Officers at East Riding Council recommend approval for major oil and gas development months after declaring climate emergency

Officers at a Yorkshire council are recommending approval of a major onshore gas and oil development, months after declaring a climate emergency.

Aerial image of the West Newton A wellsite

Rathlin Energy (UK) Ltd said two years ago that the biggest gas and oil field in nearly 50 years may have been found at West Newton, eight miles from Hull..

The firm is seeking permission to drill up to six new wells for petroleum and start production from two boreholes already drilled on farmland near Sproatley. Despite around 1,000 objections, including from seven parish councils, officers from East Riding Council are recommending approval of the plans, which are due to go before councillors on Monday.

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If approved, it would allow production for 25 years with the company estimating the reservoirs hold 283m barrels of oil and 265.9bn cubic feet of gas.

In April the Government set in law “the world’s most ambitious” climate change target, cutting emissions by 78 per cent by 2035 compared to 1990 levels.

Major issues for opponents include pollution and safety concerns from trucking crude oil in thousands of tankers along narrow country lands. In his objection, ward councillor Jacob Birch said residents had worked with the developer for 10 years on the basis that the oil would be piped out, and the decision to truck it instead showed “total disregard” for the environment and local community.

A report to councillors says the development doesn’t have the ability at this stage to process or “offtake” significant quantities of natural gas, and objectors are concerned it will go to waste.

A spokesperson for Fossil Free East Yorkshire said: “We can only echo that drilling for oil now, in 2021, ‘is just insane’ (a local councillor) and ‘beggars belief’ (a Hull MP) - the head of the UN says it’s ‘code red for humanity’ and the ‘death knell for fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet’.”

Withernwick Parish Council said allowing the proposal would be a “direct contravention” of council and government declarations, adding: “We believe that East Riding cannot and should not approve this application.”

In the report, officers say objections have “understandably” raised the declaration - but then refer to a recent appeal lost by Swale Borough Council which tried to take a tough stance with a developer looking to build on land at Sittingbourne in Kent.

The council believed strict climate standards should apply as a planning condition. But the housebuilder went to appeal and the-then Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, rejected the proposed conditions as unnecessary as they “go beyond current and emerging national policy”.

The report to East Riding councillors says new planning policy, which take climate change into account, will be considered in the review of the planning blueprint for the area, the East Riding Local Plan.

It also says the developer has offered a community fund, with £20,000 paid when they start the development, another £20,000 when they drill an extra well and an annual financial contribution. However, it says councillors should “disregard” the offer “when weighing the overall balance and this application can be determined with or without it”.

The Environment Agency is not objecting and Natural England had no comments.

Rathlin welcomed the officers’ recommendation.Earlier this month, it said it had agreed to cut HGV trips from 25 to 10 a day.

The firm has said “routine flaring has no role in the commercial production phase” and surplus gas would be used to run generators on site to produce electricity. Subject to planning permission there could be a connection to the Nation Grid in future.