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Nottinghamshire Minerals Plan – Issues & Options Consultation (to Jan 2018)

Comments are required by 14 January 2018. The consultation is asking what issues should be considered in this review of the Minerals Plan which will cover 2020 to 2036. (The previous consultation has been abandoned and they are starting again. Comments made previously will be ignored, but they can be resubmitted.)

This briefing note has been prepared to inform people’s responses to this consultation. It is not the considered response of Frack Free Notts. Please copy any responses to us.

Comments can be submitted:

The question relevant to the control of fracking in Nottinghamshire is:

Q24: Are you aware of any issues relating to hydrocarbon extraction that should be considered through the Minerals Local Plan review?

Some points to make relating to unconventional hydrocarbons:

  • Fracking is at odds with a legal requirement for Plan policies to reduce climate emissions (Planning & Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, s19(1A)).
  • A separate policy is needed for the special problems associated with unconventional hydrocarbons. During the time the Plan will be in force, if the likes of Ineos and IGas get their way, large parts of Notts could be turned into
    extensive gasfields – exploiting shale gas in Northern Notts and South Western Notts, and coal bed methane in Eastern Notts.
  • Risk of contamination of the Sherwood Sandstone Aquifer – a precautionary approach is necessary to protect groundwater and water courses.
  • Risk of earthquakes, compounding existing seismic risks from previous coalmining activities. (The biggest risk of earthquakes is to damage well linings and allow leakage of toxic fluids and gases.)
  • Industrialisation of the countryside – note Ineos’ briefing showing upto 420 wells in each 10km square licence area (30 wellpads with upto 14 horizontal wells from each wellpad http://frackfreeryedale.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/INEOS-online-ad-for-Seismic-Survey-Contractor-06.05.16.pdf). This will require extensive roadways, pipelines, etc as well as the wellpads.
  • It is the scale and intensity of fracking that requires a separate policy to protect Nottinghamshire’s people and environment from unconventional hydrocarbon development. Shale is not porous so the gas (and perhaps oil) that it contains does does not flow to the well – to drain an extensive area it is necessary for fracturing to create artificial porosity. This has to be done across an area not at a single location requiring the construction of many originating well pads each of which is associated with a great deal of surface activity and infrastructure.
  • Gasfield haze – with problems of ozone, BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene), diesel fumes including particulates and nitrogen dioxide.
  • Methane leakage is a major problem from oil and gas fields.
  • There will be damage to a number of employment sectors including farming and tourism – almost certainly more jobs will be lost than the few jobs that might be created in the fracking industry.
  • There should be a requirement of a minimum separation distance between any gas development and dwellings, businesses, watercourses, sensitive sites. 500m?
  • Large quantities of water will be required for fracking. Large quantities of toxic waste water will be generated, possibly contaminated with ‘naturally occurring radioactive material’. Both the source of such water and appropriate disposal facilities will need to be guaranteed – recognising the significant environmental harm that both will involve.
  • The planning authority has a responsibility to check that other regulators will be able to do their job. Planning Practice Guidance (Reference ID: 27-112-20140306) advises minerals planning authorities that “before granting planning permission they will need to be satisfied that these issues can or will be adequately addressed by taking the advice from the relevant regulatory body:
    • Mitigation of seismic risks…
    • Well design and construction…
    • Well integrity during operation…
    • Operation of surface equipment on the well pad…
    • Mining waste…
    • Chemical content of hydraulic fracturing fluid…
    • Flaring or venting…
    • Final off-site disposal of water…
    • Well decommissioning/abandonment…”
  • Planning conditions should be used to ensure these issues are adequately addressed, particularly to protect ground and surface water and to minimise the impact on the causes of climate change for the lifetime of the development.
  • Business risks involved in fracking are considerable. The planning authority should not assume that companies will be viable enough to take responsibility for any long term problems which may be caused, recognising that:
    • there has been difficulty all over the world for fracking companies making profits including in the USA and a history of losses and capital restructurings among the shale gas operators like IGas;
    • the capital costs of fracking/developing unconventional gas fields are high and many fracking companies are highly indebted – there being a doubt that they would be able to operate at all were it not for low interest rates/quantitative easing in the USA and the UK;
    • fracking companies in other countries have a way of dumping their financial problems onto the public purse; that there is a high likelihood that this would occur in the UK and Nottinghamshire too;
    • to avoid their responsibilities companies have been known to sell their remaining assets (and with them their responsibilities for cleaning up) onto smaller companies that then go bankrupt;
    • it should not be assumed that the size of companies is any guarantee of their solidity in the future – for example, although Ineos is a very big company its bonds are rated “Ba3/BB” – “which is a bond rate, which is generally considered speculative in nature and not considered to be investment-grade bonds suited for people wishing to avoid the risk of losing their principal.”

Some background information

The State of New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation considered the available information on potential environmental impacts of high-volume hydraulic fracturing and possible mitigation measures and concluded (in June
2015): “In the end, there are no feasible or prudent alternatives that would adequately avoid or minimize adverse environmental impacts and that address the scientific uncertainties and risks to public health from this activity. The Department’s chosen alternative to prohibit high-volume hydraulic fracturing is the best alternative based on
the balance between protection of the environment and public health and economic and social considerations.” (2015 SEQR Findings Statement, page 42: www.dec.ny.gov/energy/75370.html)

UK government policy and guidance on high-volume hydraulic fracturing is based on out of date research, such as the Royal Society/Royal Academy of Engineering review (July 2012) and a report by Public Health England (although this was published in June 2014 it was not significantly changed from a 2013 draft which was based on evidence available up to 2012). This ignores more than 80% of the peer reviewed scientific literature on the environmental and health
impacts of shale gas development which has been published since 2012: www.psehealthyenergy.org/our-work/shale-gas-research-library/

And only one out of 10 recommendations of the RS/RAE review had been implemented in full after 2 years:
http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(14)60888-6/fulltext

Definition of site boundary must include (in 3-D) the full extent of any horizontal drilling underground. (As required by Town & Country Planning Act 1990 s55(1) which defines “development” to include “… building, engineering, mining or
other operations in, on, over or under land …”)

The Water Framework Directive requires a precautionary approach, particularly to protect groundwater from all contamination (http://ec.europa.eu/environment/water/water-framework/info/intro_en.htm). Particular care will be required to protect Sherwood sandstone aquifers used for drinking water and agriculture, and particularly in the former coal mining areas  which are already subject to minor earthquakes.

Hydraulic fracturing increases the risk of inadvertent venting of methane (whichis a powerful greenhouse gas) contrary to the requirements of Planning & Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (s19(1A)) and the Plan’s own policy on climate
change. There is also a risk of venting carcinogenic gases such as benzene and toluene, as well as radon which is radioactive, which may be a direct threat to public health. A precautionary approach will therefore be taken to any
proposal which may involve hydraulic fracturing.

Regulatory failures include a failure by the Environment Agency to stop Cuadrilla dumping fracking wastewater from Preese Hall containing radioactivity into the Manchester Ship Canal. And Michael Hill, an engineer involved in
Cuadrilla fracking at Preese Hall, tells us that “the only well to have been fracked in the U.K. suffered an integrity failure that the HSE were not aware of for up to THREE years, suffered damage to the casing due to unpredicted
induced seismicity, caused by the fracking, which neither HSE nor the DECC were aware of for over 12 months, was never inspected once by the HSE for well integrity, which may or may not have leaked into the surrounding
formations (we do not know because the EA have not checked) and which has now been abandoned.”
http://media.wix.com/ugd/b0aabf_5902a55b06fd4338a56db38dd8687240.pdf

A review of evidence on regulation by Watterson & Dinan of Stirling University
(October 2016) concluded (http://www.regulatingscotland.org/report/frackingandregulation.pdf):

(1) the evidence base for robust regulation and good industry practice is currently absent. There are multiple serious challenges surrounding location, scale, monitoring and data deficits facing regulators
overseeing onshore UGE and fracking in the UK;
(2) the evidence from peer-reviewed papers suggests fracking in the UK will not be effectively regulated. It is highly likely that regulatory agencies may lack the staffing and resources necessary to monitor and enforce effective regulation of the industry;
(3) US and UK peer-reviewed analyses and EU law identify both the precautionary principle and prevention as keys to dealing with fracking. This is underpinned by findings from the peer-reviewed public health literature that already identifies significant hazards and major potential risks from the industry.

A number of countries have banned fracking or introduced moratoriums, including Scotland:
www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=11127&i=101486

Underground coal gasification should not be permitted. This technology has been tried in the 1950s in the UK – prompting questions in parliament about ‘noxious fumes over a wide area’: http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1955/nov/28/underground-gasification-experiments
More recently a pilot facility operated in Queensland Australia by Cougar Energy was shut down due to potentially carcinogenic pollution including benzene and toluene emissions. Another UCG facility operated by Linc Energy was found to have contaminated hundreds of square kilometres of agricultural land in South East Queensland: www.abc.net.au/news/2015-08-10/linc-energy-secret-report-reveals-toxic-chemical-risk/6681740
Gasification of coal is the process which used to be operated at gas works and coking works. In many cases the resulting contamination is still being cleared up. The Minerals Planning Authority will wish to ensure that underground gasification is not allowed to create new contamination.

The most comprehensive review of peer reviewed studies on the impacts of fracking has been produced by the Concerned Health Professionals of New York. The fourth edition dated November 2016 (http://concernedhealthny.org) lists the following emerging trends:

  1. Regulations are not capable of preventing harm
  2. Fracking threatens drinking water
  3. Emissions contribute to toxic air pollution and smog (ground-level ozone)
  4. Public health problems, including occupational health and safety, are increasingly well documented
  5. Natural gas is a bigger threat to the climate than previously believed
  6. Earthquakes are a consequence in many locations
  7. Fracking infrastructure poses serious potential exposure risks
  8. Exposure to ‘naturally occurring radioactive materials’ is a risk for both workers and residents
  9. Risks in California could be affecting food crops
  10. Economic instabilities of fracking further exacerbate public health risks
  11. Fracking raises issues of environmental justice
  12. Health care professionals are increasingly calling for bans or moratoria until the full range of potential health hazards from fracking are understood

Suggested Policy:

Planning permission for hydraulic fracturing or for shale gas, coal bed methane or tight oil operations (including test drilling and extraction) will not be granted unless:

  1. it has been demonstrated beyond all reasonable scientific doubt that any risk of adverse impacts has been eliminated;
  2. the proposal will not compromise the Council’s duties in relation to climate change mitigation; and
  3. it does not give rise to any unacceptable impacts on the environment or residential amenity.

Any application for hydraulic fracturing or for shale gas, coal bed methane or tight oil operations (including test drilling and extraction) must demonstrate by appropriate evidence and assessment that reasonable scientific doubt can be excluded as to adverse impacts of the proposed development alone or in combination with other land use activities:

  • on the quality and quantity of water resources, including groundwater and water courses;
  • on air quality (including through emissions of methane and sulphur);
  • on seismic activity;
  • on local communities;
  • on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
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