Fracking on fields near the North York Moors National Park has been given the green light for approval by a crucial report despite fierce opposition.
A UK firm has applied for permission under the government's new fast-tracking scheme to explore for shale gas around the North Yorkshire village of Kirby Misperton, provoking angry protests from environmental campaigners and locals with concerns over the controversial technique.
Work on the site moved a step closer after a report by North Yorkshire County Council recommended that permission should be granted for testing on deposits first identified in the area by Third Energy in 2013.
The report admitted that many of the 4,000 representations it had received in consultation were in objection to the plans, with concerns raised over impacts on climate change, water quality, air pollution and the possibility drilling would trigger earthquakes.
Environmentalists accused planning officers of dismissing ‘serious risks’ associated with fracking in the area despite there being ‘clear evidence’ it could harm wildlife, people's health and local businesses.
Campaigners from across the country have pledged to stage a protest against the plans when North Yorkshire County Council's planning committee meets on 20 May.
Critics have long argued that fracking is bad for the environment, leading to pollution of ground water and even triggering earthquakes, but Britain is thought to have large deposits of shale gas that can be exploited by using the method.
In August the government announced new measures to speed up the process by which companies can apply for planning permission at drill sites despite public support for the method hitting a record low. http://eandt.theiet.org/news/2015/aug/fracking-support-survey-decc.cfm
But energy ministers said the plans would both ensure local people have a ‘strong say’ over the development of shale exploration in their area and benefit communities and firms by speeding up the planning process.
North Yorkshire County Council's report recommended the project should go ahead as it would help to provide for the nation's energy needs and said there would be sufficient safeguarding measures put in place to protect the environment.
Simon Bowens, Friends of the Earth's Yorkshire campaigner, said the council should listen to the thousands of residents who had objected to fracking at the site.
"While it is disappointing that planning officers have dismissed the serious risks of fracking in Ryedale, Third Energy shouldn't be popping champagne corks yet,” he said.
"North Yorkshire Councillors have been presented with clear evidence that Third Energy's application could harm local wildlife, local business, people's health and the environment."
Third Energy said it has taken "every possible step" to ensure the plan will not impact the environment.
The petrochemical giant Ineos recently announced that it will carry out a large-scale seismic survey this summer to find new fracking sites in northern England.