July 2015 Update
The Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) has granted Halite Energy
Limited permission to develop the proposed Underground Gas Storage scheme
in Preesall (Over Wyre), Lancashire
It’s with some incredulity that we have to confirm that a decision has been made by Energy Minister, Lord Bourne, to grant development consent to Halite Energy for the proposed Underground Gas Storage scheme at Preesall.
Many thousands of people will have had their belief in the impartiality and fairness of politics, democracy, the judiciary and the country’s planning system severely tested, perhaps most specifically in the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).
Over the past 13 years the local population has expressed their opposition to this scheme both vocally and by writing in their thousands and these views were endorsed by planning refusals at parish, borough and county council level.
A Public Inquiry recommended refusal in 2006 following which a modified scheme was proposed and resubmitted by Halite.
This modified scheme was subjected to a thorough and detailed investigation by a panel of three commissioners from Infrastructure Planning called the Examining Authority and they were assisted by an independent consultant geologist.
The Examining Authority recommended a very subjective approval of the Halite scheme; one proviso was that it should be demonstrated that the scheme would be able to accommodate a minimum of 300 mcm of working gas.
The Secretary of State refused consent on 9th April 2013 and this was followed by a High Court appeal which resulted in a ruling endorsing the Secretary of State’s decision.
In what appears to be a bizarre situation the appeal is then challenged by another appeal and a different judge, Mrs Justice Patterson, upheld the new appeal and directed the Secretary of State to re-examine the Examining Authority’s report.
As part of this re-examination, the Secretary of State appointed an independent geological assessor, Senergy (GB) Ltd, to assess the technical information which included the late submission of seismic survey results.
Senergy noted that the data they received from Halite and/or its agents was sometimes “incomplete or late and delivered in obscure formats” and the Senergy report was therefore “necessarily limited to the data received”.
Halite has consistently maintained that it proposed to store up to 600 mcm of working gas but has equally and consistently been unable to offer geological data to support this figure as witnessed by Senergy whose report only ‘suggests’ that the salt might be suitable.
The Examining Authority was less than impressed that the seismic surveys undertaken by Halite were done after the Examining Authority’s report was concluded and it suggested that whilst the late submission was of particular relevance, that if the seismic lines data and the subsequent conclusions been placed as evidence before the Examining Authority then planning permission would almost certainly have been recommended for refusal based on insufficient proven volumes.
It remains a fact that Senergy considers that there is a 5.8% chance of Halite achieving 300 mcm of working gas which is greatly at odds with Halite’s claim that this scheme will add 20% to the nation’s storage capacity.
Lancashire County Council stated that “if the proposed capacity is reduced to the degree identified [by Senergy], the County Council is concerned that the benefits associated with such a project and the contribution it would subsequently make to national need would not outweigh the impacts of the development on the local landscape”.
Halite confirmed that the size of the above ground infrastructure will not change regardless of the working gas capacity of the storage facility.
The Examining Authority also expressed concern to the Secretary of State that “if only a materially lower volume of gas capacity can be achieved it may not give sufficient benefit to outweigh the adverse impacts of the project”.
Protect Wyre Group’s view in its representation to the Secretary of State on 9th September 2014 was that the application should be refused because, using the Examining Authority’s own words, “If the minimum threshold cannot be met it would mean the development would not be permitted to proceed any further”.
Halite challenged Senergy’s projections and called them “unduly pessimistic” but the Secretary of State stated that “there is no suggestion that Senergy’s probabilistic calculations are fundamentally wrong and taking a precautionary approach, the Secretary of State considers the planning balance on the basis of Senergy’s independent figures”.
At this stage you would presume that because Halite has not provided sufficiently robust data to back up its claims of meeting the 300 mcm of working gas and that the impact of the infrastructure and associated works far outweighs the lesser contribution that their scheme might make to the national need and that it should be refused.
But in spite of all that’s gone before, the Secretary of State states on 17th July that “even with a relatively smaller level of uncertainty as to the actual storage capacity that could ultimately be achieved, it is clear that the project would still make a ‘nationally significant’ contribution to the UK’s security of supply”.
It was widely published in the press that the decision on the Halite scheme would not be taken by Amber Rudd (Secretary of State) herself, due to the conflict of interests created by her brother Roland Rudd’s PR company, Finsbury, representing and promoting Halite’s scheme.
So it has to be presumed that it is Lord Bourne’s decision to reject the recommendations of the planners at Lancashire County Council who have examined the scheme for the past 12 years, the eminent planning commissioners from the Infrastructure Planning Inspectorate and the equally eminent independent consultant geologists who have conducted minute line by line analysis of the geological data and finally Senergy, the independent government appointed geological consultants.
Tens of thousands of hours and indeed tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of pounds have been spent by individuals, councils and the British tax payer in examining this scheme in its many repetitive forms, all of which have reached the same conclusion – REFUSAL!
Approval appears to be centred on national need. There is no mention of how the scheme might affect any proposed development of fracking or indeed of the proposal to harness the tidal power of the River Wyre with a tidal barrage, the latter promising to deliver more clean energy than any gas storage scheme.
The National Grid 10 Year Statement shows UK gas storage in the order of 4,600 mcm with a further 6,900 mcm in six schemes with planning granted, all of which appear to be stalled for lack of investment and all of which are in better and proven salt strata than the proposed scheme.
A total of 11,500 mcm!
Halite’s contribution could be as little as 130 mcm - hardly a significant contribution to the national need - if indeed the scheme ever comes to fruition!
You must to draw your own conclusions on the decision. So much for localism!