AN anti-fracking clause gave a crumb of comfort to campaigners who saw their hopes dashed today of reining in gas exploration at a wellsite in East Yorkshire.
East Riding councillors voted unanimously this afternoon to give Rathlin Energy (UK) Ltd a further three years to explore reserves at West Newton A, at High Fosham, in Holderness.
As annoyed objectors got to their feet to protest, Rathlin’s chairman David Montagu-Smith and his group left by a side door. Earlier campaigners had complained at “outrageous” security, which included attendees at County Hall, Beverley, being subjected to pat down searches.
Councillors were urged to defer the decision for answers to concerns about the “obvious lack of capacity” from regulators including the council, to monitor and address breaches. Campaigner Jon Mager said oil and gas companies and council liked to emphasise the “heavy regulations” the industry had to conform to, but every licence breach by Rathlin “started with local residents or protectors in their camps - not the regulators.”
But councillors claimed they had “no alternative” but to allow the extension, with one saying he “couldn’t see what the fuss was all about.” However after an intervention by Lib Dem councillor Phil Davison, who questioned whether they had confidence in the Environment Agency to monitor Rathlin, an extra “no fracking” condition was added to the 16 on the list.
Afterwards David Blogg, from New Ellerby, near the site, complained that councillors were “blinkered” and said Rathlin had not stuck to rules and regulations. He said: “Last time they completely ignored the plan and they virtually closed the village down for a day to move equipment onto the site. You couldn’t have had more police in the place if someone had been murdered.”
Rathlin has said a successful project would strengthen oil and gas security for the UK as well as providing long-term investment. The firm already has planning permission for two wells at West Newton B nearby.
In a statement the company said: “We are pleased that the planning committee was minded unanimously to approve our planning application for an extension at West Newton A. The well we drilled there discovered natural gas. We believe this to be firm evidence of a potentially significant gas field in the Permian Kirkham Abbey formation. The approval today is an important step in our programme of operations to determine whether the gas discovery has commercial potential. We will continue to carry out our works in accordance with our permits.”