North Yorkshire fracking approved by High Court ruling

Fracking in North Yorkshire will go ahead after a legal challenge by green campaigners was dismissed by a High Court ruling, in the same week that President Obama permanently banned new oil and gas drilling in most US-owned waters in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans.

Shale development company Third Energy was initially given the green light by North Yorkshire County Council to hydraulically fracture an existing well near the village of Kirby Misperton in May, with a planning committee voting seven-to-four in favour of the application despite more than 4,300 objections.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) and residents challenged the decision, on the grounds that the committee had failed to consider the impact on climate change of gas extracted at the well via the fracking process being burnt at Third Energy’s nearby power station.

But on Tuesday (20 December), Mrs Justice Lang ruled the council had acted lawfully. The decision was met with heavy criticism from residents and FoE activists.

“The judge found that North Yorkshire Councillors had assessed the impacts of climate change,” Foe campaigner Donna Hume said. “But we know that climate change was barely mentioned at that crucial council meeting where the decision to allow fracking was taken, and more damningly, that councillors didn’t have the information about the total carbon emissions produced from the fracking project.

“Residents have said they will continue to do everything they can to peacefully prevent Barclays’ owned Third Energy from fracking, and we will be standing with them.”

High pressure

It was the first application for fracking in the UK to be given council approval since a ban was lifted in 2012.

The fracking industry has faced significant challenges in getting projects off the ground, with many having been blocked by councils. Opponents claim that the drilling technique – which sees liquid pumped deep underground at high pressure to fracture rock and release gas – can contaminate water, cause earthquakes and exacerbate noise and traffic pollution.

Environmentalists also warn that this pursuit of new sources of gas – a fossil fuel – goes against efforts to tackle climate change, and that the Government should instead focus on a transition to renewable energy.

As well as Third Energy’s application to frack its existing KM 8 well, two other shale exploration firms have fracking applications under review in the UK.

Communities secretary Sajid Javid recently overturned Lancashire county council’s rejection of a fracking site, paving the way for shale company Cuadrilla to drill in the county next year. Meanwhile, Nottinghamshire County Council has approved an application by IGas to drill exploratory shale gas wells on a former Cold War missile launch site.

Obama’s swansong

The North Yorkshire fracking approval arrives in the same week that Barack Obama withdrew hundreds of millions of acres of federally owned land in the Arctic and Atlantic Ocean from new offshore oil and gas drilling.

The President sought to cement his environmental legacy, using a 1953 law that allows incumbents to block the sale of new offshore drilling and mining rights. Tuesday’s ban will protect large parts of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas in the Arctic and in the Atlantic from Massachusetts to Virginia. 

The law makes it difficult for successors to reverse the decision, although a legal challenge from President-elect Trump is not out of the question. Obama was joined by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who acted accordingly on Tuesday to protect large areas of Canada’s Arctic waters from drilling.

The White House said in a statement: “These actions, and Canada’s parallel actions, protect a sensitive and unique ecosystem that is unlike any other region on earth. They reflect the scientific assessment that, even with the high safety standards that both our countries have put in place, the risks of an oil spill in this region are significant and our ability to clean up from a spill in the region’s harsh conditions is limited.

“By contrast, it would take decades to fully develop the production infrastructure necessary for any large-scale oil and gas leasing production in the region – at a time when we need to continue to move decisively away from fossil fuels.”

George Ogleby

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