Village ‘disruption’ fears over extension of major gas facility

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RESIDENTS fear more disruption, noise and light pollution is on its way with the building of a massive extension to what will be the UK’s largest onshore gas storage facility.

The £400m-plus scheme, by Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) and Statoil, will involve nine underground gas caverns being built close to Garton and Grimston by pumping pressurised seawater into an underground layer of salt.

Above ground there will be a new central processing area, while the wellheads will be built on an even larger footprint nearer the coast.

Plans for the extension were granted planning permission four years ago, but an increase in the rate of coastal erosion has meant the new wellhead platform having to be relocated, bringing it a degree closer to the nearest houses under 1km away.

The amendments, including the building of a new access road onto the B1242 and drilling ten rather than nine boreholes, will have to be considered by planners at East Riding Council again.

Construction could take five years and will involve drilling a 10 inch hole a mile underground to create each cavern from the rocksalt by pumping in pressurised seawater.

At a public meeting at the Methodist Church Hall, Garton, residents told developers they would have won more goodwill if they had begun planting a 20 acre area of woodland five years ago, which was meant to act as a shelterbelt, rather than waiting for work to begin on the second phase.

One said the expense of planting was “chickenfeed compared to what had been flung” at the scheme so far.

Others claimed that nearby houses weren’t selling “purely because it’s next to a timebomb”.

The developers say they will carry out surveys on nearby houses where residents have reported cracking before the latest phase of drilling begins.

They also say they will be looking at trying to mitigate the amount of light from the plant, already a considerable source of light pollution.

Resident Richard Wilkins, who lives nearby, said: “Most of the people live and work in an agricultural region because that’s what it is; the extension of an industrial complex is an anathema.

“There’ll be construction noise, works construction vehicles as well as generators and light pollution.

“Not only is there the added area for processing next to phase one, we have the added disruption of an extra access road.”

The first nine gas storage caverns have been under construction since 2004 and should be finally finished next summer. When phase one is completed Aldbrough will provide around seven per cent of the total gas storage capacity in the UK.

Dr Ian Hughes, from Jacobs, the agents for SSE, told the meeting that they’d been planning on the assumption that around two metres of land was being lost through coastal erosion a year. He said: “Over the last 10 years it has been in the order of five or six metres a year, double the amount of coastline going that we anticipated, which has meant problems in terms of completing leaching.”

He said the new wellheads would be built into an existing hillside and claimed that viewed from Garton “the sightline goes over the top like an infinity swimming pool”. The woodland will be paid for out of a £1m fund, arising from a section 106 legal agreement with the council, which will be released once concrete is poured into the well cellars.

Some 125 jobs had been created in the first phase, 82 of which were local.

The irony for many people living in the area is that they are not on a mains gas supply. The wells are expected to be operational for 70 years, after which they will be depleted of gas and filled with water. The firms which were originally behind the development, BG and Intergen, pledged that the scheme would not be visible from Aldbrough or Garton – but it can now be seen from miles around.