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Breakthrough: UK County Council Approve First Fracking Permit Since 2011

Selina Williams, The Wall Street Journal

LONDON—An English county government on Monday approved an application for what could be the first permit to frack for shale gas in Western Europe since 2011.

The North Yorkshire County Council voted 7-4 to allow U.K.-based Third Energy to use hydraulic fracturing to extract shale gas from an existing natural gas well in Kirby Misperton in northern England.

“This approval is a huge responsibility. We will have to deliver on our commitment…to undertake this operation safely and without impacting on the local environment,” said Rasik Valand, chief executive of privately held Third Energy.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a process of using water, sand and chemicals to release oil and gas trapped in underground rock. The widespread use of the practice reinvigorated the U.S. onshore oil-and-gas industry over the last decade.

The U.K., which the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates has 26 trillion cubic feet of shale gas reserves, is one of the few countries in Europe whose laws allow fracking. But local governments haven’t awarded permits for companies to start the process.

Prime Minister David Cameron is eager to replicate the U.S. fracking boom in hopes of reducing Britain’s reliance on imported gas and offsetting declines in production from country’s aging fields in the North Sea.

But companies that have proposed fracking in the U.K. have hit opposition from environmental groups and local residents in the rural areas where prospectors want to drill.

Last summer, the Lancashire Council in northwest England rejected applications by Cuadrilla Resources Ltd. to frack at two sites. Cuadrilla is appealing the decision and hopes to get a decision later this year.

Britain has since changed planning rules to speed up the process and to allow government intervention to approve or reject shale-gas drilling permits.

The government’s “intent is good, but the delivery is not,” Cuadrilla Chief Executive Francis Egan said at a conference in London last week. “Investors have patience but it’s not limitless,” he added.

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