This briefing is based on the following two documents, which you can download by clicking on the following links, and other sources, which are referenced below.
What are they planning to do?
There are basically three stages that gas companies need to go through to start commercial fracking – Exploration, Appraisal and Production.
Firstly, they need to drill down into the target geology – in Ryedale this means the Bowland shale – and take core samples of the rock, which Third Energy did at Kirby Misperton in 2013 (this is the Exploration stage). Then they need to do a flow test, sometimes called a mini-frac (this is the Appraisal stage). If this is successful, a fracking company would normally have to re-apply to start commercial production (this is the Production stage).
OK, so what exactly is a flow test?
Basically, a flow test, or mini-frac, is designed to measure the rate of gas flow from the rock when it is fracked. This would determine if fracking is going to be commercial viable for the company.
They are planning to frack five different zones of the rock, at a range of depths between 7,000-10,000 feet below ground level. The reason for testing five different depths is that the rock under Kirby Misperton consists of layers of sandstone and shale, and is not pure Bowland shale, as is found in other parts of the North of England.
According to Third Energy, the way they propose do to this is as follows:
So will this planning application only be for a mini-frac?
Not necessarily. It is unclear from Third Energy’s press release whether the application they are preparing is only for a flow-test, or if it would also include an application for commercial production from the well if the test is successful. The wording of the Press Release and Residents’ Brochure is rather vague on this.
On page 5 of the Residents’ Brochure, it says ‘If the flow test is successful, the well will be set up for ongoing production. The gas produced would be transported by the existing pipeline to Knapton and used to generate electricity.” This seems to imply that permission for production at that particular well will be included in the planning application, but could mean they will may seek permission to retain the well on site in anticipation of a production application.
According to Government Guidelines, “Applications are able to cover more than one phase of extraction. The operator will need to provide all relevant information, including environmental information, to support the full extent of the application.”
However, on page 3 of the Community Engagement Charter produced by UK Onshore Operators Group (UKOOG), it breaks down the planning process into the three stages mentioned above – Exploration, Appraisal and Production. The information in the Production stage states that “Once commerciality of the development has been determined, planning consent will then be sought for a full production site.” – which seems to imply that they will need to reapply for a production licence.
We are seeking clarification on whether they would need to put in a new application to start production and will report our findings as soon as we get them.
Do they need to do an Environmental Impact Assessment?
Yes, they do. These are the stages that they need to go through (taken from the Residents’ Brochure.
The first stage is preparing a pre-application Environmental Risk Assessment (ERA) which will be submitted to the Department of Energy and Climate Change for approval. The purpose of the DECC ERA is to capture all the potential impacts and risks at the start of the project which will use hydraulic fracturing. Our feeling is that this stage is fairly quick and unlikely to delay the application for very long, and they may well have done this already.
The second stage is to develop an Environmental Impact Assessment, which Third Energy will need to submit as part of their planning application. The Environmental Statement will require a wide range of individual studies including those on: Ecology; Landscape and Visual Amenity; Air Quality; Noise; Transport and Traffic; Flood Risk, Hydrology and Drainage; Archaeology and Cultural Heritage; Economics; and Ground Conditions and Contamination.
So what sort of timescale are we looking at?
This is uncertain. An Environmental Impact Assessment can take a few months to prepare, but they may have started this already. We need to be ready for planning applications at any time and will be monitoring the NYCC Online Planning Register daily to see if anything comes in.
A Third Energy spokesperson said on Radio York that they expected to put in the application in April, but given that they told Anne McIntosh that they had ‘no plans to frack’ earlier this year, we are taking that with a pinch of salt.
What’s this about £100,000?
Part of UKOOG’s Community Engagement Charter is that oil and gas companies will give the local community £100,000 for each well they frack in the area. Some might call this a community payment, others might call it a bribe to allow the company to frack on their doorstep. Quite how this money will be distributed, and who decides where and how it is spent, is not entirely clear, but we do know it will be administered by the UK Community Foundations organisation.
Do they need the local community’s approval to go ahead?
No, they don’t. They do need to have ‘consulted’ with the community, which is what they are doing with their brochures and forthcoming public meetings, but the village of Kirby Misperton don’t have a veto on the plans. Experiences in Lancashire show that even if they local people are strongly against the plans, the fracking company will continue regardless. We can expect the same here.
What’s your opinion of the Residents’ Brochure they sent out?
Please read our comments on our webpage called Residents’ Brochure – fact or fiction?