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Fracking opponents urge councillors to oppose scheme

Published 20/05/2016

Vivienne Westwood has lent her support to the anti-fracking campaign
Vivienne Westwood has lent her support to the anti-fracking campaign

A succession of people living near a proposed fracking operation in North Yorkshire have told councillors they do not want to be the first community in the UK to allow the controversial gas extraction technique.

A decision will be taken on Monday whether to allow the UK firm Third Energy to frack for shale gas at its existing drilling site near the village of Kirby Misperton, between Malton and Pickering.

On Friday, councillors on the planning committee which will make the decision were greeted by hundreds of anti-fracking protesters as they arrived at County Hall, in Northallerton.

The committee spent the day listening to dozens of objections to the scheme as around 300 protesters, many wearing Yorkshire white roses, created a festival-like atmosphere outside with music and stalls.

The councillors listened as speaker after speaker outlined environmental concerns over the controversial hydraulic fracturing technique, ranging from global level climate change to the proximity of ponds and bats to the proposed drilling rig.

Last week, officers at North Yorkshire County Council recommended the granting of permission for Third Energy's application.

The first of more than 80 speakers at the meeting, independent Ryedale councillor Lyndsay Burr, told committee members: "Ryedale residents do not want to be the first in the UK to allow fracking."

She said: "Do not devastate our area."

Former Tory MP Baroness McIntosh said fracking could devastate the economy of the area.

She said: "There are too many unknowns and there are too many answered questions."

Baroness McIntosh said: "I believe you are being asked to take too much on trust today."

Kirby Misperton resident Susan Rayment was in tears as she explained to the committee the noise problems she has experienced living close to the existing drilling site.

Mrs Rayment had to pause to compose herself and said: "They (Third Energy) don't really give a damn."

Introducing the meeting, committee chairman Peter 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."

Fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood was expected to attend the protest outside the meeting but was unable to travel because of ill health.

But the designer told the demonstrators they are winning "one of the most important fights in the UK today", in a message read out to the crowd.

International activist Bianca Jagger tweeted: "I'm not in Northallerton today, but I support your struggle against the #FrackingIndustry & hope everyone else does."

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 wellsite 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."

All the speakers on Friday were opposed to the development. People supporting the proposal will be heard by the committee on Monday before it makes its final decision.

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