Fracking in UK given go-ahead as Lancashire council rejection overturned

Communities secretary, Sajid Javid has overturned Lancashire county council's rejection of a fracking site, paving the way for shale company Cuadrilla to drill in the county next year and drawing outrage from local groups, environmentalists and politicians.

The council cited visual impact and noise when it turned down the company’s two planning applications to frack on the Fylde last year, but a month later Cuadrilla submitted an appeal.

On Thursday, the communities secretary said he had accepted the appeal for one of the sites, at Preston New Road. The move marks a major step up in the scale of exploratory fracking in the UK, as it green lights four wells compared to the single well approved for fracking in North Yorkshire earlier this year.

Pat Davies, chair of Preston New Road Action Group, a local anti-fracking group, said: “This is a sad day as it is clear to all that this government neither listens, nor can it be trusted, to do the right thing for local communities. It is deplorable that an industry that has been rejected on every level has inflicted itself on Preston New Road.”

Javid deferred a decision on the second site, at Roseacre Wood, to give Cuadrilla more time to provide evidence on road traffic issues and to allow other parties to make further representations. But he said he was “minded” to grant planning permission at that site too, which would see a further four wells drilled and fracked.

The ruling by the government comes a day after the Paris climate agreement – which requires countries to effectively phase out fossil fuels entirely later this century – passed the threshold for ratification.

Greenpeace campaigner, Hannah Martin said: “This fudged decision shows the government is struggling to force fracking on a reluctant nation. Fracking will put our countryside and air quality at risk.

“Digging up more fossil fuels that we can’t burn if we are to honour the international agreement we signed in Paris and is coming into force next month makes little economic or environmental sense.”

Friends of the Earth said that its “fight continues” against the shale industry.

The Liberal Democrats and Green party strongly condemned the move. “This decision sets a very dangerous precedent, with the government riding roughshod over the will of the local people,” said the Lib Dem spokesperson, Lynne Featherstone.

Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green party, said: “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.

“They claim to support the Paris agreement, but are hell-bent on developing new fossil fuel projects.”

Cuadrilla has told the Guardian that April 2017 is the earliest date at which drilling will begin.

Francis Egan, the company’s CEO, welcomed the government’s decision: “We are very pleased that we can now move ahead with our shale gas exploration plans which will start to create new economic growth opportunities and jobs for people in Lancashire and the UK.”

He added that he was confident the company’s operations would be safe. “We hope this will reassure the minority of people whom remain sceptical about shale gas exploration. This news has given Lancashire a big vote of confidence in its economic and energy future.”

He had argued earlier in the day that the UK needed domestically-produced gas.

“The country needs gas,” he told Good Morning Britain. “The country is running out of gas, and without some form of energy development, we’re going to end up importing all of our fuel from overseas, and we’ve seen that just last week with the ridiculous situation where Scotland is importing shale gas from America, which frankly is crazy.”

A spokesperson for the government said: “The communities secretary has today allowed three planning appeals [two for seismic monitoring equipment] related to two proposed shale gas exploration and monitoring sites in Lancashire.

“The decisions follow extensive consideration of all the evidence, including an independent planning inspector’s report and evidence submitted during a two week public inquiry.”

The decision to push through the fracking in Lancashire comes shortly after Labour said it would ban the controversial method of extracting shale gas if it came to power, and the first shipment of fracked US shale gas arrived in the UK, though that was for chemical production not energy.

Nottinghamshire county council was due to decide on Wednesday on an exploratory shale well drilling by iGas near Doncaster, but delayed the decision to 15 November after a last-minute intervention by Friends of the Earth.

A bid by Third Energy to frack in North Yorkshire was approved in May, although that has been delayed into 2017 by a legal challenge, also from Friends of the Earth. The industry has conceded that no wells are likely to be drilled this year.

Javid said on Monday that he was in favour of exploiting the UK’s shale. “I can’t talk about a particular planning application but in general terms this government has been clear … that fracking, and using the resources that we have in this country, is part of the future of this country,” he told Sky News.

Adam Vaughan

This article first appeared on the Guardian

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