The North Yorkshire county council has officially given the go ahead for the first fracking tests in the UK for five years, amid resistance from green campaigners and local residents.
Tests will now begin within a few months, and will continue for up to eight weeks. If the site proves to be fully viable, then the fracking operations will continue for almost a decade.
The decision comes after an official report released last week officially recommended that “planning permission be granted for the purpose to hydraulically stimulate and test the various geological formations previously identified…followed by the production of gas”.
Now, permission has officially been granted to Third Energy to begin tests as their existing well in Kirby Misperton, North Yorkshire, at the site known as KM8.
The move is one that is in line with the government’s current position, which is that production of natural gas through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is necessary in order to boost our domestic energy production, and security of energy supply generally.
It is, however, one that has been met with objections from many. The most recent attempt to frack in the UK was in Lancashire, where local councillors ended up blocking the plans of energy company Cuardilla who wanted to extract shale gas from various sites in the county.
Objections this time round are similar to those raised in Lancashire. Campaigners are arguing that the tests, and the subsequent full-scale gas extraction, would negatively impact the local area and environment in various undesirable ways.
Back in 2011, the last fracking tests in the UK, which took place in Lancashire, were halted after reports found that they were likely linked to a series of minor earthquakes.
Problems like this, as well as unwanted noise and traffic pollution and general issues with the burning of fossil fuels, led to thousands of objections being raised to the council prior to permission being officially granted.
The leader of the planning committee that gave the go-ahead, Peter Sowray, acknowledged the resistance to the decision, saying: “People are going to be angry. It will take time to calm down – for some people it never will.”
However, he did combat objections from many who argued that allowance Third Energy to frack at KM8 would set a dangerous precedent, leading to more and more wells appearing across the country.
“There may be more applications” he said, but this current decision applies to one site only, and will not lead to “hundreds of wells” being dug.
Third Energy themselves argued against objections based on the environmental impact of the fracking tests, claiming that there is “virtually zero” risk of contamination to local water supplies, and that the operations would lead to “no significant disturbance from noise”.
They dismissed the large majority of objections as “an awful lot of scaremongering”.
The company’s commercial director, Ian Gair, said: “Do not be cowed by cries of foul play of precedent setting. Would you stifle a child at birth for fear of what it would grow into?”
Their chief executive Rasik Valand also played down fears of the impact that the tests would have, saying: “It is important to take a step back and focus on what is the issue: hydraulic fracturing, two to three kilometres in the ground in an existing well that has been operating for a long time”.
Nonetheless, campaign groups have not gone down without a fight, with Friends of the Earth saying that they are considering putting forward a legal challenge. One of their campaigners said: “This is an absolute travesty of a decision, but the battle is very far from over”.
Also using the semantics of combat was campaigner Sarah Hockey, who said of the council’s decision: “It is a war, now, they’ve declared on us. It’s a war on our human rights to clean air and water so we’ve got to take it like that and keep pushing and pushing and pushing.”
Friends of the Earth issued a joint statement with Frack Free Ryedale, saying: “We urge and will support the government to develop a balanced long-term energy policy that will achieve our globally agreed climate change targets. Today we resolve to continue to fight to remain free from fracking, to protect our communities, our beautiful countryside, our air and water, and to protect the future of the planet.”
However, Ken Cronin, CEO of lobby group UK Onshore Oil and Gas, hailed the decision as a sign that many campaigners objections were misplaced.
He said that the move “helps to dispel many of the misleading claims that have been made about this application, as well as the process of hydraulic fracturing more generally. We look forward to Third Energy being able to conduct a test to see how much gas in under this area of North Yorkshire to power and heat homes and businesses.”
The chief executive of Cuadrilla weighed in as well, saying: “This will boost the shale gas industry across the north of England, providing much needed jobs as well as gas vitally needed to heat our homes and power our businesses.”