Fracking

This is a complex issue which has seriously threatens the amenities and the livelihood of everybody who lives in Ryedale without delivering any substantial advantages either to Ryedale or the UK.

In 2019 Paul Andrews, with the support of Malton Town Council, took legal action in the High Court against the government in regard to fracking. The legal action was crowd-funded with the help of Frackfree Ryedale. The action failed, but the written judgement was very helpful in that it clarified a number of matters - particularly the role of local planning authorities, who have to have regard to central government policy guidance, but do not have to comply with such guidance if material considerations justify this.

The following statement follows views which were published at the time of the legal action. Since then, the government has imposed a moratorium on inland fracking operations which is currently in force. Third Energy, the company which had obtained permission to frack in Ryedale, have changed ownership and company policy. They have taken down their gas production operation and are currently pursuing the implementation of using their old gas wells for the production of geo thermal energy. So, the immediate danger to our beautiful countryside has been prevented. However, the moratorium is only a moratorium and could be relaxed at any time by this or any future government. It is therefore important that people should understand the background to the matter which is set out below.

General Statement of the concerns published pre-2019

Fracking means the hydraulic fracturing of the shale beds which lie approximately 8,000 to 10,000 feet below ground level throughout the Vale of Pickering, the North York Moors and other parts (if not the whole) of Ryedale.

This is a different process from what is known as the "conventional" method of gas extraction. Conventional wells are drilled vertically into rock formations where gas has already accumulated. The gas rises naturally up the pipe without having to be forced. Fracking is known as an "unconventional" method of extracting gas, as it requires the rock to be broken up mechanically so that the gas is forced out of it by a fluid which is pumped underground under extreme pressure.

Water laced with chemicals is pumped underground through a narrow pipe at extreme pressures in order to make cracks in the shale and release gas.

The vertical pipes of a fracking well are bent horizontally into the shale, but the maximum range of each borehole is at most two and a quarter kilometers. This means that in order to fully exploit the entire gas field, the Vale of Pickering and the rest of the gas field will have to be pepper potted with a grid of gas boreholes and "gas farms" spaced out at intervals of four kilometers in all directions.

Each gas farm is likely to comprise between 5 - 20 acres, and to be effective would have to have underground fracking pipes going out in all directions and at all levels in the shale. A five acre site could have as many as 50 boreholes, and in order to drill these and keep them service, it is estimated that each five acre site would have to have two drilling rigs on site and be in almost constant operation, and lit like Christmas trees at night.

Each site will need to liquefy the gas before it can be transported. Some of this process will be carried out at the Knapton works, where there is a gas pipeline from Third Energy's existing seven conventional gas wells (which they expect to use for fracking). This means on-site cryogenic processes operating at many "gas farms".

Third Energy have indicated that they intend to use their existing 7 Ryedale conventional wells for fracking, and are already looking for more sites. They told a select committee of the House of Commons that they are looking at 19 sites in Ryedale, each with between ten and fifty boreholes. They are known to be considering sites near Hovingham, Terrington, Sherriff Hutton, Great Habton, as well as the site where they are already seeking planning permission at Kirby Misperton.

The liquid used in the fracking process is water mixed with one per cent of chemicals. Many of these chemicals are toxic, and after use the waste liquid has to be given specialist toxic/radioactive treatment. It goes without saying, therefore that if it enters the aquifer which farmers use, it will contaminate the water supply.

The gas which is retrieved comprises different types of gas, and the unwanted elements have to be burned off or released into the atmosphere

There is a pipe from some of Third energy's conventional gas sites to their processing plant at Knapton. This will take gas, but is understood not to be used for taking away the waste liquid. This will have to be tankered.

Each fracking operation takes anywhere between 2-6 years worth of water used by Royal Lytham and St. Anne's Golf Course. So, with the countryside pepper-potted with a grid of "gas farms" one can imagine just how much heavy traffic is going to enter our rural road network.

If the borehole pipe fractures, fracking liquid can escape into the aquifer, which is used by most farms for the purposes of the farm and their own domestic purposes - they get much (if not all) of their water from artesian wells which go down into this aquifer.

This is not a hypothetical situation. There have only been three fracking wells in the UK to date, and the one in Cumbria operated by Cuadrilla fractured, and it is believed the company carried on with its operations for some six weeks after the fracture.

It is true that where the borehole goes through the aquifer, the pipe will be surrounded by several casings of concrete and steel. However, this will not prevent leakages through cracks and faults if the pipe fractures above or below the extra thick casings.

As the fracking process requires the fluid to be pumped under extreme pressure into the rock, the pipe cannot be made out of stainless steel, which is too soft to withstand this kind of pressure. The steel pipes are therefore liable to corrosion from the oxygen in the gas which is extracted and the water in the fracking fluid. The steel pipe is surrounded by concrete, but concrete crumbles over time. The pressures generated by the fracking process can cause the pipe to fracture, giving rise to a risk of contamination of the aquifer (as can any unconnected minor earth movement), and generate minor earthquakes, as happened to the Cuadrilla borehole in Cumbria..

All of this will have a disastrous impact on our rural and domestic amenity. No insurance company is prepared to insure a house against any risk arising from fracking. House prices will collapse (if it is possible to sell your house at all), and there will be no compensation payable for this kind of blight.

In order to make fracking viable, the Coalition Government  included in its new Infrastructure Act a provision which takes away the right of landowners to prohibit fracking companies from driving horizontal pipes under their land. This is a valuable legal right. It has been taken from landowners without the grant of any kind of compensation and amounts to a kind of legalised theft, and the benefit is passed to the fracking companies free, gratis and for nothing.