Anger as council approves first UK fracking project in five years


Councillors in North Yorkshire have given the green light to the first fracking operation in the UK for five years.

The controversial decision has been condemned as a travesty by those opposed to the move, but a "victory for pragmatism" by those in favour.

The county council planning committee approved the application by UK firm Third Energy to frack for shale gas at an existing drilling site near the village of Kirby Misperton, between Malton and Pickering.

The vote allows Third Energy to frack for shale gas using an existing two-mile deep well - called KM8 - drilled in 2013.

Seven of the 11 North Yorkshire County Councillors on the committee voted in favour of the application.

The result was met with boos and jeers from protesters who had gathered on the lawn outside County Hall, in Northallerton, during the two-day meeting.

The fracking application is the first to be approved in the UK since 2011, when tests on the Fylde coast, in Lancashire, were found to have been the probable cause of minor earthquakes in the area.

Since then, two high-profile applications to frack in Lancashire have been rejected by councillors and are now the subject of appeals.

Friends of the Earth said it will look at whether the decision can be challenged, and campaigner Simon Bowens said: "This is an absolute travesty of a decision but the battle is very far from over."

Greenpeace accused the Government of having a "pro-fracking bias", which they said made the outcome inevitable.

Planners had recommended the plan be approved, despite acknowledging that the majority of representations received in consultation were objections.

Vicky Perkin, a council planning officer, told the committee that, of 4,420 individual representations, 4,375 were objections and just 36 were in support of the application.

But the planning officers' report said: "It should also be noted that there is national policy support for the development of a shale gas industry in this country and this is an important material consideration."

The Government has said it is going "all out for shale" to boost energy security and the economy.

But opponents fear fracking - in which liquid is pumped deep underground at high pressure to fracture rock and release gas - can cause problems including water contamination, earthquakes and noise and traffic pollution.

Environmentalists also warn that pursuing new sources of gas - a fossil fuel - is not compatible with efforts to tackle climate change.

Rasik Valand, chief executive of Third Energy, said work would not start at the site for "months and months" and would initially be an "exploration phase".

When asked if this was a precedent for further fracking applications to be approved, he said: "We don't look upon it like that. We are a local company, we see ourselves as a local company. For us, this is about testing what's in our local area."

He continued: "I think there's fear that this is the first and there's responsibility on us to deliver it safely. The fears will diminish once we execute it safely."

Ken Cronin, chief executive of UK Onshore Oil and Gas, said it is "a very important first step".

North Yorkshire council's chief executive Richard Flinton said the decision was taken carefully and does not necessarily mean similar decisions will follow.

He said: "Each application of this nature will be decided upon based on its own merits."

Committee chairman Peter Sowray said he knew people would be angry about the decision but was "comfortable" with the outcome.

He added: "It's just one well, one existing well that's going to be fracked. It's not going to be hundreds of wells, it's just one well, that's all we're talking about."

Dr Adam Marshall, acting director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, described the decision as a "much-needed victory for pragmatism, in the face of the serious energy security problems Britain faces".

He said: "Fracking has the potential to play a part in solving the UK's energy crunch, and create new energy-related jobs in many areas."