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Yorkshire fracking plans approved

Words: Laura Edgar
Fracking / iStock_000022131270

North Yorkshire County Council’s planning committee has granted approval for plans to frack for shale gas near to Kirby Misperton, Ryedale, with campaigners against the plans labelling the decision a "travesty”.

This is the first fracking operation to be approved in England since a ban was lifted in 2012. The council’s planning committee voted seven to four in favour of Third Energy’s application, which was recommended for approval earlier this month. 

The approval will see Third Energy hydraulically stimulating and testing various geological formations previously identified during the 2013 KM8 drilling operation. The aim is to produce gas from one or more of these formations into existing production facilities and wellsite restoration. Third Energy received the environmental permits required to allow the company to carry out fracking for shale gas at an existing bore hole from the Environment Agency in April.Kirby Misperton

The planning committee sat for two days and listened to more than 100 speakers before making its decision yesterday.

It was told by council planning officer Vicky Perkin that of 4,420 individual representations, only 36 were in support of the application.

However, the council said it and other local councils are “required to work within the national policy framework that indigenous oil and gas remain key to energy security while facilitating the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions”.

“This must be a material consideration as is the need for economic growth and development that will provide jobs and sustainable communities.”

The county council has said the planning committee is satisfied with mitigation of the effects of the development, such as safeguarding the natural environment, protected species and habitats, the amenity of local residents, the protection of ground and surface water quality and traffic management, can be achieved through the discharge of planning conditions.

Richard Flinton, chief executive of North Yorkshire County Council, said the decision had been a “very difficult” one for the council to make.

“We are proud of our beautiful county, which attracts so many visitors and maintains a thriving tourism industry. We have no intention of jeopardising those qualities and our rural industries and livelihoods. For that reason the planning conditions must be fully discharged and monitored. In this case there has already been drilling for gas on this site over many years. The decision taken today does not have a bearing on future decisions. Each application of this nature will be decided upon based on its own merits."

Huge responsibility


Rasik Valand, chief executive of Third Energy, said the approval is not a victory, but 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.”

Valand said there would not be any activity on the site in the near future. He said the company has conditions from the council and Environment Agency to meet.

“There are other consents and notifications required prior to receiving final consent from the secretary of state. Then there is the normal commercial and project management work, such as the letting of contracts and ordering of long lead items.”

‘A travesty’


Simon Bowens, Yorkshire and Humber campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said the approval is “an absolute travesty of a decision” and the battle is “very far from over”.

“Despite this decision, public support for fracking is plummeting as Wales, Scotland, and countries across Europe have suspended it. The risks to people’s health and the environment are unacceptable and we will fight on.”

Ian Conlan, of Frack Free Ryedale, described the decision as “appalling”, particularly considering the “strength of public opposition”.

Despite that, he said, the application “has been pushed through by councillors who are being told what to do by a government that is determined to support the fracking industry”.

He questioned: “What faith can local people have in democracy if the members of the planning committee can just completely ignore both the strength of local opinion and the sound planning grounds that objectors have raised? It is a sham.”

Decision a long time coming


The approval is a “significant” one for the shale gas industry, Claire Brook, partner at law firm Bond Dickinson said.

“It was made in the face of significant public opposition and has been a long time coming -  not just for Third Energy who started their planning application process at least 18 months ago, but also for other participants in the industry who are anxious to see some progress being made after significant upfront investment over the last few years.”

The fact that the developer was “required to go to such extraordinary lengths” to secure planning approval for an existing well will “still be of concern to the wider industry”, Brook said.

“The industry and its investors will only have so much patience with the regulatory systems we have in place and we do need to get the balance right. While an appropriate level of scrutiny is, of course, essential for these applications, it does need to be proportionate to the likely impacts that might be encountered for the particular development."

Image credits | iStock and Geography (smaller pic)