In November 2010 Shropshire Council approved a planning application (10/00909/MAW) for the drilling of a temporary appraisal borehole to retrieve a core of coal to surface for analysis of coal structure, permeability and gas content, and potential for Coal Bed Methane (CBM) gas production. This application lapsed in November 2013.
Although standard planning notification practice was followed, nobody was told what this would lead to and the bare minimum of people were involved. There were no objections and local residents were surprised when in April 2014 a query from Dart Energy was made to the planning department (14/01349/SCR) asking whether an Environmental Impact Analysis (EIA) was required for the drilling of a temporary hydrocarbons exploratory borehole. This query was not open to public consultation, and Shropshire planning department advised that an EIA was not required.
You might think that the drilling of a temporary hydrocarbons exploratory borehole is fairly harmless, what is all the fuss?
If, by testing this site, the borehole is proven to be economically viable then a new planning application will be submitted to permit CBM extraction. This is where it gets serious.
You may think that we can object to the planning permission for the extraction site what is the problem? well we can object to this new planning application, BUT, once drilling companies get a foothold in an area it becomes harder to stop their activities. We know from previous drilling site examples that one borehole is not enough to extract all of the gas and so new boreholes will need to be drilled to continue the process. Again each site will need planning approval, but again, once the precedent is set with one borehole, the arguments for subsequent sites becomes weaker.
Ultimately Dart will apply for planning permission on an individual site by site basis which planning have to review on an individual basis and is not subject to Councillor approval. This prevents them from looking at the bigger picture of the final large scale industrialisation that it will become.
In Canonbie in Scotland Dart Energy have shown that this is the tactics they adopt. The Planning department there took the decision to grant planning consents in 2008 under delegated powers — meaning that councillors did not make the decision. Delegated powers are intended for uncontroversial schemes, and not for industrial developments. The energy company applied for permission for each small gas well separately, meaning the application was not treated as a single industrial or mining project. Yet 20 different sites have permission in a small area of Canonbie and Rowanburn, in many cased just yards from residents’ homes.
We do not want history to be repeated.
To find out if you will soon be eligible for gas wells in your area, Friends of the Earth have created this very easy to use website map.
If you put a tick in the Orange box you can see the latest round and then typing in your postcode will zoom in to your location.