John Dewar: Why fracking in Yorkshire should go ahead

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Operations director of fracking company Third Energy insists public concerns are misplaced.

IN the summer of 1995, the Knapton Generating Station opened in Ryedale, generating electricity from gas produced out of wells in the local area. In the year before construction was approved, there was a massive protest campaign against the station. Objectors said it would ruin the local area, cause contamination, destroy local agriculture and tourism and harm people’s health.

Two decades on, the wells have produced around 30 billion cubic feet of gas and the station has produced over 2,000,000 MWh of electricity. The area is still beautiful, tourists still come, the farms still produce some of the best food in Britain, and local residents, far from running to their local GP with induced ailments, hardly notice any of Third Energy’s operations as they go about their daily business.

Yet when a company that has been part of the North Yorkshire community, operating safely and discreetly, says it wants to hydraulically fracture an existing well on a site that has had seven other wells on it, suddenly people think that Ryedale is to be turned into Dante’s tenth circle of Hell.

Instead of talking to a company that’s been a good neighbour for 20 years, instead of listening to UK-based experts such as Public Health England, the Royal Society, The Chartered Institute of Waste and Environmental Management or Keele, Bristol and Durham Universities, those who want to stop this development point to some poorly peer-reviewed studies they have pulled off the internet about activities in the US or Australia where the geology, history and regulation are significantly different to the UK.

And they selectively quote from those studies. For example, in the US, a five-year study of more than 38,000 oil and gas wells in the US by the Environmental Protection Agency found no evidence that hydraulic fracturing has “led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States”.

Similarly, a recent report by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, made up of representatives from Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland and the US government regulators, found no correlation between fracking and water impairment in the Marcellus region, one of the US’s main shale gas areas. Also a study led by Ohio State and Duke University found no evidence that any of the million hydraulically fractured wells carried out in the US had caused contamination.

Our development at Kirby Misperton was bound to receive greater scrutiny because of the techniques used and the high level of interest in them. And it is right that the planning authority checked that every last ‘t’ was crossed and ‘i’ dotted in seven thick volumes of our submission.

However, it is ironic that this development will involve less intensive operations and take less time than many of our other activities, which have gone on largely unnoticed.

In our planning application we have stated that the entire hydraulic fracturing project should take no more than six weeks from mobilisation to demobilisation.

There will only be five fracks and each will only last for around five hours and be conducted during daylight hours. A maximum of 4,000 cubic metres of water is planned for the total operation, less than the volume of two Olympic size swimming pools, all of which will be transported to the site by an underground pipeline.

The chemicals used in the fracking fluid, ones also found in food and household products, have been approved by the Environment Agency and are fully disclosed in the Environmental Assessment attached to the planning application. Thirteen baseline studies are being conducted and some new shallow boreholes are being planned to monitor water quality. As discussed with our local MP, we are quite happy to have independent analysis on key matters such as air and water quality.

Having operated in North Yorkshire for 20 years, we know that Yorkshire people are intelligent and will question us carefully. They know that this country needs its own sources of gas if we are not to have to rely on imports from places like Russia and Qatar. They know that gas development in Ryedale can secure jobs and bring new opportunities.

Most of all they know who we are, where they can find us, where they can ask questions. We have nothing to hide. All we want is for the facts to be presented so the planners, regulators and public can judge our application in an informed manner.

John Dewar is operations director of Third Energy which has applied for a licence to frack for gas at Kirby Misperton, near Malton in Ryedale.