A bid to search for shale gas in Bassetlaw was given the go ahead by Nottinghamshire County Council today - sparking fears it could lead to “full scale” applications for fracking in the county.
The application, submitted by Island Gas in October last year to explore for a shale gas well at Springs Lane, Misson, was approved by seven votes to four during a meeting at County Hall.
Officers recommended the bid be approved but an earlier meeting, on October 5, was adjourned so legal advice could be sought after Friends of the Earth, on behalf of the Nottinghamshire World Wildlife Trust, claimed drilling would breach a covenant set up in the 1960s to protect a nearby site of special scientific interest.
Planning officer Rachel Clack said the covenant was not a “a material planning consideration” and added the planning system was there to regulate the use of land in the public interest,
She said: “A planning permission is a public law right. It doesn’t override any private law right. It’s not a matter that members are required to take into account when determining this planning application.”
Councillor Jim Creamer, from Labour, backed the move and said: “It’s extremely important that monitoring is done on this site. I am happy they have expanded on air and noise monitoring. Most of the objections have come on grounds that we don’t control. This should never have come here. We should be going for green alternatives. I think everyone should write to their MPs. But this is a planning issue and I can’t see any particular reason to object.”
Councillor Steve Calvert voted against the bid. He commended the “open and transparent way” in which the application had been handled, which included workshops to increase members’ understanding of the issues around shale gas.
He said: “On October 5 I entered with an open mind. I have strong views on Government energy policy and the manner in which it has promoted fossil fuels at the expense of renewables. We have seen major cuts to research in carbon capture. There is much concern that the UK government will retreat from climate change targets.
“This could open the door for full scale applications for fracking at this and many other sites throughout Nottinghamshire.”
He asked if the benefits outweighed the impact on the local environment and wondered if alternative sites had been properly investigated.
He said a last minute letter from Nottingham Wildlife Trust had sparked new concerns, and his response was “no” which brought a round of applause.
But Councillor Stan Heptinstall, from the Lib Dems, backed the bid and said: “One of the things that came through loud and clear is that the decision we’re making is not on fracking. It’s an application for some exploratory work to see if the potential for fracking is there.”
He said other sites could potentially have had a great impact on the environment and was “delighted” planning officers had decided to “enhance conditions” to protect the SSI.
“We should be cognisant of the fact that this application is close to an SSSI and we should do all we can to protect that.”
Conservative Councillor Sue Saddington backed the move and thanked residents for the hundreds of letters sent by residents which “made our job much harder.”
“I do look at it on the effect on the residents,” she said. “At the end of the day we are not talking about fracking. We are just talking about whether there is shale gas there.”
There are no material planning considerations for this application, she said.
“The two things that concern me aren’t planning reasons. The applicant has come in with a particular sight. The letter states there are clearly other sites. Even in the report it says there are other sites. It does actually say there are no reasons given why the applicant looked at one site and not the others.
“The other concern is the reference to temporary damage. How do we know that? If animals are in fear they will run. They won’t come back. Where is the proof that it won’t be permanent?
“This is the most difficult application we have had to deal with in years. We really need the absolute assurance that - should this application go through - that every precaution for this site and that monitoring should be done. Surely it would be better to have an independent person rather than someone related to the applicant.”
Outside the meeting, around 30 campaigners gathered to protest against the drilling - and they were disappointed at the outcome.
Brian Davey, of Frack Free Nottinghamshire, said: “Residents will be upset and disappointed. However there were some small improvements. A great deal of time needs to be given to how the monitoring will be done. If it’s done by the company I would have a great deal of suspicion about that.
“If noise and pollution levels are exceeded, will they really halt production? The cost of the financial bond to guarantee restoration of the site needs to be worked out. We hope all these details will be worked out in a transparent process. Most of the people in that room would not have approved it if it had been about fracking.”
Jayne Watson, of Mission Parish Council, said: “I am disappointed. I think it’s a bad day for Mission. It’s a good day for IGas. We may take further action. Even though the decision didn’t go our way I think the councillors listened to our concerns. They attached extra conditions. They have been more stringent on this than they have been on others. There is a lot IGas have to do to make this happen.”
Richard Bucknell, of Unite the Union, said his union, which represents energy workers, was opposed to fracking because it was “unsafe and we are for renewable industries which create a lot of jobs. Skills in manufacturing that are being lost can be used in renewable industries.”
No hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking, would be undertaken as part of the application.
The application is for the development of a temporary well site to allow for the drilling of two exploratory shale gas wells.
The first well would be drilled to around 3.5km with another drilled vertically then horizontally in the direction of Misson.
IGas will also need to obtain relevant permits and licences from the Health and Safety Executive, the Environment Agency and the Oil and Gas Authority before any drilling can start.