It’s quite a turnaround. A small English village where Third Energy wanted to frack for natural gas eight years ago, is about to become the site of the UK’s first geothermal well, extracting clean, renewable energy from deep underground without disturbing the geology.
The proposed scheme will be the first of its kind in the UK, where wells originally drilled to extract fossil fuels will be repurposed for renewable energy. And, unlike the fracking, which villagers protested vigorously, they are happy with the new plan.
In 2016, North Yorkshire County Council approved hydraulic fracturing for gas in Kirby Misperton. Gas company Third Energy was granted permission to frack at an existing well sunk in 2013. Residents went to court to protest the decision, and lost, but that didn’t stop the protests. Opposition came to a head in September 2017 as work got under way, just a few hundred metres from the village.
Fracking is banned in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and there is a moratorium in Wales. The North Yorkshire campaigners had no intention of letting fracking gain a foothold in England without a fight. Many of the protesters were locals from all walks of life – a university lecturer, a bishop, farmer, GPs and many retired teachers – who had never imagined themselves confronting police officers, let alone lying down in front of a truck.
In 2018, the protests led to an extraordinary police presence around the village and more than 80 arrests. Then early that year, the government said it was withholding consent from Third Energy until it could prove it had the finances to carry out fracking properly and clean up afterwards. Within days, Third Energy started removing key equipment from the site. The well was drilled but never fracked and in 2019, Third Energy sold its onshore business.
Pioneering firm CeraPhi Energy has patented technologies to convert existing wells at the end of their life by plugging the bottoms and using circulating fluids in a closed tube system within the well to bring the heat found deep underground to the surface. “We are not touching the geology – sending water down the outside of the tubes to collect the heat before bringing the water up the tubing to the surface where the heat is then processed,” said CeraPhi chief executive Karl Farrow.
The Kirby Misperton well is sufficient to supply heat to up to 400 homes for about 40 years. Other users of the heat could be a large-scale agricultural project in an acclimatized environment, distilleries or agricultural crop drying. Feasibility studies for using the KM8 well include using the heat for a local swimming pool, to distill alcohol or to power anaerobic digesters.
The company says there are a potential further 680 oil and gas wells which could be converted in the UK, including more than 200 between Lincolnshire and the North-East, and 12 in the Kirby Misperton area alone.
Those behind the project say that zero carbon housing estates could be built around geothermal wells, providing heat to properties for a flat rate connection charge rather than per kilowatt.
“The potential of having an evergreen energy site which is focused for renewable energy in a really small footprint – unlike solar and wind which requires a massive area of land – is very cool,” said Farrow.
Third Energy director Steve Mason, who was part of a renewable energy consortium which took over Third Energy in 2021, said the change of direction for the site had “mended the community”, with some 80% supporting the geothermal plans in a poll last year.
He was previously on the other side of the fence, with Frack Free United, pushing for a moratorium in 2019. “How I’ve ended up sitting 50 yards from the fracking well site I was opposing still seems quite surreal,” he said.
“The irony is that this started off as a fossil fuel site and it could contribute to a circular economy site where we look at locally produced food or local heat housing.
Eleven wells owned by Third Energy, near Pickering, Kirby Misperton and in Dalby and Wykeham Forests, are being investigated.
Kirby Misperton fracking site set to become geothermal well York Press, Aug. 31, 2023
Pioneering plan to tap underground renewable energy in Ryedale wins backing York Press, Oct. 4, 2022
Kirby Misperton fracking: Third Energy sells business. BBC, Apr 28, 2019
Meet the Yorkshire villagers fighting the frackers Guardian, Feb. 18, 2018
Cover image: Kerry/Pexels