Ryedale – a history

What’s happening in Ryedale?

A 3D seismic survey was carried out in Ryedale by a company called TESLA, who were conducting the survey on behalf of a energy company called Third Energy.

The survey began at the beginning of June and lasted about two months. The work was carried out in the areas of Nunnington, Stonegrave, Brawby, Swinton, Hovingham, Slingsby, Terrington and Coulton, and included a large proportion of the Castle Howard estate.

Details of the survey were supplied to North Yorkshire County Council on 30th May (Planning application NY/2014/0162/PDN) as general or permitted development of an existing PEDL (Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence).This means that there was no public consultation on the survey and its implications, and this was not debated or approved by councillors themselves.

Why are they doing a survey?

The aim of the survey is to show the underlying rock strata in detail. It has already been established that Ryedale sits upon a large band of Bowland Shale rock, which stretches all the way across the north of England.

The survey planning application does not define what kind of extraction might follow any survey. Gas production could take the form of conventional gas wells, or fracking of shale rock to extract the methane gas trapped within it.


Why should we be worried?

Fracking has been taking place in other countries in the world for the last ten years, and the effects on local communities, businesses, farms, water supply, landscape, property prices and wildlife are deeply disturbing.

In areas in the USA, Canada and Australia where this process has been used intensively, there are hundreds of documented cases where fracking has polluted the natural environment, caused dangerous levels of air pollution and contaminated natural supplies of drinking water. This in turn has led to health problems for local populations, livestock and wildlife, as well as destroying the way of life of those living near noisy, dirty fracking sites and the enormous levels of HGV traffic needed to serve them.

We are therefore extremely concerned about adverse effects of gas production in Ryedale on our natural environment, health, safety, businesses, tourism, farms, livestock, property values and general well-being.

OK, so what’s likely to happen next in Ryedale?

Now that the survey has been completed, TESLA and Third Energy will need time to analyse the results and decide how to proceed. The most likely scenario is that they will then apply for planning permission for one or more exploratory wells in the area. In fact, it seems like this is already in the pipeline (so to speak) as ‘screening requests’ – which are precursors to planning applications – have already been made for test drill sites in Stonegrave and Terrington (keep reading to find out more).

Any application will need to be approved by North Yorkshire County Council. Part of the area under discussion is the Howardian Hills, which is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), which means that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) will need to be conducted if proposed developments lie within its boundaries.

If the exploratory wells are successful, the company will then need to apply for planning permission to install a large number of wells and related infastructure. If this application is passed, then full-scale fracking could begin in earnest in Ryedale.

Note that Ryedale District Council does not have the power to make any decisions on any planning applications of this type. They will be one of a number of consultees, and will be asked for their comments on planning applications so would have some influence on the decision. Other consultees might include organsiations such as Yorkshire Water, the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, Parish Councils and Frack Free Ryedale.

What sort of timescale are we talking about?

That’s difficult to say. It might take TESLA and Third Energy a couple of months to analyse the data and put in an application for exploratory wells – but this could happen at any time. We are monitoring the planning department at North Yorkshire County Council closely so that we can respond to any planning applications when they come in.

When a planning application has been made, we would have thirteen weeks to raise objections and influence the decision by North Yorkshire County Council if an Environmental Impact Assessment is required. For areas where an EIA is not required, the timescale would be only eight weeks.

But aren’t Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty protected by law?

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.

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. The Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, will have the power to ‘call in’ and veto plans.

What is clear, therefore, is that fracking can still take place in these areas and we do not feel we can rely on the government to protect Ryedale and the surrounding area.

Third Energy say that they have no plans to frack in Ryedale. Is this true?

We are sceptical about this claim, for various reasons. According to TESLA’s covering letter in the application, the survey ‘is aimed at defining the deep geological structural configuration’ of the area, which would include the shale rock – called Bowland Shale – that lies about 9,000 ft below the surface. This shale can only be exploited by fracking.

We accept that Third Energy are interested in other forms of extractable hydrocarbons in Ryedale, such as conventional gas, oil gas or oil. However, this does not mean they aren’t interested in fracking as well.

Third Energy have a government licence to search for shale gas and we would be extremely surprised if they are not interested in investigating the possibility. Interestingly, they are financed by Barclays Natural Resource Investments, which is part of Barclays Bank, and Third Energy’s chief financial officer, David Robottom, is also chairman of the UK Onshore Operators Group, which actively promotes fracking and other unconventional gas technologies in the UK.

However, what really makes us doubt Third Energy’s claims that they are not interested in fracking shale gas under Ryedale is what’s been going on at their site in Kirby Misperton.

OK, so what’s been happening in Kirby Misperton?

A subsidiary of Third Energy, Viking UK Gas Ltd, submitted a planning application in October 2012 to drill two new wells adjacent to their existing site at Kirby Misperton, near Pickering. This is part of a long-standing Ryedale conventional gas field, which has been in operation for more than a decade.

Cuadrilla rig drilling Third Energy's shale exploratory well at Kirby Misperton

Cuadrilla rig drilling Third Energy’s shale exploratory well at Kirby Misperton

However, there was more to this planning application than meets the eye. While the first well of the pair (which was drilled earlier this year) targets conventional gas at a depth of about 4,000 ft, the second well – referred to as Kirby Misperton Deep – was drilled to a depth of about 9,000 ft and had multiple targets, including the Bowland Shale that runs under the whole of the north of England.

The key document n is the Planning Statement, which is document No 4 on the Documents Tab of the above planning application. On p21 it states that ‘The dual targets of the KM-D (Deep) well to be evaluated are the Skipton Moor Grits (a Carboniferous turbidite sandstone) and the Bowland Shale (a deep water Carboniferous shale).

However, when asked about the aims of the Kirby Misperton Deep drilling rig – which they had hired from Cuadrilla – Third Energy said on numerous occasions that they weren’t interested in shale gas, and the drilling target was simply conventional gas. This was reported on the BBC, on Channel 4 and in the Yorkshire Post.

However, during the drilling the company repeatedly denied in the media that they were testing the Bowland shale, even though they had hired a Drillmec HH220 drilling rig from Cuadrilla, which is designed to do exactly that. When a NYCC Planning Compliance Officer, Amy Taylor, was sent in to investigate, she confirmed that they had drilled and cored the Bowland shale (see the highlighted section on this email.

That sounds a bit worrying…

Indeed. And soon after this revelation, David Robottom, Third Energy’s chief financial officer, was reported in the Daily Telegraph that if the test results at Kirby Misperton were encouraging, they would plan four more shale gas exploratory wells  “as soon as possible”.

This was quickly followed by a ‘screening request’ – which a precursor to a planning application aimed at establishing whether an Environmental Statment would be required – for two more exploratory wells that would explore the Bowland shale at approximately 3,500 metres.

And we also know that last year Viking UK Gas (a subsidiary of Third Energy) applied for screening requests for further exploration boreholes in Stonegrave and Terrington, both within the Howardian Hills AONB. The company was informed that they would need Environmental Statments at both sites.

Both of these applications would be for two boreholes. In the documentation for both applications, the depth of the first well is stated (5,199ft in Stonegrave, 2,000m in Terrington), which would be consistent with drilling for conventional gas deposits. However, the depth of the second borehole is not stated in the planning application and is ‘still under review’.

Furthermore, recent publication of the North Yorkshire County Council’s Minerals and Waste Plan confirms that Third Energy, Dart Energy and Egdon Resources are all lobbying the council to include for plans to extract shale gas in the next edition of the North Yorkshire Joint Minerals and Waste Plan.

So you can see why we are somewhat sceptical about any claims from Third Energy that they aren’t interested in fracking in Ryedale.

Hmm, I see what you mean. Have other companies drilled further than they should?

Rathlin Energy’s Crawberry Hill drilling site, where A Mini-Frac on the Bowland Shale is now proposed

Rathlin Energy’s Crawberry Hill drilling site, where A Mini-Frac on the Bowland Shale is now proposed

Yes, they have. Another case in point is the situation that is developing in south Yorkshire, near Hull. The Canadian energy company Rathlin Energy has drilled two wells at Crawberry Hill and at West Newton. While portrayed as purely conventional oil wells, both were drilled much deeper than the primary target, ending just below the bottom of the Bowland Shale (9,200 ft for Crawberry Hill and 10,500 ft for West Newton). This was followed by further planning applications for deeper test wells on each site, one of which is a ‘Mini-Frac’, which is designed to gather information to “determine whether the formation is capable of being hydraulically fractured”. This would then pave the way for fracking on both sites. There is more information on this here.

Sounds like fracking by stealth.

Indeed. And we have found numerous other examples of this ‘fracking by stealth’ approach from across the UK and Ireland. The step-by-step policy of establishing test drill sites on the basis that they are only exploring for conventional gas, then drilling further to test for shale gas, then putting in further (and in some cases retrospective) planning applications for deeper test drill sites that will lead to to fracking on an industrial scale, seems to be widespread.  For example, take a look at how it’s been done in Antrim, Northern Ireland.

There is also another big advantage for the energy companies if they take this ‘softly softly’ approach. Environmental Impact Assessments are not usually required for exploratory drilling for conventional gas (unless it’s in a National Park or AONB). This allows companies to establish a test well for conventional gas relatively easily.

Then, when they want to drill further down to test the shale rock in preparation for fracking, they can argue that the well and all the support equipment is already in place, and are therefore often not asked to produce an EIA for this secondary drilling by the county council. This was the case at Kirby Misperton, where an EIA was not asked for by North Yorkshire County Council for the drilling of the Deep well.

However, if an initial planning application asked for permission to drill a new well to the depths required to test for shale rock, it would be much more likely an EIA would be required. So, this fracking by stealth approach neatly sidesteps the need to pay for a lengthy and expensive Environmental Impact Assessment (which may well prevent any drilling happening at all), as well as allowing companies to mislead the public about their true intentions until it’s too late.

So what can we do to stop fracking by stealth happening here?

Firstly, we need to spread the word within Ryedale about what is happening and the threat that fracking by stealth poses to our countryside, water, livestock and way of life. So the first thing you can do is talk to your neighbours and friends and let them know what’s going on. Also ask them to visit this website and sign up for our newsletter so they can be kept informed.

Also, we need to organise ourselves within our community, so when planning applications are received we are in a strong position to mount an overwhelming campaign of public pressure to persuade the County Council to reject them. The situation on the ground is changing rapidly and we need to be ready when the time comes. There are lots of ways you can get involved and help stop fracking in Ryedale and beyond, which you can find in our How Can I Help? section of the website.

We will also be monitoring any planning applications from Third Energy as soon as they come in to North Yorkshire County Council, and will be keeping a very close eye on any future planning applications for boreholes at Stonegrave and Terrington – in particular the depth of the second borehole on each site. We will of course share any news of this with you as soon as we have it.

If these companies want to frack, can we really stop it from happening?

Yes, we can. Other local community groups in the UK have already prevented fracking in their areas by mounting successful campaigns that have resulted in County Councils refusing planning permission for drill sites. You can read more about these on our Campaign Successes page.

IMG_6022We are lucky enough to live in one of the most beautiful parts of the UK. We have a duty to protect this beautiful area and pass it on to our children undamaged. However, if fracking came to Ryedale, it would devastate the visual landscape and cause huge damage to wildlife and the natural environment– destruction that could never be restored.

Read more about how fracking or see how you can help stop this happening in Ryedale and the rest of the UK.