Sorry this post is off my usual topic of the Post Office …
Wressling with May
In Parliament this week, Prime Minister May re-iterated her party’s and the Government’s commitment to Fracking. Without going in to the pro’s and con’s of this particular form of mineral extraction it can be safely assumed that there is far less risk to the environment from conventional oil exploration than there is from fracking. Yet all of the substantive economic benefits to the nation as stated by May in support of her stance on fracking can be applied to oil production. It follows then that the government could and should encourage and permit onshore oil production.
Unfortunately, local councils and protestors see differently. They see oil extraction for some reason as being tantamount to fracking which is just not the case. Local councillors are pressurised into making ridiculous decisions based on the perceived electoral influence of these protestors in this emerging environmentally aware world we live in. The government are aware of this and have issued guidelines to planning authorities to ensure they understand the importance of these local planning applications to the national scheme of things. Yet still the local planning committees are making a nonsense of this.
Take what is currently happening in North Lincolnshire. In July 2014, Egdon Resources and their partners in the project drilled an conventional oil exploration well near Wressle. In order to do this they had obtained planning permission from all the relevant government agencies concerned including North Lincs Council. They spend several million pounds in completing this project and successfully encountered both gas and oil which they subsequently flow tested. As the way things stand at the moment , Egdon then had to re-apply to all the aforementioned agencies in order to move this exciting new discovery into production. All but North Lincs council approved their submissions including the Environment Agency whose responsibility it is to ensure and oversee the safe extraction of the minerals found in an environmentally secure fashion.
So Egdon could drill, find AND extract oil and gas during the exploration phase with North Loncs permission but when it came to full production they were refused. How on earth can this be? Well they didn’t only refuse it once, Egdon re-submitted their production planning application and it was refused again despite increased information being provided to allay fears the councillors had expressed in their earlier committee meeting. These councillors – all of whom as far as I know have no in depth knowledge of the geological and hydrological issues – sought fit to overrule the Environment Agency as well as their own planning officers who twice have recommended approval of Egdon’s application.
Egdon of course have appealed these decisions to the Planning Inspector and these will be heard next month. So that is where we are at right now and what is just as absurd is that the 6 day hearing with the planning inspector will cost both parties 6 figure sums on top of the vast amount of expenditure to date. But that is not the only cost here. Some 500 barrels of oil per day could have been extracted in the meantime had permission been granted at the first application. A cost to the national economy of nearly £8m in additional imports, a delay in providing the jobs that this project will secure, tax revenue to the government, and for the environmentalists to consider, increased pollution to the atmosphere by importing replacement oil from overseas.
This has to stop. If a conventional well can be delayed in this manner what chance do fracking wells have of avoiding this unnecessary intervention by local planning authorities. Mrs May has spoken and she must now intervene to remove immediately the source of this problem – namely the inclusion of local planning authorities in the planning permission process as well as removing the unnecessary step of resubmitting planning permission for production after exploration success.
I would hope that the planning inspector hearing Egdon’s appeal next month will come to the same conclusion and offer recommendations to the government to ensure this idiotic sequence of events cannot re-occur. I would also hope that UKOOG, the onshore oil and gas industry representative body will also increase pressure on the government to back up Mrs May’s stance with positive action and allow the industry they serve to get on with the job they are doing and which will benefit our economy for years to come.