A new front in the ongoing battle between the shale gas industry and environmental campaigners is set to open in Yorkshire this year when one of the country’s biggest operators starts work which could pave the way for more fracking in the region.
The Yorkshire Post understands that Ineos, which carried out a seismic survey last year across nearly 100 square miles of Derbyshire and North Nottinghamshire as well as submitting planning applications for three wells, expects to do similar work in Yorkshire in 2018.
The firm is one of seven with a licence to carry out exploratory work in the region which could eventually result in fracking, the highly controversial technique to extract gas trapped underground in shale rock.
This includes Third Energy, which is waiting for approval from the Government to start fracking at its flagship site in Kirby Misperton but could carry out drilling work at a number of sites around North Yorkshire.
The firm was dealt a blow this week when Business Secretary Greg Clark announced he was delaying a decision on the matter after ordering an assessment into Third’s “financial resilience”.
In the first of a series of articles, this newspaper has scrutinised the proposals which could thrust Yorkshire into the centre of the fracking debate.
According to the head of the body which represents energy firms, the size and scale of shale gas operations across Yorkshire will depend on the events of the next few years, when operators carry out crucial tests to discover whether their sites are viable.
Those with the most advanced plans are Ineos and IGas, though rival firm Cuadrilla also has licences covering large swathes of North and East Yorkshire.
Three other energy companies – Egdon, Hutton and Warwick – were granted Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences (PEDL) covering parts of Yorkshire by the Government in 2015.
Ineos, a UK-based petrochemicals firm run by the billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, has been granted rights to explore in a large stretch of North Yorkshire between York and the North York Moors National Park.
It has already carried out a three-dimensional ‘seismic survey’ of the underground rock structure in a near 100 sq miles area of the East Midlands, to help it work out the best areas to drill for shale gas. In addition, planning applications have been submitted at two sites in Rotherham district, Harthill and Woodsetts, and Eckington in north-east Derbyshire, to establish so-called “listening wells” to test the characteristics of the local land.
The firm declined to go into detail about its plans for North Yorkshire, but confirmed that meetings had now been held with National Park chiefs as it confirms future surveys could held in the area.
The expectation that Ineos will start work in North Yorkshire has prompted anti-fracking campaigners to organise ‘information events’ about how the activities might affect local families.
Asked about the possible scale of fracking across the region, Ken Cronin, chief executive of industry body United Kingdom Onshore Oil and Gas, said: “A lot of it depends on the next few years, whether it is technically or economically possible to do.
“To move onto the production phase will depend on the results we get in the early years. It is at an early stage.”
Mr Cronin added: “We know there is a lot of gas there, it does look pretty exciting but until we do the work we have got to remain cautious.”
Anti-fracking campaigner Michelle Easton, a member of the Kirby Misperton Protection Camp, said: “The potential scale of fracking in Yorkshire and England as a whole is of the utmost concern to all involved in the frack-free movement. Our community consists of groups in every county, amounting to thousands of people monitoring the activity of companies and the allocation of fracking licences in their areas.
“As Ken Cronin expresses, this is a key time for the industry and in order to succeed they must prove economic viability on a massive scale.
“There is not one example globally of fracking being a marginal industry; it is always described as a boom, and always features radical industrialisation of wide areas of the landscape.”
The word ‘fracking’ was not mentioned in the Government’s industrial strategy last year, but a passage on shale gas says the emerging industry “offers the prospect of creating jobs, enhancing the competitiveness of downstream sectors and building up supply chains.”
Dr Alan Whitehead, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Energy and Climate Change, said the Government was continuing “to press ahead with fracking across Yorkshire against the wishes of local communities, despite the environmental risks and suggestions that the economic opportunities are considerably less than initially projected”.
He said: “The Tories continue to subsidise fracking whilst cutting support for renewable energy.
“Labour calls upon the government to stop fracking against the will of communities.
“Extracting yet more gas out of the ground makes little sense for the future of the environment, energy and climate change.”