UK Government gives fracking go-ahead to Cuadrilla

A new shale gas fracking permit has been awarded to energy company Cuadrilla by the UK Government, overruling a local authority decision and raising the ire of local campaigners.

Britain’s Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid gave the go-ahead for a site in Lancashire, northwest England.

He also said he was minded to approve a second permit, but has asked for further evidence on road safety.

The government used new powers to overturn Lancashire County Council's rejection of two permits in 2015 due to concerns about noise and traffic.

Britain is estimated to have substantial amounts of shale gas trapped in underground rocks and the government wants to see these resources extracted to help offset declining North Sea oil and gas output.

“We are very pleased that we can now move ahead with our shale gas exploration plans. We are confident that our operations will be safe and responsible,” Cuadrilla Chief Executive Francis Egan said in a statement.

With another shale gas fracking permit approved by a local authority earlier this year, Britain is Europe’s most advanced shale gas exploration ground after projects in Poland were unsuccessful.

Yet it has been controversial because environmental groups say the technique causes problems including pollution of the water table.

The Labour Party has said it will ban fracking in the UK if it wins the next election, in favour of greener energy infrastructure. 

“Instead of shoving us down a dangerous path that inevitably leads to climate change, the government should invest in renewables and energy efficiency,” said Helen Rimmer, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth environmental group.

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, who took part in protests against fracking in Balcombe, West Sussex, in 2013, said ministers had ignored local people who had objected to the plans.

“Today’s decision shows the yawning gap between the Government’s rhetoric and the reality of their policies - and it will send a shiver down the spine of the many people up and down the country fighting fracking.

“Ministers promise to support ‘ordinary people’, but have ignored the people of Lancashire - including local and district councillors and the overwhelming majority of local people who objected to these reckless plans.”

“Fracking is a dirty, expensive and dangerous gamble with our environment, security and economy. We should be choosing an energy system powered by the renewable sources that we have in abundance and keep fossil fuels in the ground.”

However, the British Chambers of Commerce said the decision sent an important and positive signal on the UK’s future energy security.

Acting director general Adam Marshall said: “We need to explore the potential for shale gas to make a contribution to our energy mix, alongside both nuclear and renewables.

“Tapping domestic energy resources creates both energy security and jobs here at home, and seems a much better alternative to dependence on supplies from overseas.”

Babs Murphy, chief executive of the North & Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce said: “Developing a viable shale industry in Lancashire will have positive economic implications for the region in terms of investment, jobs and supply chain engagement, and has the potential to provide security of energy supply to regional manufacturers.

“This announcement means that local businesses will be in pole position for future shale gas supply chain opportunities in the county.”

Yet there were warnings that despite the go-ahead, shale gas may not take off as an industry in the UK.

Prof Jim Watson, director of the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC), said: “The economics of shale extraction in the UK are still highly uncertain and it is not known whether shale production will deliver gas cheaper than that currently used by UK consumers.

“The costs of UK shale will not be clearer until a significant amount of exploratory drilling takes place.

“Even if shale gas development turns out to be economic, it is unlikely to have a noticeable impact on the energy bills of UK consumers,” he said.

A report in July by the Committee on Climate Change, an independent body that advises UK government on global warming, found that fracking was not in line with UK climate goals without carbon capture technology that the Government abandoned last year. 

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