Fracking has got the go-ahead in the UK for the first time since 2011, after councillors in Yorkshire granted planning permission for the controversial process to take place in Ryedale.
Following a two-day evidence hearing, North Yorkshire county council’s planning committee voted by seven to four to approve Third Energy’s plans to frack at a site near Kirby Misperton. Despite the enthusiastic support of Government, the decision has been plagued by delays and rejections and marks a major milestone for the fledgling shale gas industry in the UK.
Fracking could now take place before the end of the year, if opponents do not delay it by bringing a legal challenge against the decision. Friends of the Earth confirmed it was “considering judicial review” against the approval. Objections against Third Energy’s plans had been lodged by more than 4,000 people. This raised fears over safety, the impact on tourism and the potential for the “industrialisation of the countryside.”
Energy minister, Andrea Leadsom, welcomed the decision, saying the Government was: “looking forward to the safe exploration of shale gas beginning and finding out just how much of this home grown energy supply is available to power our homes and businesses.“
Official studies suggest Britain could have vast resources of shale gas trapped in rocks deep beneath the ground that could help meet the country’s gas needs for decades to come. However, extracting the gas requires hydraulic fracturing. This involves pumping water, sand and chemicals into the ground at high pressure to fracture the rock. The process is highly controversial due to concerns about its environmental impact.
Until fracking takes place, it is not known how easily, if at all, the UK’s shale gas can be extracted. Cuadrilla attempted to frack for shale gas near Blackpool in 2011 but was forced to halt its efforts after causing two minor earth tremors, leading to a temporary ban on the practice. Although the ban was lifted in late 2012 no fracking has taken place since. Cuadrilla sought permission to drill and frack at two new sites in Lancashire last year but both were rejected and are now subject to appeals.
Third Energy’s plans involve fracking a well it already drilled at the site near Kirby Misperton in summer 2013. Rasik Valand, Third Energy’s chief executive, said the company regarded the planning consent: “not as a victory, but as a huge responsibility. We will have to deliver on our commitment, made to the committee and to the people of Ryedale, to undertake this operation safely and without impacting on the local environment.”
Mr Valand warned that people should not: “expect to see any activities on site in the near future” as it now had to meet a series of planning conditions as well as secure final sign-off from the energy secretary, Amber Rudd. There would then be: “the normal commercial and project management work, such as the letting of contracts and ordering of long lead items,” before fracking can finally take place.