive in nature.
Don’t they already have permission to do all this?
Planning was granted for conventional gas production at Ebberston South in June 2012. The North York Moors Planning department originally turned down the request, but permission was granted on appeal. That proposal was for the well site, a gas processing plant at Thornton le Dale and pipelines, one for gas one for water to the gas processing plant. The company scrapped the plan for the gas processing plant in July this year, and now intends to pump the gas via a new pipeline directly to Knapton Generating Station, near Rillington.
In this original application, the water was to be stored and treated at the processing plant initially and then tanked away to third party processors. With their new proposal, there would be no treatment of the water and it would just be pumped back straight into the ground.
And what about the water re-injection well? Do they have permission for that?
They were granted a RSA permit by the Environment Agency in May 2014 for a waste water re-injection well at another well site at Ebberston Moor, called Ebberston A, which is 2½ miles north-east of Ebberston South. However, this was not without a great deal of controversy, as detailed in this article in the Independent on Sunday.
Notes of a meeting between Third Energy and the Environment Agency, disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal “the success of the Ebberston Moor Field is dependent on disposal of (produced) water to the Sherwood Sandstone”.
It is not clear why Third Energy have decided to move from the Ebberston A borehole and re-applied for a similar re-injection well at Ebberston South, but we are trying to find out.
Have they had to re-apply for the radioactive waste water disposal permit?
Yes, they have. An application was received by the Environment Agency (EA) on 15th September 2014 and objections must be received by 14th October. This document contains additional information not included in the planning application.
You can download the application using the links below. There are three documents: Part A, Part B and the EA’s terms and conditions (copyright, etc.). Please read these if you’re planning to repost or share this information. The PDF files are quite big, so don’t try this on a mobile phone!
“Contains Environment Agency information © Environment Agency and database right”
What problems could the re-injection well cause?
The main concern is that the radioactive waste water could find its way into our water supply. The re-injection wells would have to pass through the Corallian Limestone aquifer (a layer of water-bearing rock) that supplies drinking water to the surrounding area and as far afield as Scarborough.
The Ebberston South site is located within a Groundwater Source Protection Zone 2 for the Corallian Limestone aquifer, and lies within 250m of Inner Zone 1 of the same protection zone. These source protection zones are designed to protect this “highly sensitive” aquifer. It is also located above an aquifer that is of local importance as a source of raw water for treatment and domestic consumption. There are currently 16 separate extraction licences in the vicinity, according to the Environment Agency.
If they re-inject this radioactive waste water, how can they be 100% certain that it can’t get into the drinking water aquifers?
They can’t. The company argue that the local geology meant the risk of pollution of groundwater drinking water was “very low”. What exactly “very low” means in practice for such a dangerous practice is uncertain, and we feel that unless the risk of pollution is zero, it should not be allowed to happen.
There are also a number of inconsistencies in the report. They argue that “Approximately 700m of low permeability formations provide a vertical separation between the point of injection and the nearest groundwater supplies.” Which means, in plain English, that they don’t think the radioactive water can migrate upwards because there’s an unbroken thick layer of rock between the Sandstone – where the radioactive waste water is to be injected – and the aquifers, which contain our drinking water.
However, in another part of the current application, their consultants, Barton Willimore, state that “drilling in the Ebberston area is more difficult than in many other areas due to faulting and associated extensively fractured rocks”. If so, these geological faults around the area of the drill site could allow the water to move upwards from the Sandstone layer to the aquifers nearer the surface, contradicting the previous statement.
Also, in the EA application they argue that the waste water won’t migrate horizontally to contaminate the feather edge of the Sandstone, which is 35 km away and serves as supply of drinking water for surrounding areas. This, they say, is because “significant geological faulting between the injection poínt and the outcrop area will limit lateral movement.”
So they seem to be saying that it won’t migrate upwards to the nearest aquifer as it would need to pass through a thick layer of rock without any geological faults in it, and it won’t migrate sideways because the ‘significant geological faulting’ would prevent it from doing so. It would seem that they can’t have it both ways.
Given that it seems likely there were problems at their Ebberston A well site, and the company itself accept that it is a difficult area to drill in because of “extensively fractured rocks”, this must surely increase the likelihood of contamination if they go ahead with re-injecting the water back into the ground.
And what about the borehole itself? Couldn’t that be a source of contamination?
Good point, and that’s something Third Energy also acknowledge. In their applications they state that “the only plausible risk of contamination of water supplies would relate to inadequate construction of the injection well, resulting in groundwater contamination”. Unless Third Energy have created an injection well whose casing has an indefinite lifespan, it will ultimately crack or rupture, as all wells do over time, releasing its contents into local drinking water supplies.
As such, this aspect of the application is in direct contravention of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and the NYMP Local Development Framework.
Indeed, documents released under a Freedom of Information Act request relating to the first RSA application reveal that the Environment Agency was told by Yorkshire Water the “activity may directly affect their asset” – i.e. the Corallian Limestone aquifer that provides drinking water for the local community.
If Yorkshire Water are worried, we should all be worried too.
Has this re-injection technique been used before in the UK?
As far as we know, this technique of re-injecting produced waste water into a different strata has not been used before on the UK mainland. We believe that this is new and untested technology in this country, which is known to have a much more complex strata system than other places such as the USA, and we feel that the National Park should not be used as a testing ground for unproven technology.
What is even more surprising is that the water that comes up out of the ground would not be treated in any way before re-injection, which would appear to be standard procedure in other countries.
Furthermore, studies in the USA indicate that waste water re-injection is a major cause of earthquakes. Take Oklahoma, for example. In Oklahoma they used to have an average of 2 earthquakes per year of more than 3.0 magnitute. This was before full-scale fracking started in about 2008. In 2014 there have aleaady been 253 earthquakes. Scientists are pointing the finger at water re-injection as being the main cause of this astonishing increase. You can read the full story here.
So why do Third Energy want to re-inject the waste water?
Put simply, it’s the cheapest way to get rid of it. Third Energy claimed in their original application that this is the Best Available Technology (BAT), even though other ways of disposing the waste water (such as cleaning it on-site or transporting it elsewhere) are never compared or discussed, and this technology appears not to have been used in conventional gas production in the UK before.
This claim was also controversial in the first application or a RSA permit, where an email from the Environment Agency asked “why Best Available Technology (BAT) isn’t being proposed?”. In response, Third Energy argued the water must be re-injected to comply with its licence whereby the Government “requires petroleum licence holders to maximise economic recovery of oil and gas”.
So, what they’re saying, in effect, is that they have to pump the contaminated water back into the ground as that’s the best (and perhaps the only) way they can make money out of the project – not that it is the safest or best available environmental option.
So how can they claim that re-injecting radioactive waste water is safe?
In order to justify this procedure, Third Energy have relied almost exclusively on a ‘conceptual model’, using third party information and water analysis from Kirby Misperton, which is about nine miles away. No recent geological or water testing appears to have been carried out at the Ebberston South site in order to assess the risks of produced water disposal in connection with this application.
As previously mentioned, the company’s conceptual model produces a system with no upward transfer of water owing to poor permeability between the layers of the Earth (which has not been tested). Furthermore, Third Energy have not included any Mitigation Enhancement Measures in the event of aquifer contamination, other than to state that “geology of site naturally controls risk”. This, we feel, is not 100% certain by any means.
However, even if this were true under ‘normal conditions’, how permeable these layers of rock might become when 10.4 million cubic litres of produced water is forced into them under pressure is anyone’s guess. If the sandstone layer can’t take the pressure or quantity of injected water, there is a possibility that this will fracture the rock, releasing contaminated water into other strata, and eventually up into the aquifers we rely on for our drinking water.
We are also concerned that for the first application for radioactive water disposal permits, the Environment Agency appeared to simply accept the company’s own conceptual model without question and failed to do any independent checking or analysis, which would seem essential for such an operation, particularly in a sensitive area such as a National Park. This appears to be the case in the new EA radioactive water permit application too. Surely we should expect the Environment Agency to do its own independent research into this, not take the word of the company that is intending to maximise its profits by using this untested technique?
OK, I see why you’re worried. But how does this relate to fracking?
If fracking is to become economically viable in Ryedale and elsewhere in the UK, the companies will have to find a way to get rid of the millions of gallons of contaminated waste water that the process produces. It’s also worth noting that waste fracking water is considered far more dangerous to human health than the water produced from conventional gas production, as a large number of toxic chemicals are added to the water before they inject it into the ground under high pressure to fracture the rock.
We feel that if a water re-injection well is allowed at Ebberston Moor, it could set a precedent for further applications for more water re-injection wells related to fracking in the future. This would threaten drinking water supplies over the whole area and indeed the whole country.
This is what is happening in the USA already, as this chilling article in the Daily Mail describes in detail. In the article, Mario Salazar, an engineer wo has worked for 25 years as a technical expert with the US Environment Protection Agency’s underground injection programme in Washington, states that: “In 10 to 100 years we are going to find out that most of our groundwater is polluted. A lot of people are going to get sick, and a lot of people may die.”
We contend that re-injecting contaminated water back into the ground can never be considered 100% safe, and that the Environment Agency should use the precautionary principle where our drinking water supplies are concerned. We therefore vigorously oppose all re-injection wells related to conventional and non-conventional gas production, particularly those that are proposed with National Parks or other environmentally sensitive areas.
We are also concerned about the sheer quantity of water that is proposed for re-injection. Although Third Energy are applying to re-inject 10.4 million cubic metres into the ground, they do not explain how they have reached that figure. But however you look at it, this is a lot of water! Would it all come from the Ebberston Moor site, or is the company using an elevated figure so that it can truck in contaminated water from future fracking sites in Ryedale (such as Kirby Misperton) in the future?
But aren’t National Parks protected from fracking anyway?
No, they aren’t. Although the Government announced on 28th July that fracking will only be allowed in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in “exceptional circumstances”, they have yet to define what these circumstances might be.
However, Third Energy’s own planning consultants state that this gas reserve ‘is not of national significance’ so it is hard to see how developing this gas field qualifies as ‘exceptional circumstances’.
Ominously, the announcement also stated that fracking would still be allowed in these areas if they were deemed to be “in the national interest” – again with no clarification on how this would be defined. Given that the current government is of the opinion that all fracking is “in the national interest”, this feels like National Parks (and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty like the Howardian Hills) are not actually protected at all.
What other things about the Ebberston Moor application are you worried about?
Other issues that are of concern, apart from the re-injection well, are as follows:
It’s a nationally protected area: As well as the drill site being within the boundaries of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park, it is immediately bounded to the south by an Area of High Landscape Value, as defined by the existing Ryedale Local Plan. We contend that all National Parks should be free from any such development and remain free of industrial works of any kind. That’s why they’re called National Parks!
Noise and light pollution, and its effect on wildlife: To drill the boreholes, the company would be drilling 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for three months, which will create unacceptable noise, and light pollution at night. This would have a very damaging effect on native wildlife, particularly nesting birds such as nightjars, and should in particular not be undertaken during the nesting seasons. Furthermore, species known to live in the nearby woods, such as bats and badgers, will be adversely affected as they hunt at night. The pipeline to Knapton also crosses the River Derwent, which contains otters and water voles, both of which are protected species.
Damaging affect on tourism: These works are in close proximity to Dalby Forest, which is one of the main tourist attractions in the National Park. The increase in traffic, noise and general disruption, particularly during the construction phase of the project, will have a damaging effect on tourism in the area. The application also requires moving a public footpath, which is also part of the popular Moors to Sea Cycle Network. The disruption during the construction of the works, and during the production process, will adversely affect tourism in the area and the reputation of the National Park as a peaceful place to visit.
Archaeological considerations: The proposed works, in particular the pipeline to Knapton, are to take place in the same area as an archaeologically important earthwork remains of the prehistoric period. Many of these features, in particular the dyke systems and groups of burial mounds, are designated as nationally important Scheduled Monuments, and may be damaged or destroyed during the pipeline production. We note that English Heritage are unhappy with the consideration given to these important features of our history and have called for the application to be deferred to allow time for the lack of detail on how these will be preserved to be address.
A dangerous precedent: If this type of gas development, particularly the re-injection wells, are allowed in a National Park, it will set a dangerous precedent for future applications for re-injection wells in the North York Moors National Park and elsewhere in the UK, possibly hastening the arrival of the environmentally destructive process known as fracking.
Carbon emissions: The development of new gas fields such as Ebberston Moor is incompatible with the government’s legal obligation to ensure that the net UK carbon account for the year 2050 is at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline. According to the National Planning Policy Framework 2012, the planning system “has a key role to play in helping shape places to secure radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions“.
A final thought …
The home page of the North York Moors website describes the National Park as “a special place, forged by nature, shaped over generations – where peace and beauty rub shoulders with a rich history and a warm welcome.” Let’s help keep it that way.