NORTH YORKSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL has approved plans to conduct the first shale gas fracking tests in the UK for five years despite receiving around 4,400 objections from residents and campaigners.
The council voted 7–4 in favour of allowing UK–based energy company Third Energy to extract gas from an existing gas well near the village of Kirby Misperton in the Ryedale region.
Third Energy says fracking activity will not take place on the site for some time as the company must first test if the gas in the hybrid sandstone formation can be made to flow, at what process conditions and for how long. If the performance is viable and in line with the planning committee’s conditions, the company must then work with the Environment Agency to ensure all environmental risks are assessed and approved as safe before operating.
Rasik Valand, CEO of Third Energy said: “This approval, is not as 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.”
Third Energy’s plans have attracted strong opposition from local residents and campaign groups. Out of the thousands of letters received by the county council, only 36 were in support of the plans. Environmental interest group Greenpeace accused the Conservative-led central government of “pro fracking bias” and claims their energy agenda has influenced the Conservative council more than the wishes of residents.
Greenpeace has also said that renewed operations in fracking – the process of using a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals to split rocks to release the gas inside – will cause potential problems for residents including the threat of earthquakes, water contamination and pollution.
Richard Claxon, volunteer for Greenpeace, said: “Fracking will cause huge air, noise and light pollution for local residents, and contribute to climate change that will affect us all.”
This is the first planning permission granted for fracking in the UK since 2011 following a 1.5 magnitude earthquake struck 2 km from a former shale site operated by Cuadrilla at Weeton in Lancashire. The government imposed a moratorium shortly after the incident, forcing a suspension of operations. The moratorium was lifted in 2012; however no fracking licences have been accepted until now.
Cuadrilla applied for planning permission for another site in Lancashire in 2015, but was refused over noise pollution concerns and the extra traffic it would generate.
The UK government is eager to replicate the shale boom in the US to reduce the UK’s dependency on imported natural gas and to substitute for declines in North Sea oil production. In 2015, it announced it would intervene in shale gas planning applications that have not been given a decision after 16 weeks.
In order to entice local authorities to grant permission, the UK government has ordered that companies that carry out fracking will have to pay £100,000 (US$146,000) to the local community per well, plus 1% of profits.
A joint report from the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering revealed no technical reasons not to frack, however, have called for a stringent review process, and the coordination and policing of appropriate regulation to ensure that the environmental impacts of fracking are understood and kept to a minimum.
Simon Harrison, chair of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) Energy Policy Panel, said: “Shale gas has some potential to increase energy security, but will only bring climate change benefits if it is used instead of coal. If it is used to displace imported gas there will be no climate change benefits at all.”
Energy analysts have said that even in the most favourable circumstances, large scale development of fracking wells in the UK are at least 5–10 years away.
The US Energy Information Administration estimates the UK has around 740bn m3 of shale gas recoverable reserves.
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