Fracking vote: Friends of the Earth considers legal action after approval of Yorkshire gas extraction plans

Campaigner says the decision has 'opened the floodgates for every fracking company ... to bring about the industrialisation and destruction' of large areas of the countryside

Ian Johnston
Environment Correspondent
@montaukian
Tuesday 24 May 2016 09:46
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Friends of the Earth is considering legal action after councillors voted to allow fracking in the North York Moors National Park – the first time the controversial gas-extraction technique has been approved in the UK for more than five years.

However the campaign group said the only real hope was that the decision could be overturned on a “technicality” as local people are not allowed to appeal a decision to grant planning permission to a developer.

North Yorkshire County Council’s planning committee voted seven to four to permit UK firm Third Energy to frack for shale gas near the village of Kirby Misperton, despite 4,375 letters of objection and 36 in support.

A spokeswoman for Friends of the Earth said: “The community cannot appeal – only the developers can appeal.

“The only option available would be a judicial review, which we will consider.

“A judicial review is always done on the legalities, the technicalities. It’s never the actual decision, it’s the way in which the decision was reached.

“So it’s something we will consider but it needs careful thought.”

It is now feared that smaller energy firms will start submitting potentially thousands of applications for fracking operations, which could result in the largest industrialisation of the countryside ever carried out in Britain.

Fracking wells drill down into shale rock, then send down a mixture of water and other chemicals at high pressure to fracture the rocks and release the gas trapped within. However this only affects a small area around the actual well and in the US and Australia densities have reached as high as eight wells per square mile.

Third Energy was given permission to frack about half a mile from Kirby Misperton.

Local protester Sue Gough, who lives in Little Barugh, said: “I just can’t believe that the committee has approved this application and totally ignored those people who will be directly affected by fracking.

“They have effectively now opened the floodgates for every fracking company to follow in Third Energy’s footsteps and bring about the industrialisation and destruction of not only Ryedale, but potentially the whole of North Yorkshire and swathes of the rest of the UK.

“This is not scaremongering – we know about the risks to public health and well-being and the impact on the environment.

“Councillors have heard for themselves how one resident has already become ill and frightened because of the constant drilling of this well that has already taken place prior to Third Energy’s intention to frack it.”

Ian Conlan, from local campaign group Frack Free Ryedale, said it was “just appalling” that councillors had approved the application despite the strength of public opposition.

“What faith can local people have in democracy if the members of the planning committee can just completely ignore both the strength of local opinion and the sound planning grounds that objectors have raised? It is a sham,” he said.

He called on Barclays Bank, a subsidiary of which owns 97 per cent of Third Energy, to “pull the plug” on the firm and “redirect their investments towards renewable energy that has genuine community support”.

The last time fracking took place in the UK was 2011 when two earthquakes were caused while another company looked for shale gas near Blackpool. This led to a temporary ban.

The UK Government has said it is going "all out for shale" to boost the economy. In contrast, the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have said they will oppose fracking until further research is done into the impacts.

Campaigners against fracking oppose it because it is creating another fossil fuel that will produce greenhouse gases when it is used, but also because of concerns about the potential leakage of gases such as ethane into the atmosphere and pollution of groundwater.

Rasik Valand, Third Energy's chief executive, thanked the council for the decision.

“I know that this not a decision that they have taken lightly, especially given the technical complexities and number of presentations made," he said.

"This approval is not a victory, but is a huge responsibility. We will have to deliver on our commitment, made to the committee and to the people of Ryedale, to undertake this operation safely and without impacting on the local environment.

"The purpose of this application is to establish if the gas seen in some samples in this hybrid sandstone shale formation can be made to flow, at what process conditions and for how long. If this flows then we will need to assess how it performs for some months before making any conclusions."

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