A decision date on two proposed shale gas exploration sites in Lancashire will be made next year as more consultation is needed, Lancashire County Council said.
The two sites in the Fylde area of west Lancashire are of interest of energy firm Cuadrilla, who has applied for a planning permission to drill, hydraulically fracture and test the flow of gas from up to four exploration wells.
Councillors are set to make a decision on both applications, with drilling likely to start several months later if approved and the fracking to follow.
Planners had already agreed with Cuadrilla that the application at Roseacre Wood in Inskip would be decided by 31 January and have now also agreed that the application for Preston New Road, Little Plumpton, will be decided by the same date. It had previously been agreed that the Preston New Road application would be decided by 31 December.
"The planners have been working since the applications were received in June to consult with the public and other statutory agencies, and assess the applications, to ensure all the information needed to determine them is put before the development control committee,” the council said in a statement.
"As part of this process, further information on both sites has been provided by Cuadrilla. Lancashire County Council will hold a further consultation to allow for representations on the further information to be made. The new determination date for the Preston New Road site will allow time for any representations on the further information for both sites to be considered and addressed in the reports to be presented to the development control committee when the applications are determined."
Earlier this week, the UK Environment Agency said it will likely grant Cuadrilla environmental permits for its proposed shale gas exploration site at Roseacre Wood, with the ultimate decision to be made in early January after a final round of consultations. The Roseacre Wood announcement follows an earlier one regarding the Preston New Road site issued several weeks ago.
“The decision, following a robust and rigorous review of our permit applications, demonstrates that, as we have committed, the local environment will be well protected throughout our proposed exploratory operations,” Cuadrilla's CEO Francis Egan commented on the Environment Energy Announcement on Monday.
Cuadrilla believes that Lancashire's Bowland basin has the potential to become the UK's dominant source of shale gas.
An earlier exploratory operation at Cuadrilla's site in Weeton, Lancashire, was suspended in June 2011 following two earthquakes in April and May of that year, one with a magnitude of 2.3 and the other 1.4. The epicentre was thought to be about 500 yards away from the test well.
An independent report by experts later concluded that the hydraulic fracturing was the probable cause of the tremors, but it was due to an "unusual combination of geology" at the well site and was unlikely to be repeated. However, the possibility of future induced tremors was not entirely ruled out.
Hundreds of protesters attended a six-day Reclaim The Power camp in August near the proposed Little Plumpton site to campaign against shale gas extraction in the region by the controversial process.
Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, involves pumping pressurised liquid into the ground to fracture the rock and release the trapped shale gas. Environmentalists are largely opposing the technique, well established in the USA since the 1980s, as they believe it drives investment away from truly clean renewable resources and threatens to damage the countryside.