An investigation by Spinwatch has found that the petrochemical giant Ineos has approached at least six East Midlands local councils to allow it to search for shale gas under council play parks, allotments, football pitches, and even a council war memorial.
Almost all the parish councils have so far declined Ineos’ offer. But the UK’s biggest shale explorer’s actions are a worrying development for councils and residents across the region.
Although Ineos now says it will not try to overturn any parish council decisions, the company has already threatened other landowners, including the National Trust, with legal action using provisions under the Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act 1966.
A firm of chartered surveyors, called Fisher German Priestner (FGP Ltd), working on behalf of billionaire Ineos boss, Jim Ratcliffe, has been offering cash-strapped councils derisory payments of between £100 to £500 for access to carry out geological surveys that help pinpoint suitable fracking sites.
Seismic surveys are the first step in exploring for shale gas. Explosives or vibroseis machines called ‘thumper trucks’ are used to construct a picture of the rock below ground and detect shale gas deposits.
The company is offering bonuses for councils to agree promptly. One letter from INEOS, obtained via Freedom of Information laws, said it will ‘make a payment of £250 up front as a bonus payment if the licence agreement is signed within six weeks and £250 licence fee before entry is taken to undertake any surveys’.
Much of the East Midlands could be at risk, given that INEOS has the right to explore for shale across one million acres in the UK. Indeed, in January 2016 FGP boasted it had already completed nearly 1000 consents for seismic surveys in the North of England and Scotland, alone.
Last month campaign group Friends of the Earth revealed how Ineos wants to do seismic surveys in the famous Sherwood Forest and other public forests across Nottinghamshire. Greenpeace’s Energydesk has also revealed how Ineos has been accused of bullying landowners such as the National Trust to allow access for these controversial surveys – a claim the company denies.
Following the Sherwood Forest revelations, INEOS placed an eight-page glossy advertising supplement in ten regional newspapers in a major PR push.
In the supplement the company argues that: ‘shale gas presents the UK with a once in-a-generation opportunity to change the lives of people up and down this country for the better – bringing energy security, new jobs, skills and investment.’
Ineos claims however that it will avoid urban areas and designated nature sites. ‘We have been clear in our publicly available materials that we exclude areas of urbanisation and environmental designations as surface drilling locations.’
If the petrochemical giant is avoiding urban areas, it looks like rural villages and towns will be on the frontline, with valuable local community spaces at risk.
Our investigation has found that requests by Ineos to the following councils have been refused:
• Whitwell: in this town of 4000 people Ineos wanted to carry out seismic surveys across an area that included the local amenity area, children’s playground and community allotments. Last month the parish council voted unanimously to refuse permission on the recreation ground.
One of the sites which was at risk, the Welbeck Street Recreation Ground, is owned by the Fields In Trust, of which the Duke of Edinburgh was President for 64 years, and whose ambassadors include sporting legends like Sir Clive Woodward and Tim Henman. Managed by the council, it has a large play area, and is used by a boys Sunday league team, and local scouts and girl guides groups.
• Langwith Parish Council in the Bolsover district of Derbyshire county received a request for seismic tests on its recreation ground, close to a school and Roman building. Its councillors also voted unanimously last month against Ineos’ plans immediately after a presentation by FGP’s Claire Priestner.
‘We were not convinced it was safe,’ explained council chair Sandra Peake. ‘We were concerned for public safety – there are too many unknowns.’
• Killamarsh parish: Ineos contacted the parish council in September 2016 to request access to a recreation ground, but council meeting minutes that same month reveal that the council was ‘unanimous’ in its opposition to fracking in Killamarsh.
• In nearby Hodthorpe and Belph requests to survey allotments and the local recreation ground were also refused by the local parish council last October.
Meanwhile the 2000-strong community of Harthill with Woodall in South Yorkshire, just outside Rotherham, faced seismic surveys on their football field and community allotments. Its council similarly declined.
One parish council, Calow, in Derbyshire, did approve Ineos’ proposed seismic survey request, albeit with strict conditions. The targeted area, in Eastwood Park, included the Calow War Memorial, which commemorates men from the parish who fought in WW1 and WW2. Ineos subsequently dropped its plans however due to ‘time contraints within a designated six month period, driven by planning policy guidelines’.
Guy Shrubsole from Friends of the Earth told Spinwatch:
‘Is there anywhere that Ineos won’t contemplate looking for shale gas? First Sherwood Forest, now playgrounds and allotments are in their sights. And what if they find shale gas at these locations? Will INEOS reassure us now that they won’t end up drilling in public forests, war memorial sites and sports grounds?
A spokesperson from Ineos’ PR firm Media Zoo last week confirmed the company’s seismic plans. It claimed however that, ‘we cannot see the situation arising’ where Ineos would drill on civic amenity land.
‘Ineos is planning to undertake an extensive 2D and 3D seismic data acquisition programme across some of its East Midlands licences to give us a detailed picture of the geology of the subsurface. This is a non-invasive, very short term exercise. The company has approached Parish Councils responsible for parcels of land within our data acquisition area. These parcels of land are generally small and where permission has been given we expect to use those permissions. Where permission has not been granted by Parish Councils we do not plan to use powers available to us to access the land.
As you say, most land administered by Parish Councils is civic amenity land such as playparks, allotments, football pitches etc and we cannot see the situation arising where we would seek permission to drill on such land.
PARISH COUNCIL AREAS WHERE INEOS WANTED TO CARRY OUT SEISMIC SURVEYS
Map of Whitwell (above), where INEOS wanted to carry out seismic surveys across an area that includes the local amenity area, children’s playground and community allotments
Langwith in the Bolsover district of Derbyshire county where INEOS was refused permission to carry out seismic tests on its recreation ground, close to a school and Roman building.
Map of the war memorial site in Eastwood Park, Calow, where Ineos was given permission to do seismic surveys, but dropped its plans due to time constraints
Killamarsh recreation ground (above), where INEOS was refused permission to carry out seismic tests by the local parish council