The first fracking operation in the UK since 2011 earthquake scares has been approved by North Yorkshire councillors, stirring a fresh debate on the benefits and risks of the controversial gas extraction method.
Councillors in North Yorkshire have granted permission to UK firm Third Energy to use hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, at an existing drilling site near the village of Kirby Misperton. The seven to four vote elicited a fierce response from environmental campaigners, who see fracking not only as a threat to local countryside but as a deviation from the UK’s climate change promises as well.
"This isn't over and people will continue to raise their very valid concerns and keep fighting against fracking because it will industrialise the beautiful Yorkshire countryside and contribute to climate change," said Daisy Sands, Greenpeace head of energy campaign.
Greenpeace together with other environmental groups including Friends of the Earth criticise the UK government for its overwhelming support of fracking, which the government claims will improve the UK’s energy security and create jobs and economic growth.
However, the IET’s energy expert Simon Harrison admitted the potential benefits of fracking are less obvious and depend on many variables.
“Shale gas obtained by fracking is more expensive than conventional gas – and in the UK its final price will be determined by the European gas market,” Harrison said. “This means that energy prices for the consumer are unlikely to fall significantly as a result of UK fracked gas.”
He also added that shale gas will only bring environmental benefits if it is used instead of more polluting coal. If it replaces only imported gas, there will be no reduction in carbon emissions as a result.
“We will not know for several years how much shale gas there is under the UK and whether it is suitable for exploitation,” he said.
In 2011, tests on the Fylde coast in Lancashire indicated fracking, which requires water to be pumped into the rock under pressure to fracture it and release the trapped gas, could induce earth tremors.
Since then, two high-profile applications to frack in Lancashire have been rejected by councillors and are now the subject of appeals.
The North Yorkshire application was recommended by planners for approval despite a massive amount of objections, which the council had received ahead of the vote.
According to Vicky Perkin, a council planning officer, out of 4,420 individual representations, 4,375 were objections and just 36 were in support of the application.
Third Energy’s CEO Rasik Valand said exploratory work at the two-mile deep well, which was drilled in 2013, would not start for months.
“For us, this is about testing what's in our local area," he said. "I think there's fear that this is the first and there's responsibility on us to deliver it safely. The fears will diminish once we execute it safely."
North Yorkshire council's chief executive Richard Flinton said the decision was taken carefully and does not necessarily mean similar decisions will follow. "Each application of this nature will be decided upon based on its own merits," he said.