Yorkshire today becomes the unlikely venue where the future of Britain’s shale industry could be decided. If councillors reject the fracking application, ministers will have to override local politicians or give up UK shale gas development.
At one level the committee of North Yorkshire county councillors sitting today are simply assessing a planning application in the same way as any other.
But the fact that the application involves the controversial fracking mining method will bring national attention on their deliberations.
In legal terms, whatever verdict the county’s planning committee reaches no precedent will be set. Every planning application, whether for fracking or a new garage, has to be considered on its merits.
But Lancashire County Council rejected two applications for fracking operations last year and a further rejection in North Yorkshire would raise serious questions over whether the industry will ever gain a foothold in the UK.
The Government has championed the creation of a UK fracking industry, arguing it will be a source of energy security, jobs and tax receipts and not pose risks to the environment or health.
But if North Yorkshire rejects Third Energy’s application at Kirby Misperton, ministers will have to face up to the possibility that local council planning committees will never agree to fracking proposals no matter how many reassurances they are given.
That scenario would leave ministers with a uncomfortable choice of overiding local opinion or giving up on the dream of a UK fracking industry.