Energy firm Ineos refused to rule out fracking underneath the North York Moors during face-to-face meetings with national park officials, The Yorkshire Post has learned.
Documents obtained by environmental campaign group Greenpeace and seen by this newspaper show that North York Moors park authority officials only heard about Ineos’s apparent plans to drill horizontally for shale gas underneath the park when they read about it in a Sunday newspaper.
Correspondence shows the park authorities sought an urgent meeting with Ineos to question them about the plans after the article in December, as during a meeting two months earlier the firm only informed them of their intention “to carry out future exploration to obtain geological data”.
When the parties met again on January 12, an Ineos director is said to have told park officials that “at this stage the company cannot state that it will not seek to frack for shale gas under the North York Moors National Park”.
According to minutes of the meeting, national park officials asked Ineos to abandon its plans to potentially exploit the shale gas under the national park, but the firm refused its request not to carry out exploration work, claiming it had a legal obligation.
The information emerged as the director of planning at the North York Moors National Park Authority told The Yorkshire Post that fracking is “incompatible” with protected landscapes, which should be the very last targets for so-called lateral fracking.
The minutes and correspondence between national park officials and Ineos were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Unearthed, Greenpeace’s investigative news platform.
As reported previously by The Yorkshire Post, 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 North Yorkshire in 2018.
Ineos failed to be transparent and open with the park authorities about their fracking plans around the North York Moors.Greenpeace UK energy campaigner Nina Schrank
Ineos said there were no pending applicatios to drill in North Yorkshire but that shale extraction was proven to be safe. A spokesman said: “We have always been very clear that drilling will not take place within the boundary of a National Park but we can extract gas from beneath it without impact on the surface, the water and wildlife above.”
The firm is one of seven granted a licence by the Government to carry out exploratory work for shale gas in Yorkshire, though they will have to clear a number of hurdles before any drilling can take place.
While the National Park is protected within its borders, it is possible to drill sideways from sites on its boundaries. And in an article in the Sunday Times on December 30, Ineos operations director Tom Pickering said the firm “can frack underneath without impact on the surface above”.
The notes of the meeting on January 12 show that Ineos’s commercial director Lynne Calder said the company would be in the North York Moors area “quite prominently” in the future, but insisted there was “no imminent plan to put an application in”.
The firm outlined its exploration programme, which would start with four to six months of seismic surveys carried out by mobile mounted drills and trucks using ‘vibration plates’, which would travel in convoys of three.
A second phase would involve test drilling to obtain core samples at a number of well sites, which could then develop into ‘test fracking’. According to the meeting notes: “If all these surveys are successful the fourth phase would be to apply for shale gas production and development.”
Greenpeace UK energy campaigner Nina Schrank said: “Ineos failed to be transparent and open with the park authorities about their fracking plans around the North York Moors.
“This hugger-mugger approach is unacceptable from a company attempting to bring controversial fracking to one of Yorkshire’s most beautiful landscapes.
“If Ineos can’t tell a straight story about their plans, how can they be trusted when it comes to safety and environmental impacts?
“Fracking is unpopular, unproven and a risky gamble for Yorkshire’s future. This region has already become a national hub for the offshore wind industry, creating thousands of jobs and attracting millions in investment.
“If you look at the numbers, clean energy is a far safer bet for Yorkshire and the rest of the UK than fracking.
“If Theresa May wants to boost the economy while also protecting our countryside, she should ban fracking and give her government’s full backing to renewable energy.”
An Ineos spokesman said: “INEOS Shale believes in the proven safety of shale extraction. We have always been very clear that drilling will not take place within the boundary of a National Park but we can extract gas from beneath it without impact on the surface, the water and wildlife above.
“We have also been very clear with all parties that in support of this activity we would carry out a geological survey to obtain a detailed 3D picture of the geology 2-3 Km below the surface, before any decision would be made.
“Right now, there are no pending applications to drill test wells in North Yorkshire. Nevertheless, gas is an important national resource that we need today, to heat our homes and power our industry until renewables are capable of meeting societies needs, consistently.
“Domestic gas reserves could help secure the countries supply, post Brexit and bring with it jobs and tax revenue. Under its license agreements INEOS is required to obtain gas on behalf of the Government.
“Before this can happen we must carry out 3D imaging to better understand the geology. INEOS will continue to consult closely with both the local authority and local communities on any works that we plan to undertake before this can happen.”