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A victory for the onshore oil and gas industry

IT WAS a long time coming, but all the sweeter for that. On May 23rd, the North Yorkshire County Council gave the go-ahead for a company to start hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, for shale gas in the village of Kirby Misperton, near Malton.

It is the first time since 2011 that permission has been given for fracking in Britain, and the industry hopes that this decision will pave the way for numerous other such planning decisions to go their way in the coming months. The news will certainly cheer the government, which has strongly supported fracking. While Britain has lagged, other countries, notably America, have raced ahead with the shale-gas revolution, transforming energy markets. The hope is that Britain, too, can now begin to join in.

Most importantly, the permission to frack at Kirby Misperton will help resolve the question of how much shale gas there actually is under North Yorkshire, and the north of England more generally. Exploration can now begin properly. Companies such as Third Energy, the company just approved in Yorkshire, and Cuadrilla, which was turned down for permission to frack in Lancashire last year, believe that the deposits are substantial.

There are also thought to be similarly rich deposits in Britain’s other main shale formations, in the Weald Basin in southern England, and the Midland valley of Scotland. Even by conservative estimates, there could be enough shale gas to transform Britain’s own energy market. Without fracking, by 2019 Britain is expected to import about 70% of its gas. But if even 10% of the British Geological Survey’s estimate of deposits are recoverable, that could make the country self-sufficient in gas for up to 50 years. This would, of course, be a boon to the balance of trade, and the government hopes that fracking will also create jobs and boost manufacturing.

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