Ineos refused to rule out fracking under North York Moors national park

Park officials say they first learned about the proposals reading the Sunday papers

A valley in North York Moors national park. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images.

Energy giant Ineos refused to rule out fracking under North York Moors national park when it met with park officials last month, Unearthed can reveal.

The national park authority had requested the meeting after reading about the proposals for the first time in the Sunday papers during the Christmas break.

Ineos Shale’s operations director, Tom Pickering, told The Sunday Times that after an initial period examining the area’s geology, the company could look to frack for shale gas under the park.

But documents obtained by Unearthed under freedom of information laws allege that Ineos did not mention any plans to frack under the park during an initial meeting with the park authorities in October.

Instead the company – which owns four exploration licences in and around North York Moors – informed officials only of its plans to conduct a geological survey above ground and drill test wells outside the park, according to the documents.

Minutes from a follow-up meeting in January note: “The initial meeting with INEOS in October 2017 had only informed us of the company’s intention to carry out future exploration to obtain geological data over the wider area.”

Chris France, head of planning at the national park authority, told Unearthed: “The first we saw or heard about their potential intention to frack was reading a quote from Tom Pickering in the Times over Christmas.”

“Since there was a very specific quote by their operations director we thought we needed another meeting and our members and chief executive suddenly got quite concerned”, France continued.

Exploration licences owned by Ineos Shale in and around North York Moors national park. Source: Ineos Shale.

Fracking under the park

Fracking from within national parks is prohibited by the government – but companies can still place sites on the edges of protected areas and then drill horizontal wells underneath.

Similar rules on drilling exist in the US, where they have led to some parks, such as Theodore Roosevelt national park in North Dakota, being ringed with oil and gas wells.

If Ineos does seek to target shale gas reserves under the park it could lead to a build-up of infrastructure around its edges, as the company attempts to access as much of the resource within the park boundaries as possible.

Discussing Ineos’ North York Moors licences, Pickering told the Sunday Times in December: “We can’t frack in national parks but we can frack under them by drilling sideways from points around the edges”.

“In 2018 we want to do a geological survey to build a 3D picture of the rock strata before drilling test wells”, he continued.

Pickering later made similar comments to Yorkshire media.

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What is fracking?

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a technique to recover gas and oil from shale rock. The term refers to how the rock is fractured by a mixture of water, chemicals and sand injected at high pressure.

Oil and gas companies are targeting areas across the North – including in Yorkshire, Lancashire and Nottinghamshire – to frack for shale gas. In the South, companies are looking to drill for shale oil.

2018 is expected to see the first fracking in the UK since 2011, when Cuadrilla triggered small earth tremors near Blackpool, Lancashire and the government stepped in to suspend operations.

No plans

An Ineos spokesman told Unearthed: “The reason that the authority had not heard about our plans is that there aren’t any. Ineos has no immediate plans to do anything in the area.”

He said the company had no pending applications to drill in North Yorkshire, “including under the national park, and there will not be any for the foreseeable future.”

But when the park authorities met with the company on 12 January, Ineos refused to rule out fracking under the national park.

According to minutes from the meeting, Ineos’ commercial director, Lynn Calder, told park officials: “the Company cannot state that it will not seek to frack for shale gas under North York Moors National Park.”

Calder also “confirmed that the company would be in the area ‘quite prominently’ sometime in the future.” But she added that there was no imminent plan to submit an application.

Park officials asked Ineos to reconsider the exploration work but the company refused, claiming it has a legal obligation to carry out exploratory activities under the conditions of its licence.

In a statement, Ineos said: “[A]s shale gas is defined as a national resource, there are obligations that we are legally required to follow under the conditions of licences granted to us by the UK government. This could involve 3D survey work in Yorkshire to better understand the geology in the local area.”

Tom Chadwick – chair of the North Yorkshire Moors Association, a charity dedicated to protecting the landscape and culture of the park – told Unearthed: “Our main concerns are that this proposal links with others to become a sort of major industrial threat to the national park, which should expect the highest level of protection of all the designated landscapes.”

Read the documents:

Heather on the North York Moors. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images.

Opposition

North York Moors national park authority is opposed to Ineos’ proposals. During the meeting last month, park officials “asked that INEOS reconsidered its plans and abandon its intentions to explore and potentially exploit the shale gas beneath the National Park.”

But, according to the minutes, Ineos’ Lynn Calder “responded by declining the Authority’s request not to undertake exploration in the National Park and referred again to the legal obligations the company believes it is subject to through its PEDLs [petroleum exploration and development licences].”

Chris France told Unearthed: “The company’s stated intention at the moment is that yes, they’re going to be coming towards the end of 2018 to carry out some pretty extensive exploration, which will include seismic testing, vibration, and test drilling to see core samples.”

“We’re not happy with that – we’re seeking meetings with government officials and our local MP to see what we can do, if anything, to try and dissuade them from even coming to do the exploration. Plus inevitably, exploration could eventually lead to extraction.”

An Ineos spokesman said: “Ineos will of course follow due process whilst carrying out any statutory obligations, and will continue to consult closely with both the local authority and local communities on any works that we plan to undertake. If we do decide to do survey work it is a non-intrusive process which will have no impact upon the natural beauty of the park.

“Moving forward we will continue to engage with the park authority. We are committed to shale gas and believe it can bring transformative benefits to the local and wider UK economies and UK industry.”