Protestors urge councillors to say 'no' to drilling extension in East Yorkshire

An energy firm applying for an extension to explore reserves at a gas well in East Yorkshire owed nearly £34m at the end of the last year, according to accounts.

A view across the West Newton A wellsite

Campaigners who are due to protest outside a planning meeting on Thursday say they don't want the council or local taxpayer to be responsible in future for cleaning up the West Newton A site, near Hull.

The accounts up to December 31 2017, published last week, revealed that Rathlin was planning to settle the £33.9m loan from parent company, Connaught Oil and Gas, through share issues, equity financing and farming out parts of its licence.

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Writing at the time auditors KPMG said the debts "constitute a material uncertainty that may cast significant doubt on the company's ability as a going concern."

Wendy Cross, of Frack Free East Yorkshire, said: "Is this the sort of company we want to be drilling in East Yorkshire? We don't want the council and taxpayer to be left to clean up Rathlin's mess. The company needs to show that it has the funds to complete any work or pay for any damage that it causes."

More than 100 people have objected to the plans, which will be discussed by councillors at County Hall in Beverley on Thursday afternoon.

Council workers have been advised to work at home or an alternative site ahead of today's protest.

More from news: Sheffield Mayor's white poppy was insult to war deadMan jailed for driving dangerously through roads blocked off for Darnall lantern paradeIn a statement Rathlin said it had paid off all its debts with Connaught Oil and Gas.

It added: "The company has secured financial commitments of new equity in addition to introducing two new joint venture partners.

"This will provide all the funding required for the company’s ongoing operations, including the drilling of the upcoming appraisal well and if necessary, all the abandonment and restoration works associated with the existing West Newton A site."

Rathlin was given a “temporary” three-year extension in relation to the site in 2015. It now wants to drill and test a second well at the West Newton A site, 12 miles north of Hull.

Objectors have raised concerns about noise, light, “obnoxious” smells and disturbance, and wider issues about the impact on climate change, including leaking methane from fracking wells and contamination of the aquifer that supplies drinking water.

However planners have recommended councillors approve the application, saying environmental permit requirements will ensure ground water and the aquifer – underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock – is protected.

They are also proposing 17 conditions, including an anti-fracking clause allowing conventional oil and gas exploration only.