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Ellesmere Port gas exploration plan leads to growing opposition

Company says no fracking will be involved

Fracking protesters outside a public drop in held by IGas in an Ellesmere Port hotel in connection with an application for testing at their well in the town(Image: Ellesmere Port Pioneer)

Tests proposed by IGas at its Ellesmere Port exploration site at Merseyton Road have led to growing opposition.

The company controversially drilled at Portside in late 2014 with the rig starting work despite the efforts of community protectors.

The vertical well encountered a thick section of coal and a ‘very significant’ shale section of approximately 1,400ft it was reported at the time.

Preliminary analysis of sample cores was said to have revealed ‘significant’ indications of gas. Following the drilling the site was cleared although the security fences remained.

In addition to formally applying for planning permission for further underground operations at Portside the company is also seeking a permit from the Environment Agency.

The planning application seeks consent to mobilise test equipment, including a rig up to 30m in height, carry out a ‘workover’ of the well and to conduct tests of the gas flow from a rock formation.

Anti-fracking protesters outside IGas premises(Image: UGC TCH)

No drilling would take place and the rig would lower tools into the well. There would also be a 12.2m high flare stack with the company explaining it intends to test in expected gas carrying rock rather than in the coal seams.

A Freedom of Information request by a Chester resident disclosed that agents for IGas felt the work could be carried out as a ‘non material amendment’ to the original permission which was said to be the most suitable way of carrying out the operation.

This was not accepted by the borough council, however, which said a fresh planning application would be required.

If permission is granted the initial phase of the work lasting seven days would involve 20 heavy goods vehicle (HGV) movements according to agents. Testing would last 30 days with 10 HGV trips with a further seven days and 20 HGVs to close down.

The agents explain the gas may flow naturally but a second phase may be necessary using a dilute acid solution being circulated down the borehole and into the rock.

Both approaches are ‘commonly deployed’ in the industry and no fracturing would be involved, it is argued.

The increased height of the flare from 5m would offer ‘significantly increased performance’ it is said and the company has worked with the Environment Agency on its design.

All the operations would be subject to regulatory review and would be carried out in accordance with the necessary permits and consents.

IGas confirmed the application would involve carrying out further testing work on the existing well and held a public exhibition detailing the scheme.

A previous notice by IGas explained that once the application had been submitted people could examine the details, plans and other documents at Ellesmere Port library on Civic Way.

They would also be available at the council offices at 4 Civic Way apart from online. Representations should be made to the council at 4 Civic Way.

In relation to the permit, the Environment Agency says: “Island Gas Ltd has applied to the Environment Agency to make changes to the existing mining waste permit at the Ellesmere Port Well Site.

“As part of this exploration the company plan to carry out testing over a period of 90 days to investigate the potential for gas extraction. This does not include hydraulic fracturing.

“The Environment Agency is seeking views from the local community and interested groups on the application.”

The agency’s consultation will run until September 20 and documents can be seen online at https://consult.environment-agency.gov.uk/psc/ch65-2hq-island-gas-limited/.

Ellesmere Port Frack Free has created a campaign to reject the application for the extended test which they say would include ‘thousands of tonnes of acid and gas flaring’.

The group argues the issue is important due to the noise associated with the operation, dust, air quality and lighting.

They point to the visual intrusion into the local setting and the wider landscape caused by the placement of any building or structure within the application site area and refer to landscape character, archaeological and heritage features and traffic.

The risk of contamination to land and soil resources is included along with flood risk, land stability and subsidence.

Concerns are raised as to the effect on internationally, nationally or locally designated wildlife sites, protected habitats and species and ecological networks, nationally protected geological and geomorphologic sites and features.

Questions are asked as to site restoration and aftercare and ‘health impacts both physical and mental due to lack of knowledge about the process and ensuing stress’.

A public information meeting hosted by Frack Free Ellesmere Port is to be held on September 26 in the Westminster Computer Centre in Westminster Community Centre, Church Parade from 7pm to 9.30pm.

The borough council has confirmed that notwithstanding the original closing date of August 28 for comments on the planning application all views received by the planning committee meeting on October 10 will be taken into account. 

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