EA consults on Yorkshire oil and gas production plans

The operator of a controversial exploratory oil and gas drill site in Yorkshire has applied to the Environment Agency (EA) for permission to expand its operations and begin commercial production.

Rathlin Energy is seeking to vary its environmental permit in West Newton to dig additional wells, relocate oil storage facilities and install gas engines that will produce electricity for export to the National Grid. 

The plans were labelled “insane” by East Riding councillors when they were first submitted during the summer, just months after the local authority declared a climate emergency.

The EA said it recognised that the community had “strong feelings” about the potential for oil and gas drilling in West Newton, but it is obliged to determine the environmental permit variation application separately to a planning application.

Kathryn Richardson, area environment manager at the EA, said the regulator would undertake “a detailed and rigorous assessment” of Rathlin Energy’s application.

“Our regulatory controls for the onshore oil and gas industry are in place to protect people and the environment,” said Richardson. ”We may only refuse a permit application if it does not meet one or more of the legal requirements under environmental legislation, including if it will have an unacceptable impact on the environment or harm human health. If all the requirements are met, we are legally obliged to issue a permit.”

Last month, East Riding the council refused planning permission for the project, a move welcomed by campaigners Fossil Free Yorkshire. A spokesperson for Fossil Free Yorkshire said the plan was “terrible - not just because of the overriding and blindingly obvious issue of climate change, but because it was incomplete, inadequate, and we believe, breached local and national policies”.

But Rathlin Energy, which argues that its proposals are necessary as part of a national transition to cleaner energy, is now considering whether to appeal the latest decision or to submit revised plans that will be smaller in scope than the original proposals. 

Rathlin Energy is required to have both planning and environmental permitting approved before its operations can start.

A company spokesperson said: “Over the next 25 years there will be a co-ordinated and concerted effort to reduce emissions and we are absolutely committed to supporting the UK government in this transition phase. Using locally sourced resources will not only help to reduce the risks associated with being a net hydrocarbon importer, but it will also act as a more environmentally friendly stepping-stone to support the evolution to a more sustainable future.”

The consultation runs until 7 January 2022 and will include a virtual drop-in session.