A petrochemical company owned by Britain’s richest man is attempting to overrule a Yorkshire council to drill a shale gas well next to a sheltered housing development.
Residents in Woodsetts, Rotherham, have crowdfunded £10,000 to pay a lawyer to help them oppose the application by Ineos to carry out test core drilling on a field just outside the village.
Councillors in Rotherham have twice refused planning permission for the well, citing concerns about highway safety and the lack of information on control of environmental impacts. Denying Ineos for the second time in September against the advice of their own planners, councillors said they worried about the proximity to Berne Square, which provides housing for people who are elderly or ill.
Ineos, which is owned by Jim Ratcliffe, who was named by the Sunday Times as Britain’s richest man, appealed to the planning inspectorate, which on Tuesday will hear the case campaigners are describing as “David v Goliath”.
Ineos has a UK petroleum exploration and development licence (PEDL) for a field outside Woodsetts, which allows it to pursue a range of oil and gas exploration activities, subject to necessary drilling and development consents and planning permission.
Matthew Wilkinson, from Woodsetts Against Fracking, said houses in Berne Square backed on to Ineos’s site: “[It] would be clearly visible from their homes. You could throw a ball and probably get very close to the well pad.”
Three weeks ago Ineos submitted an application to erect a 270-metre-long fence as an “acoustic sound barrier” to shield the estate, which has already been dubbed the “Great Wall of Ineos”.
Wilkinson said the fence would make residents feel trapped. “If somebody sticks a huge wall up outside your house, which it pretty much is, you’re going to feel enclosed.
“The ‘Great Wall of Ineos’ will act like nothing more than a prison wall to the most vulnerable people in our village, obscuring their views, reducing their light and causing stress.”
The Conservative government is in favour of fracking and has made it difficult for local councils to deny planning permission to energy firms hoping to frack for shale gas. To turn down a fracking application, councillors must cite concerns over traffic, noise or environmental impact, rather than an ideological objection to the process of fracking.
In Rotherham, the chair of the planning board, David Sheppard, said: “Originally, the application was refused on the basis of the impact on highway safety and the impact on local residents in terms of noise and general distribution. In March 2018, the objection in relation to the impact on highway safety was withdrawn given there was not enough evidence to provide a robust case, although our other objection remains and will be made at the inquiry.”
Residents have put their own money up to pay experts to challenge Ineos at the inquiry.
A spokeswoman for Woodsetts Against Fracking said: “They are David fighting Goliath; taking on a multinational company which puts growth and profit before people and the planet.”
In Woodsetts, Ineos has applied to construct a site to test a vertical hydrocarbon exploratory core well for five years. It has been designed to extract a “core” sample of the rock for laboratory analysis to identify the geological characteristics of the rock and its gas-producing properties, according to Ineos.
The energy firm says it wants to drill to “gain scientific knowledge of what is below the surface – as has been agreed by many councils many times in the past to support the coal industry in the region. This may or may not lead to a thriving shale industry … If gas is present and can be safely extracted and flowed at commercial rates we know that this won’t add costs to councils but rather provide jobs, investment and secure energy in parts of Britain that need it most.”
Last year the planning inspectorate overruled Derbyshire county council to grant permission to Ineos to erect a drilling rig near the village of Marsh Lane. The planning inspector concluded that there would be “slight harm” in terms of the living conditions of residents near the development, but not enough to “outweigh the benefits of the exploration”.