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Concerns over North Yorkshire being known as 'fracking capital of 'UK'

Published 23/05/2016

Demonstrators outside County Hall in Northallerton
Demonstrators outside County Hall in Northallerton

Objectors to a controversial application to frack for shale gas in North Yorkshire have told councillors they do not want the county to become known as the "fracking capital of the UK".

People opposed to the application by UK firm Third Energy continued to present their arguments against the scheme on the second day of the meeting in Northallerton.

A committee of councillors is expected to decide later whether to approve the plan to frack for shale gas at an existing drilling site near the village of Kirby Misperton, between Malton and Pickering.

Kyle Boote, the founder of the Helmsley Brewing Company, told the meeting at County Hall that contamination of the water supply would be "disastrous".

He said: "The introduction of fracking will portray us as the fracking capital of the UK and that is not how we want to be known."

Mr Boote said approval of the application would harm the region's successful tourist industry and warned that it would "probably never recover".

Frank Colenso, a local resident, told committee chairman Peter Sowray that he was being "asked to preside over a David and Goliath moment" and urged him to reject the application.

A small group of anti-fracking protesters gathered on the lawn outside the council building and could be heard cheering the arguments being made against the application.

Planners have recommended the plan is approved but, on Friday, councillors on the county council's planning committee listened as dozens of speakers outlined environmental concerns over the controversial hydraulic fracturing technique, ranging from global-level climate change to the proximity of ponds, bees and bats to the proposed drilling rig.

Introducing the meeting on Friday, Mr Sowray said: "This is by far the most controversial application we have ever had to deal with."

Mr Sowray said it was not the committee's function to determine national fracking policy and he told the packed hall: "I am sure all members have come along with an open mind and are ready to listen to the facts."

The Government has said it is going "all out for shale" to boost energy security and the economy.

But opponents fear fracking - in which liquid is pumped deep underground at high pressure to fracture rock and release gas - can cause problems including water contamination, earthquakes and noise and traffic pollution.

Environmentalists also warn that pursuing new sources of gas - a fossil fuel - is not compatible with efforts to tackle climate change.

No fracking has taken place in the UK since 2011, when tests on the Fylde coast were found to have been the probable cause of minor earthquakes in the area.

Since then, two high-profile applications to frack in Lancashire have been rejected by councillors and are now the subject of appeals.

Third Energy wants to frack for shale gas using an existing two-mile deep well - called KM8 - drilled in 2013.

Rasik Valand, chief executive of Third Energy, stressed that the well site has been operational for decades for non-fracking extraction.

He said: "Third Energy has been drilling wells, producing gas and generating electricity safely and discreetly in North Yorkshire for over 20 years and we will continue to maintain the same responsible approach in the future."

The planning officers' report, which recommended that the application is approved, said planners came to this decision despite acknowledging that many of the 4,000 representations it had received in consultation were objections to the plans.

The report said: "It should also be noted that there is national policy support for the development of a shale gas industry in this country and this is an important material consideration."

After more than a day of arguments in opposition to the application, supporters of the scheme took to the floor to present their statements.

John Dewar, operations director of Third Energy, described some of the claims made by objectors as "ludicrous" and addressed safety concerns raised at the meeting on Friday.

Quoting from one objector's presentation, Mr Dewar said: "His exact words were 'fracking a well can be undertaken safely'."

He said the company had listened to concerns but questioned whether those objecting to the scheme had read the application. He rejected many anti-fracking arguments as "not valid" and "not true".

Mr Dewar said one argument about the use of depleted uranium in the fracking process was "the most ludicrous claim".

He said: "This is not true and simply ridiculous."

The operations director questioned the levels of support for the anti-fracking movement and added: "I believe we do have a social licence to operate."

Mr Dewar said: "I urge the committee to do the right thing for Ryedale, for North Yorkshire and for the UK by supporting your planning officers' recommendation."

Protesters outside the meeting booed and jeered as Mr Dewar finished making his statement.

Mr Valand said Third Energy had tried to answer concerns about the application and said "every single issue" had been "answered and resolved".

He said: "We have not taken any short-cuts in making this application. It's thorough, carefully considered and complete."

He added: "If our application is successful, we will see it as a huge responsibility to deliver on our promises, not a victory. Promises to you, the local people."

Mr Valand addressed a number of concerns, including safety and tourism, and said the operation would not have a negative impact.

He said: "This application will be and can only be considered on its merits. I urge you to please determine this application in line with the recommendation of the planning officer."

After all arguments from both sides had been heard, Vicky Perkin, a North Yorkshire County Council planning officer, began a presentation to committee members.

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