Towards a Minerals Local Plan for Derbyshire and Derby

Towards a Strategy for Hydrocarbons

Next Steps

7.1    The Issues and Options consultation exercise was undertaken in the context of a different national and regional policy framework. Accordingly, it is necessary to reconsider the extent to which the Issues and Options Report and the responses to it remains relevant and to decide if it can help inform the debate and development of alternatives for the provision for hydrocarbons. In order to develop the new Minerals Local Plan we now need to seek to establish a strategy for the provision of hydrocarbons and work towards the formulation of new policies to be included in the new Plan to deliver the chosen strategy.

7.2    Issue 1: Emerging approach to the provision for hydrocarbons

As indicated above, the NPPF and NPPG require minerals planning authorities to plan for the steady and adequate supply of minerals, to identify and include policies for the steady and adequate supply of minerals, to identify and include policies for the extraction of mineral resources of local and national importance in their area and set out environmental criteria against which planning applications will be assessed so as to ensure that permitted operations do not have unacceptable adverse impacts. With regard to the extraction of hydrocarbons the NPPG encourages mineral planning authorities to make appropriate provision in local minerals plans through the use of published data (where available). Local minerals plans are also expected to include Petroleum Licence Areas on their policies maps and set criteria based policies for each of the three phases of development.

It is intended that the new MLP will adopt an approach to the provision of hydrocarbon minerals in accordance with the policy guidance of the NPPF and NPPG. The Plan, as a minimum, will identify on a plan the areas currently subject to Petroleum Licences and also any operational sites at the time of publication but will not seek to identify specific sites for future development due to the limitations of the existing information. The Plan may be able to identify areas where hydrocarbons resources are present and where development could be undertaken and this is addressed in a separate issue below. The Plan will also set out criteria for the assessment of planning applications and the criteria that will be included will also be determined through your responses to the issues below.  The NPPG indicates the use of separate criteria policies for each of the three phases of development (exploration, appraisal and production) but in practice there may be little or no difference in the criteria that could be used for the first two phases. The number and form of criteria policies to be included in the Plan will be determined through your responses to the issues below.

7.3    Issue 2: Identification of hydrocarbon resources within the plan area

The National Planning Practice Guidance states that the exploratory, appraisal or production phase of hydrocarbon extraction can only take place in areas where the Department of Energy and Climate Change (or any successor) has issued a licence under the Petroleum Act 1998 (Petroleum Licence). The new Minerals Local Plan will identify Petroleum Licence Areas and any existing oil and gas extraction sites which are present in the Plan area. In addition the NPPG also encourages mineral planning authorities to make provision for hydrocarbons by the use of published data on the location of conventional and unconventional hydrocarbons, use of ordnance survey based policies maps and available data on existing wells. It states that this approach will allow mineral planning authorities to highlight areas where proposals for hydrocarbon extraction may come forward, as well as managing potentially conflicting objectives for use of land. The NPPG also suggests that potential new working sites could be identified where these have been brought forward by the industry. It does not advocate the need to create mineral safeguarding areas specifically for the extraction of conventional and unconventional sources of hydrocarbons given the depth of the resource, the ability to utilise directional drilling and the small surface area requirements of well pads.

We need to establish how the new Minerals Local Plan could or should identify areas for potential hydrocarbon extraction which are within existing Petroleum Licence areas and to consider other areas where resources exist and which may be covered by future licence areas.

There are practical limitations concerning the extent to which the new Minerals Local Plan can identify areas where hydrocarbon extraction may be possible and also potentially acceptable. The limitations for the identification of these resources are similar to those for coal. The level and accuracy of information which is currently available about the location, scale and the economic viability of the remaining hydrocarbon resource is very limited. In the absence of detailed information about an individual site and how the hydrocarbon would be extracted it is difficult to assess the acceptability of working the resource.

Option 1: Identify on a plan the information required by new Government guidance – that is current Petroleum Exploration Development Licence areas and existing working sites.

This would represent a practical option within the information resources currently available and would satisfy the requirements of current Government guidance. It would be a clear and simple expression of the evidence currently available as the presence of a PEDL designation indicates that oil and gas resources are likely to exist within the area. This option however, would not provide any more information than could be readily obtained from other sources. PEDLs cover large areas but the presence of a licence does not automatically mean that hydrocarbon resources will be found across the entire area. In contrast the absence of a licence does not mean that hydrocarbon resources could not be found elsewhere and would therefore not indicate the full extent of the oil and gas resource of the Plan area.

Option 2: In addition to Government guidance requirements - Identify on a plan the extent of other areas where conventional and unconventional oil and gas resources are known to be present.

From the information which is currently available the Minerals Local Plan could identify the broad areas where oil and gas resources are known to exist, both within and outside existing Petroleum Licence areas. It is known that oil and gas have been found and obtained from sites in the Plan area in previous years and that further resources still exist in the part of the Plan area lying within the East Midlands Oil and Gas Province. Methane gas is commonly found in coal measures and therefore the coalfields in the Plan area are likely to contain further resources. The recent British Geological Survey report1 indicates that parts of the Plan area are underlain by shale containing resources of gas.

This option would provide a more comprehensive picture of the hydrocarbons resources which are available within the Plan area and would fulfil the approach encouraged by the NPPG by highlighting where proposals for hydrocarbon extraction may come forward.  

Option 3: In addition to Government guidance requirements - Identify on a plan the extent of other areas where conventional and unconventional oil and gas resources are known to be present and other areas where geological conditions indicate that further resources of hydrocarbons may be found.

From the known information about the prevailing geological conditions in the Plan area it may also be possible to indicate other areas where additional conventional and unconventional hydrocarbon resources could be found. It would provide the most comprehensive portrayal of potential sources of hydrocarbons in the Plan area indicating all areas where development proposals may come forward. However, the information could not be guaranteed to be wholly accurate and may be considered to be too speculative to be included in the new Minerals Local Plan. It could potentially raise unnecessary concerns about the prospects of future developments.

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1 See 1.1, page 1.

7.4    Issue 3: Identification of constraints on the production and processing of conventional and unconventional hydrocarbons

The National Planning Policy Framework states that mineral local plans should address the constraints on the production and processing of hydrocarbons within the areas that are licensed for oil and gas exploration or production (paragraph 147). Licensed areas are those in designated Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence areas.

The term is used in the NPPF in a generic sense and could therefore cover environmental, physical, economic and social issues. Paragraph 13 of the Minerals section of the NPPG identifies the environmental issues of mineral working that should be addressed by mineral planning authorities for the assessment of individual development proposals. These issues are often the basis for constraints and provide a starting point for the identification of environmental constraints. Neither the NPPF nor the NPPG however, provides any further information on the range or form of other economic or social constraints which could be identified, nor do they specify how constraints should be identified or presented.

The NPPF does not indicate whether it is referring only to the processing which is undertaken within an extraction site or for independent processing facilities on separate sites, or for both situations. It also does not indicate whether the constraints should be identified separately for production and processing.

We therefore need to establish the constraints that will be included in the Minerals Local Plan, the area for which constraints will be identified and also how best to present them. This section therefore asks two sets of questions to help address these issues.

7.5    Area of the Plan in which constraints will be identified

The NPPF states that constraints should be identified for those parts of the Plan area that are within PEDL areas. Current PEDL licence areas in Derbyshire and Derby do not cover the whole of the Plan area and it is possible that further licences could be issued over the Plan period.

Option 1: Identify constraints for current PEDL areas only.

This option would accord with current Government guidance but it is possible that further PEDL licences could be granted during the Plan period which would require it to be reviewed and updated.

Option 2: Identify constraints for current PEDL areas and also for those parts of the Plan area where hydrocarbon resources are known to be present.

This would provide a comprehensive picture of constraints for all areas where hydrocarbon extraction could possibly take place and would avoid the need for further consultations in the future if and when new PEDLs were issued.

7.6    Identification of constraints on production and/or processing

We are now seeking your help to determine the range of constraints that the Plan will identify. It is proposed that the Plan will identify constraints for all forms of hydrocarbon production and processing, including stand-alone processing facilities. With reference to the environmental issues listed in the NPPF and NPPG it is proposed that the Plan will identify constraints which relate to the following environmental issues:

  • Landscape
  • Biodiversity/Ecology.
  • Heritage
  • Archaeology
  • Geology/Geomorphology.
  • Water Protection/Flood Zones.
  • Green Belt.
  • Contaminated Land.

It is also proposed that the Plan will identify:

  • Cumulative constraints.
  • Social Constraints.
  • Economic Constraints.

7.7    Issue 4: The use of criterion based policies for conventional and unconventional hydrocarbon developments

a) The use of separate policies for each stage of hydrocarbon developments

The National Planning Policy Framework states that mineral planning authorities should include criteria policies in minerals local plans to assess and determine development proposals. The National Planning Practice Guidance states that planning permission is required for each of the separate phases of the overall development; that is exploration, appraisal and production and that minerals local plans should include criteria based policies for each of the phases. The MLP will therefore include criteria based policies covering all these stages of development. However, based on the experience gained from processing previous mineral development proposals there are unlikely to be significant difference between the issues which are relevant to the exploration and appraisal stages. Indeed these stages are often combined in to one planning application.

Option 1: Include only two separate criteria policies; one for exploration and appraisal and another for production.

The provision of one criteria policy for both the exploration and appraisal stages would help streamline the Minerals Local Plan and provide for policy considerations which correlate to the manner in which many hydrocarbon development proposals are formulated.

Option 2: Include separate criteria policies for each of the three stages of development.

b) The use of additional criteria policies for oil or gas, for conventional or unconventional sources or for different extraction technologies

With regard to the use of criteria policies, the guidance does not differentiate between the various sources of hydrocarbons or the different methods of production. For example, it does not indicate whether plans should include separate criteria based policies for the extraction of oil or gas, for hydrocarbons from conventional or unconventional sources, or for methods of extraction utilising different technologies (e.g. hydraulic fracturing or coal bed gasification). You may consider that developments in these different categories raise different issues which merit the inclusion of additional criteria policies specific to those forms of development. This consultation presents a number of options to help us determine the approach of the new Minerals Local Plan.

Option 1: Include only two or three separate criterion based policies for the three phases of hydrocarbon developments (as determined by the responses to the options above).

This option would broadly represent the approach advocated in Government guidance. The inclusion of one set of criteria policies for the phases of all forms of hydrocarbon developments would provide a clear and succinct framework for the assessment and determination of development proposals. It would be unambiguous and both developers and local communities would readily know the criteria that would be used to determine planning applications.

Option 2: Include a separate set of criterion based policies for the phases of each of the different types of hydrocarbon (e.g. conventional oil and natural gas, gas from coal measures and gas from unconventional sources such as the hydraulic fracturing of shale deposits).

You may consider that the exploration, appraisal and extraction of the different types of hydrocarbons listed above raises significantly different issues which merit the inclusion of criteria policies specifically tailored to each form. The policies could take account of how and where conventional and unconventional hydrocarbons are found beneath the ground and the differences in how they are extracted or the facilities that would be required above ground. In practice however there are many similarities in the methods used to extract hydrocarbons irrespective of how and where they are located. Most of these differences could be covered in a comprehensive single set of criteria policies for all forms of development. The inclusion of separate policies could lead to unnecessary duplication and possible confusion, particularly for any hybrid developments extracting oil and gas from one site or by employing more than one extraction method.

Option 3: In addition to Option 1 include only an additional set of criterion based policies specifically for hydraulic fracturing.

You may consider that the issues raised by most forms of hydrocarbon development are sufficiently similar such that one set of criteria based policies would suffice but do not agree that this would be appropriate for hydraulic fracturing of shale gas. You may consider that the issues raised by this method of extracting shale gas merits the inclusion of an additional set of policies for each phase of this form of hydrocarbon development. Although its use is widespread in the USA it remains an emerging technology in this country. At present there are only a limited number of sites which have reached the exploration stage and none have developed to the production stage and therefore there is little empirical evidence or experience about the issues such developments do raise. It should also be remembered that many of the issues which have caused public concern in this country would be matters for other regulators and not for the planning system. Accordingly they could not be addressed in a policy in a Minerals Local Plan.

7.8    Issue 5: The range of criteria to be included in the policies for conventional and unconventional hydrocarbons.

We are now seeking your help to determine the actual criteria that will be included in the policies to assess and determine hydrocarbon developments. This is to be derived from two separate questions. The first is to help compile a list of criteria to be included in the policies for hydrocarbon developments in general and the second is to help compile a separate list for policies relating to hydraulic fracturing. This second list will only apply if you decide that hydraulic fracturing does merit a separate set of policies otherwise the matter will be redundant. It is included at this stage to avoid the need for a further round of consultations which could delay progress of the new Minerals Local Plan.

The DCLG publication, Planning practice for onshore oil and gas, July 2013, (reference 10) identified the principal environmental issues of hydrocarbon extraction that should be addressed by mineral planning authorities. These issues have not been carried forward into the National Planning Practice Guidance, March 2014 advice on hydrocarbons, although a similar list has been included to identify the environmental issues which could apply to all forms of mineral developments. Although the DCLG publication has been cancelled following the release of the NPPG it is considered that these two documents address the environmental issues which are relevant to hydrocarbon developments and which could be used to help identify and establish the list of criteria that will be included in the policies. The NPPG clarifies the issues which are matters for other regulators and which mineral planning authorities should not take into account in their assessment of development proposals. Criteria based on these matters would therefore not be appropriate for inclusion in the policies. The issues which are identified to be matters for other regulatory regimes include seismic risks, well design, construction and integrity, operation of other surface equipment on the well pad, mining waste, chemical content of hydraulic fracturing fluid, flaring and venting, off-site disposal of water and well decommissioning.

The issues below are those identified in the NPPG and the DCLG cancelled publication. These are very similar to the main issues raised in consultation and publicity responses to other energy based mineral development proposals submitted to Derbyshire County Council and Derby City Council in recent years.

Criteria

  • Criteria for noise associated with the operation.
  • Criteria for the assessment of dust.
  • Criteria for the assessment of the impact on air quality.
  • Criteria for assessing lighting.
  • Criteria for the assessment of the level of visual intrusion into the local setting. and the wider landscape caused by the placement of any building or structure within the application site area.
  • Criteria for the assessment of the impacts on landscape character.
  • Criteria to assess the importance of archaeological and heritage features.
  • Criteria to assess the generation and impact of traffic.
  • Criteria to assess the level of risk of contamination of land.
  • Criteria to assess the impact on soil resources.
  • Criteria to assess the impact on the best and most versatile agricultural land.
  • Criteria for flood risk.
  • Criteria to assess the impact on the water environment.
  • Criteria for land stability and subsidence.
  • Criteria to assess the impact on internationally, nationally or local designated wildlife sites, protected habitats and species, and ecological networks.
  • Criteria to assess impact on nationally protected geological and geomorphological sites and features.
  • Criteria to establish site restoration and aftercare requirements.

Government guidance indicates that policies should address each phase separately but your responses to the questions above will determine whether the Plan will combine the exploration and appraisal phases into one policy. Whether we include two or three separate policies we are asking for your views about the criteria that should be included in the policies for the respective phases.

7.9    Issue 6: Criteria to be applied to proposals for the hydraulic fracturing of shale gas.

The emergence of hydraulic fracturing as a means of extracting gas for use in our energy supplies has become a major issue in recent years. Although the scale and economic viability of the resource in the Plan area is yet to be established, it is an aspect of mineral working that must be addressed in the Minerals Local Plan. Whilst hydraulic fracturing proposals could be assessed and determined using a set of policies which apply to all hydrocarbon developments, you may consider that it is such a major issue that it merits individual consideration. As stated above, your responses to this issue will only be considered if it is concluded that hydraulic fracturing of shale gas merits a separate set of policies.