Fracking approved in North Yorkshire village
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 permission is 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 May 20, with Dame Vivienne Westwood expected to attend.
Fracking is a technique used to drill for deposits of fossil fuels that cannot be extracted by conventional means. It involves pumping fluids into rocks at such high pressures they fracture, releasing the gas or oil locked inside.
Critics say the process is disastrous for the environment, leading to pollution of ground water and even triggering earthquakes, although 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.
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.
He said: "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.
"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.
Rasik Valand, chief executive of Third Energy, said: " We are pleased that the planning officer has recommended that North Yorkshire County Council approve our application.
"Within our application, and throughout North Yorkshire County Council's thorough assessment of it, including various stages of consultation, and through all the additional information provided, we have addressed the wide range of questions, concerns and comments raised by NYCC, statutory consultees and others.
"This work is reflected in the planning officer's report ,together with the planning conditions proposed. We believe that this thorough report will enable North Yorkshire County Council to reach a positive determination on our application.
"Third Energy has been drilling wells and producing gas safely and discreetly from this site in Kirby Misperton for over 20 years and we will continue to maintain the same standards in the future."
UKOOG, the onshore oil and gas industry body, welcomed the planning officer's recommendation.
Chief executive Ken Cronin said: " It is good news that the North Yorkshire County Council planning officer is recommending that the planning application at Kirby Misperton is approved, reflecting the hard work NYCC officers and Third Energy have done to address concerns that have been raised following extensive consultations. We will look forward to the council's decision on that application in due course.
"This recommendation should not be seen by anyone as a surprise, considering the well at Kirby Misperton has already been approved by the council, Health and Safety Executive and an independent well examiner and subsequently drilled.
"The further application for the hydraulic fractures has also received approval by the Environment Agency with the issue of relevant permits."