People living near a Canadian energy company’s exploratory gas-drilling site in east Yorkshire have complained to the Environment Agency about feeling sick from noxious smells. But the company has re-assured government inspectors and local people there is no danger to human health and has been allowed to continue drilling a 9,000 ft deep “wildcat” bore hole.
“The smell is hideous, very distinctive, pungent and nauseous. It comes in waves. It started last week and has continued since. It fades in and out. The area where they are drilling is very rural and the smell drifts easily a mile away,” says Debbie Stabler who lives 400m from the drill site near West Newton, near Aldbrough in east Yorkshire.
“Depending on the wind, it has at times reached villages like West Newton and Withernwick,” said Stabler, who with others have also complained about gas flaring and light pollution from the round-the-clock operation.
Rathlin, which is exploring for conventional oil and natural gas deposits and says it is not injecting sand, water and chemicals at high pressure underground to fracture shale – the process known as fracking – admits causing smells but said people’s awareness could be heightened by “anything out of the ordinary”.
A company spokesman said: “There has been a slight odour associated with our ongoing testing operations. Our work continues to be monitored by our own people and the regulatory authorities. The odour is not hazardous to health.
“There is water in the well and the mixing fluids being used are causing the smell. The smell is not methane nor is it additives. I am told that it is from the composition of naturally occurring fluids within the well formation.”
In a statement, the Environment Agency said: “Following a site inspection we have instructed the company to find the source immediately and take action to fix it. The company is now undertaking urgent work to solve the problem. Operators are required to comply with their permits and the Environment Agency can, and will, stop operations if there is a risk to the environment.”
Rathlin is owned by Calgary-based Canadian company Connaught Oil and Gas, and has a license to explore 241,000 acres in Yorkshire some of which sits above the Bowland shale formation which is estimated by the the British Geological Survey to hold phenomenal voliumes of shale gas.
Rathlin’s planning permission does not allow it to frack in east Yorkshire. “The well will be pressured up to the point where the rock would begin to fracture and then will be shut in to monitor the pressure fall off. No hydrocarbons or other formation fluids be will recovered during this test. Once the test has been completed the zone will be plugged and abandoned,” the company stated before starting work.
One anti-fracking campaigner, who wished to remain nameless, said: “Rathlin has claimed that it has no intention of fracking on the sites and has claimed that it is seeking only short term exploitation of conventional hydrocarbons at its two sites. But it has secured 50 year arrangements with local farmers, suggesting it is seeking long-term exploitation of shale gas resources.”
The company, which has been the target of protesters for months, last month went to the high court to have a camp evicted from one of its sites, prompting it to complain that it was being victimised.
“Rathlin has been the target of an unrelenting stream of misinformation, unfounded allegations about our objectives, scare-mongering and defamatory reputational damage. We have always been clear that fracking has no part in our work or our plans … but the protesters camped at our sites, and other vociferous individuals continue to stage these protests, in the wrong place and at the wrong targets,” it said in a statement on its website.