Britain’s fledgling shale-gas industry has a won a major victory that could open the door to widespread fracking across the country.
Last week, the North Yorkshire council voted to allow London-based Third Energy to use hydraulic fracturing at an existing conventional drilling site near the village of Kirby Misperton, in the district of Ryedale northeast of York. The decision marked the first approval for a fracking operation since 2011, when the process was shut down after it was blamed for causing two minor earthquakes.
The council approved the application by a 7-to-4 margin despite widespread local opposition. More than 3,000 submissions were made against the project, which is close to a national park, compared to 34 in favour. Hundreds of opponents turned out during two days of public hearings and every local parish in the area objected.
“This has been a very difficult decision for the council to make and we know it is a difficult decision for the people of this county,” said the council’s chief executive Richard Flinton. He added that the council believes the fracking can be done safely and that the decision only pertains to one well.
“I am shocked and dismayed,” said Ian Conlan of Frack Free Ryedale, which is considering a legal challenge. ‘It would appear they weren’t listening.”
Analysts and anti-fracking campaigners believe the council’s decision has set a precedent for other local authorities to follow and it will give the shale-gas industry a huge boost. “The industry will feel buoyed by the fact that shale is up and running again after a five-year hiatus,” Michael Bradshaw, a professor of global energy at the University of Warwick, wrote in a recent commentary. “Other companies are waiting in the wings.”
Fracking has been a divisive issue in Britain for years as the country grapples with dwindling gas production from the North Sea. Britain started importing natural gas in 2004 and by some estimates the country could be importing 75 per cent of its gas by 2030. The Conservative government has championed shale gas as a key part of the country’s energy future with Prime Minister David Cameron saying he was “going all out for shale.” The government recently approved 93 exploration licences and there are estimates that up to 75,000 jobs could be created.