Fracking: Could it happen in Harrogate district?

The police and anti-fracking demonstrators at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire.The police and anti-fracking demonstrators at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire.
The police and anti-fracking demonstrators at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire.
Fracking has been approved, so far, in only three places in the UK, but one of those is in North Yorkshire, 40 miles away in Ryedale, writes Graham Chalmers.

And that is unlikely to be the end of the story. A small group of major companies plan to drill up to 68 shale gas wells across the country if things fall in their favour. As the nature of recent protests has shown, this form of energy generation is deeply controversial. But, with the Government committed to shale gas, the pressure for drilling is unlikely to slacken. The question is, could fracking happen here in the Harrogate district?

1 Fracking: The situation currently in North Yorkshire

After a landmark legal decision last December found against protesters, North Yorkshire County Council agreed planning conditions with gas exploration company Third Energy in September to frack for shale gas near Kirby Misperton. After weeks of noisy disruptive lorries arriving near the village with heavy rigging equipment to build one test well, the actual fracking test phase 2, involving hydraulic fracture of the site was scheduled to start last week and last at least six weeks. As yet, that has not started.What happens after that depends on what the tests show. But Third Energy is on record as saying that the number of wells on any successful sites could be anywhere between ten to 50. Third Energy have completed the pipe and cement work and Haliburton fracking equipment is being delivered every day. It’s not known if they have perforated the well with explosive charges yet, or how much more equipment needs to go in, but onlookers say the work looks well developed. Before fracking can take place for real, Greg Clark , Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, has to give Hydraulic Fracturing Consent. He is expected to do this any day.

A recent photograph of work at the first fracking operation at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire.  (Picture courtesy of Kirby Misperton Protection Camp)A recent photograph of work at the first fracking operation at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire.  (Picture courtesy of Kirby Misperton Protection Camp)
A recent photograph of work at the first fracking operation at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire. (Picture courtesy of Kirby Misperton Protection Camp)

2 What is fracking?

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Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth, then firing a high-pressure water mixture at rock to release the gas inside.The process requires masive quantities of water, sand and chemicals to be pumped into fissures in the shale. In 2011 independent experts concluded fracking by energy firm Cuadrillia was the ‘’highly probable’’ cause of a minor earthquake which hit Lancashire’s Fylde coast.Between 2005 and 2010 the shale-gas industry in the United States grew by 45% a year and now accounts for nearly a quarter of US natural gas extraction.

3 What triggered fracking in the UK?

The starting pistol on the UK’s entry into the world of fracking was fired by David Cameron in 2013 who said shale gas could potentially supply the nation with gas for 50 years. Fracking in the UK had been suspended in 2011 after the Lancashire earth tremors but the ban was lifted the following year.Parliament voted in 2015 by a majority of 250 to go ahead with fracking.Major gas companies such as Cuadrillia Resources (UK-based but partly owned by a US multinational private equity firm), Ineos Upstream (paet of a privately owned multinational chemicals company based in London), and Third Energy (97 per cent owned by a private equity arm of Barclays Bank) argue that not only is fracking good for the economy, it also produces less Co2 emissions than using coal or oil. The argue shale gas is good news for climate change.

A recent photograph of work at the first fracking operation at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire.  (Picture courtesy of Kirby Misperton Protection Camp)A recent photograph of work at the first fracking operation at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire.  (Picture courtesy of Kirby Misperton Protection Camp)
A recent photograph of work at the first fracking operation at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire. (Picture courtesy of Kirby Misperton Protection Camp)

4 Possible dangers involved with fracking

The US Environmental Protection Agency has acknowledged fracking’s link to incidents of water pollution in the USA.The EPA says the fracking fluid injected into rock to enable gas to be released often contains chemicals. As fracking typically involved drilling more than a mile underground this should not happen if done correctly.But contamination of water supplies can also occur where the drill goes through water-bearing rock and is not properly cased or when drilling is carried out simply too close to water-bearing rocks.The US saw both of the above happen. It is now regarded as bad practice. But environmental groups say the fracking process is associated with methane leaks, labelling shale gas a “dirty fossil fuel.”They also point to new scientic research published last week in the USA showing that airbourne particles from fracking could affect youngsters’ neurodevelopment in nearby areas.

5 Who supports fracking?

The strongest supporters of fracking in the UK are the Government, the energy companies involved, landowners and some farmers.The current Government believes that, with proper regulations, contamination of water from shale gas production is a tiny risk worth taking for the good of the economy and energy supplies.The British Chamber of Commerce has voiced its support for fracking on economic grounds calling legal decisions to allow it as “a victory for pragmatism.”Last year Rasik Valand, the chief executive of Third Energy, the firm at Kirby Misperton, saidthe company was committed to undertaking fracking “safely and without impacting on the local environment.”So keen is Third Energy to win good will from villagers that community groups and charities in the area will soon be able to apply for grants from a new £100,000 fund established by the company.According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), "Greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by 50% when shifting from the coal fired power plant to a modern natural gas plant," outlining how shale gas is a far better alternative when moving towards renewable energy.

6 Who opposes fracking?

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In late 2013, opinion polls showed more people favoured than opposed fracking in Britain but new figures released last month by the Government’s own Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) showed only 7% of those surveyed back the process of shale gas extraction.Both the Liberal Democrats and The Green Party oppose fracking while the Labour party has also strengthened its opposition to fracking earlier this year, saying it would ban the controversial technique for extracting shale gas if it came to power. Footage of protests at Kirby Misperton on out TV over the past 18 months have shown a wide cross-section of villagers involved - farmers, vicars, WI members, the elderly - as well as members of recognised environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.

7 What local groups say about fracking

Jemima Parker, media officer of Zero Carbon Harrogate said: “Investment in the shale gas industry does not make sense for the planet or business.“Due to the methane leaks associated with the fracking process, shale gas is a dirty fossil fuel“The government and local authorities have legally binding carbon reduction targets to hit by 2050, so the fracking sites would have to be decommissioned by then. “It would take until at least 2030 for the industry to reach a scale that was significant for our energy demand across Yorkshire, with an estimated 30,000 wells.“Fracking is a toxic brand that is damaging the image of Yorkshire.”Shan Oakes, media officer for Harrogate and District Green Party said: “This extremely invasive form of hydraulic extraction of fossil fuel - using highly toxic chemicals and underground ‘fracturing’ - is not even necessary when the technology to harness and conserve renewable energy has progressed so well.”On behalf of Frack Free Harrogate District, Jane Gibbs said: “Frack Free Harrogate District is very strongly opposed to fracking for a number of reasons including water, air and land contamination, increased seismic activity, adverse health implications, and increased emissions contributing to climate change.“The nature of fracking means that one well is certainly not viable - in evidence given to the House of Commons Environment Committee in 2015, John Dewar of Third Energy, who plan to frack in Kirby Misperton, Ryedale, stated that they envisage 10 more sites in addition to the 9 they already have.“He went on to say that, depending on the size of the site, the number of wells on each one could be anything from 10 - 50.”

8 What local authorities in our area say about fracking

Having approved in 2016 Third Energy’s application for fracking in Kirby Misperton, North Yorkshire County Council agreed planning conditions with the company in September of this year.Richard Flinton, NYCC’s chief executive said: “The County Council is very aware that this is a controversial project of major sensitivity and complexity and that there is widespread concern about the impact it may have upon North Yorkshire’s beautiful environment and upon climate change.“We gave planning consent on a single site which already had drilling for gas on it and this was subject to rigorous planning conditions which we have now agreed. “Our role now is to ensure that the planning conditions are fully discharged and monitored.”A spokesperson for North Yorkshire County Council also said: “The council’s planning committee was satisfied that in this particular application, mitigation of the effects of the development with regard to safeguarding the natural environment, protected species and habitats, the amenity of local residents, the protection of ground and surface water quality and traffic management could be achieved through the discharge of the planning conditions.”North Yorkshire County Council’s stated postion is: “Local councils must work within the national policy that indigenous oil and gas are key to energy security, while facilitating the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. “They must also consider the need for economic growth to provide jobs and sustainable communities.“We know this is a controversial, sensitive project that continues to attract opposition.“We are proud that North Yorkshire is a beautiful place to live in, to work in and to visit and are determined it will remain so.”Harrogate Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Planning, Rebecca Burnett said: “As the Minerals and Waste authority, North Yorkshire County Council are responsible for fracking applications in North Yorkshire. “At present Harrogate Borough Council’ are not aware of any applications or any prospect of any applications for fracking in the Harrogate district, therefore, it is premature to comment on any specific potential locations.“It is important to consider the environmental impact of such activity and environmental impact assessments will undoubtedly be undertaken for any application that North Yorkshire County Council receives. “Whilst, Harrogate Borough Council does not have any specific objection to mineral extraction, it is vital that such work does not have a detrimental effect on the environment.“As such, we will be keen to evaluate any environmental assessments undertaken for fracking in North Yorkshire.”

9 Policing the anti-fracking protests in North Yorkshire

As well as protesters with placards and banners at at Kirby Misperton, pictures of protesters on top of makeshift three metre high towers, climbing on to lorries and lying down on the road have become familiar.Police tactics have proven controversial following the forceable removal of a 79-year-old woman who’d set up a tea and cake stall at the site.The costs of policing the protests have also made the news after figures published by North Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner last month showed additional costs up to August 31 were £80,238 and a further £101,476 was spent in September alone.This represented the cost of police officer overtime, equipment, subsistence and travel-related costs, but not the cost of officers assigned on a day-to-day basis since they would be working regardless of any protest.Accusations of being heavy-handed towards peaceful protesters - Harrogate and Dsitrict Green Party have even claimed tge situation has become “militarised” - have been denied by North Yorkshire Police.A recent statement said: “Officers from North Yorkshire Police are at Kirby Misperton to make sure everyone in and around the village feels safe and is safe. “Officers are there to uphold everyone’s rights under the law and to protect people from harm.And Superintendent Alisdair Dey said: “We always respond proportionately to any protest activity. That means at times there will be an increase in the number of police officers in Kirby Misperton. They are there to uphold everyone’s rights under the law and to protect people from harm.”

10 Could fracking happen in the Harrogate District?

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It partly depends whether the shale gas extraction industry expands across the UK to become a major energy supplier.Although no areas of Harrogate District are licenced for fracking yet, the Government’s own map of oil and gas activity in Great Britain commissioned as part of the BGS/DECC Bowland Shale Gas Report shows that Harrogate and other parts of the district do, in fact, sit on shale.At the moment, the nearest area under licence for shale gas extraction is just the other side of the A1 on the far side of Kirk Hammerton and Boroughbridge and into York. But the whole southern side of Harrogate District sits on top of the Bowland Shale, which contains shale gas, and is one of the few such areas nationally not yet granted licences for exploration. If the industry was to gather speed half the district could potentially be under pressure to become part of the northern gas field.If that were to happen, areas potentially effected would including the south and west sides of Harrogate - Oakdale, Harlow Hill, Oatlands, Woodlands, Crimple Valley, Rossett Green.The Lower Bowland Shale spreads south to north Leeds, east to the A1 and west to Skipton, encompassing Fewston, Beckwithshaw, Pannal, Burn Bridge, North Rigton, Kirby Overblow, Follifoot, Wetherby and the land around.