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Probe launched over energy firm's Ellesmere Port test drill

But IGas insists its borehole was in full compliance with planning consent

A demonstration held at the IGas test drill site in Ellesmere Port in 2014.

Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) is investigating after an energy company drilled deeper than was necessary to examine the coal bed seam in Ellesmere Port .

Opponents believe the test drill was actually a search for shale gas, which is associated with the controversial extraction process known as fracking .

Back in 2010 Nexen Exploration UK Ltd, now owned by IGas, gained permission to drill two exploratory boreholes for coal bed methane (CBM) appraisal as well as for full scale production and extraction at the Merseyton Road site.

Protesters stage a lock-on in front of the entrance to the IGas Energy site in Ellesmere Port in 2014.(Image: John McNamara)

But CWaC is unhappy after it emerged the company drilled down further than expected although IGas has been quick to point out that only a minimum depth was set out in the planning consent.

Methane gas is present in both the coal bed and the shale layer, which lies much deeper.

But the extraction process most closely associated with shale, called hydraulic fracturing or fracking, has attracted negative headlines in the UK which is why some claim Nexen made no mention of shale.

Opponents fear fracking can lead to air and water contamination and it was linked to minor earthquakes near Blackpool in 2011.

Cllr Karen Shore

Cllr Karen Shore, CWaC cabinet member for environment, said: “We have been investigating a discrepancy between the depth of the well approved as part of this planning application and the actual depth drilled to by IGas.

“As part of our investigations we requested further information from IGas and we’ve now received confirmation from their agent that they have drilled to a depth of 1,949 metres – more than 1,000 metres deeper than the planning approval allows.

“We have requested that IGas explain their actions and advise what confirmation they believe they had to drill to such a depth.”

She said the council had contacted the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency to confirm the relevant permits considered such a depth.

“Once we receive responses from IGas, the HSE and the EA we will consider what action we can take and seek further legal advice,” she added.

The IGas test drill rig in Merseyton Road, Ellesmere Port in 2014.(Image: Trinity Mirror Copyright)

But IGas hit back in a statement.

A spokesperson said: “In 2014 we drilled a single vertical well to a depth of 1,945m below ground level, with the objective of appraising the geological sequence of the Ellesmere Port prospect, including the coal beds, consistent with the minimum depth of 900m stated within the planning statement and officer’s report.

“As set out in section 9.3.6 of the planning statement Nexen October 2009, the appraisal boreholes would be drilled to an estimated minimum depth of 900m. The planning statement made no reference to the maximum depth of the boreholes.

“The well was also the subject of an application to the Environment Agency, under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations, within which we clearly set out the objectives of the well, in the context of depth.”

Labour councillor Matt Bryan pictured at the Upton anti-fracking camp with former Green Party leader Natalie Bennett in 2015. Picture by Mike Tormey

Anti-fracking Cllr Matt Bryan ( Lab , Upton ) believes shale was not mentioned in the original application to the council because of the ‘stigma’ attached to shale gas extraction. He accused IGas, which recently lodged a planning application to flow test the Ellesmere Port well, of being ‘disingenuous’.

Cllr Bryan commented: “I expect residents will be unhappy to hear this latest sordid development and will make their views known in IGas’ latest planning application.”

It was Cllr Bryan who previously revealed a similar story at Ince Marshes.

The drill at Ince Marshes located at the rear of Quinn Glass which struck gas

Again Nexen Exploration UK Ltd, now owned by IGas, gained permission to drill two exploratory boreholes for coal bed methane (CBM) appraisal, production and extraction at Ince in April 2010.

The council was told the average depth would be 762m, but in fact the company drilled to 1,469m and found shale around that depth.

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