Lancashire County Council has accepted a request by energy firm Cuadrilla to defer decisions on two fracking applications.
Cuadrilla asked for the deferral of the decision, originally expected this week, after the council's planning officers recommended the applications to be rejected due to concerns over excessive noise and traffic disruption.
The firm submitted further evidence regarding measures it was going to take to minimise the impact, which, it said, the council should take into account before making their final verdict.
The council consulted a lawyer before confirming it would defer the decision regarding the two sites in the Preston and Blackpool area. It said it would require a minimum of eight weeks to reconsider the applications.
"During the meeting members heard legal advice that supported the request for deferral, which will enable time for consultation on the new information provided by the applicant,” said Munsif Dad, chair of the council’s planning committee.
"We will reconvene as soon as we can to consider the decisions in light of the new information when it is presented to the committee. Everyone who has registered to speak for or against the applications will be invited back to do so at that time.”
The councilors voted 13-1 in favour of deferring the applications, with one committee member abstaining.
The council’s legal advisor Ian Young said he recommended meeting Cuadrilla’s request as not doing so would most likely allow the energy firm to legally challenge the decision.
“The legal challenge would inevitably be successful, leading to both further delay and cost consequences," Young said.
Cuadrilla welcomed the decision saying in a statement it believed the further mitigation measures it introduced would fully address the noise and traffic concerns raised by the planning officers.
Speaking at County Hall, Cuadrilla's chief executive Francis Egan said: "It is important that a decision of that import is taken with all the information on the table and we have put forward more information which we believe will address the very few outstanding issues that the planning officers have identified.”
When asked whether he would mind living next to a fracking operation he said:
"I know when you are developing it, it is like a construction site and there is a degree of disruption. But after the initial period of two or so years of producing shale gas you will not know it's there. It's completely inconspicuous. You cannot see it, you cannot hear it. You will not know it's there."
The two proposed shale gas exploration sites, in in Preston New Road, near Little Plumpton, and Roseacre Wood, near Roseacre, would both have 24-hour operations running for several months.
The Lancashire County Council’s Planning Committee said last week the impact on the surrounding neighbourhoods would likely be unacceptable, involving increased night-time background noise levels.
The announcement of the deferral was met with public opposition. More than 100 anti-fracking protesters gathered outside County Hall to make their views known. 43,000 people reportedly signed a petition by Avaaz calling for Lancashire County Council to refuse permission for the two sites.
Environmental organisations including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth expressed their disappointment.
"We are disappointed that councillors have granted a deferral when Cuadrilla have had several months to present their case, which Lancashire's planning officers have found to be unacceptable,” said Friends of the Earth's North West campaigner Helen Rimmer.
"While a further delay is another setback for Cuadrilla, its manipulation of the planning system has created more uncertainty for communities whose health and environment are at risk from controversial fracking.
The decision comes days after the UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee recommended a moratorium on fracking in the UK due to its poorly understood carbon footprint.
The UK Government agreed to ban the controversial shale extraction technique in the UK’s natural parks as part of the new Infrastructure Bill.
National Physical Laboratory’s carbon emissions expert Jane Burston told E&T this week the amount of methane escaping and being vented from hydraulic fracturing operations could be such to cancel out the overall positive effect of burning shale gas on the climate change.