Judge dismisses fracking challenge

21st December 2016

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  • Mitigation ,
  • Generation ,
  • Fossil fuels


Jonathan Backhouse

The High Court has backed Yorkshire County Council's decision to grant permission for test drilling at a site in Ryedale.

In 2015, oil and gas company Third Energy applied for permission to test drill an existing well at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire. The council’s planning committee approved the application in May, in line with the advice of its planning officers.

The decision was challenged by Friends of the Earth (FoE) and local campaigners from anti-fracking group Frack Free Ryedale. They claimed that the council’s assessment of cumulative effects in the environmental statement was flawed as it had failed to take account of the impact on climate change of burning the recovered gas at a nearby production site in Knapton.

FoE also alleged that climate change had barely been mentioned by the planning committee, and that the councillors did not have information about the total carbon emissions produced from the proposed fracking.

In response, the council argued that it was not entitled to consider the effects of emissions generated by burning the gas outside the site for which planning permission was sought. Carbon dioxide emissions would be capped by the developer’s environmental permit, which had been granted by the Environment Agency, it said.

Justice Lang ruled that the council’s planning committee had adequately taken the environmental statement into account, and that it had sufficient information about the emissions from producing gas at Knapton.

In her ruling, she also said the committee had been entitled to reach an independent view on whether energy requirements should be met by other, less environmentally damaging means than gas production and a gas-fuelled electricity generating station.

The objectors said the council should have asked Third Energy to provide a financial bond to pay for long-term restoration of the site after fracking was complete. The council argued that the cost of restoring the site was covered by conditions it had attached to the planning permission.

The judge agreed, adding that the planning conditions gave ‘a considerable degree’ of protection to residents and would ensure a programme of aftercare for the site, in line with planning policy guidance.

In a statement, Third Energy said it was pleased with the ruling, and that it was on target to satisfy the 40 conditions attached to the planning permission.

Rasik Valand, chief executive of Third Energy, said: ‘We are confident that we will prove to the local community that their elected representatives were right to grant this permission. We look forward to the results of the test fracs which will help establish whether gas can be produced from deeper and tighter rock formations at the Kirby Misperton site.’

However, David Davis, one of the residents behind the legal action, said the council had failed to respect the wishes of residents as well as the district council, five town councils and 14 parish councils in Ryedale, which had objected.

‘Third Energy will now press ahead with its plans at Kirby Misperton. Large areas of Yorkshire, the north and the Midlands are covered by Petroleum Exploration and Development licences for fracking which, if exploited, will lead to the widespread industrialisation of our countryside,’ he said.

Liberal Democrat climate change spokesperson Lynne Featherstone described the court’s decision as ‘bitterly disappointing’. ‘Fracking will not help our efforts to tackle climate change, it will simply do the opposite. The government is heading in completely the wrong direction. It must focus on renewables instead of new carbon-emitting energy sources,’ she said.

Friends of the Earth was ordered to pay £10,000 costs, and the two local campaigners were ordered to pay £5,000.

In October, oil and gas company Cuadrilla successfully appealed the decision by Lancashire County Council to reject planning permission for test fracking at Preston New Road in Fylde. Communities secretary, Sajid Javid is due to decide on a second appeal against planning permission for a nearby site at Roseacre Wood. Lancashire County Council refused permission for the project in June, based on concerns around noise and traffic.


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