Fracking will happen on a large scale in the UK despite a big planning setback, the country’s leading shale gas explorer has said.
Lancashire county council’s planning department has recommended refusing permission for Cuadrilla to drill at two sites near Blackpool because of the night-time noise and traffic it would generate.
But the company made it clear it would appeal if councillors backed the decision next week, saying there were “relatively minor impacts which affect only a small number of households” and that it could resolve the issue.
Francis Egan, chief executive, told the BBC: “It is going to happen. We disagree with the recommendation of the planning officer on the noise issue. We hope that the committee will vote for these. If they don’t, clearly we have grounds for appeal, we believe, under the planning system.”
Fracking — or hydraulic fracturing — is a technique in which water, sand and chemicals are pumped deep below ground at high pressure to fracture shale rock and release pockets of gas.
Cuadrilla’s Lancashire application is the first to frack in Britain since 2011 when the company suspended operations after two small earthquakes. Fracking was the “probable cause”, according to a government report.
Many residents oppose the plans, contending that fracking could damage their properties, contaminate groundwater and lead to noisy lorry movements carrying water in rural areas.
The planning officers said noise and traffic were a problem but “the principle of exploration and appraisal for shale gas would be acceptable”.
Ken Cronin, chief executive of the UK Onshore Operators Group, the industry body for fracking companies, said: “The grounds for refusal are local planning matters specific to these sites rather than any issues that would have an obvious impact on other shale gas applications.”
The Environment Agency has granted a permit to frack at one site and is minded to grant another.
However, some believe investors will tire of the drawn-out planning process, with Cuadrilla waiting seven months for a decision.
Philip Mace, partner at Clyde & Co, a law firm, said: “This could be a potentially disastrous decision for the future of shale oil and gas development in the UK. With oil and gas prices having fallen dramatically, the industry is unlikely to have the appetite or backing to face the long and expensive approval process that is being required to carry out fracking in the UK.”
The UK government has strongly backed fracking and George Osborne, the chancellor, has given various tax incentives and pledged to set up a sovereign wealth fund to invest the tax proceeds locally. Producers will pay a proportion of their turnover to local communities.
Proponents, including many local businesses, say it will reduce energy costs, lessen dependence on gas imports and create thousands of jobs.
Helen Rimmer of Friends of the Earth, said: “Councillors must now act on this and the tens of thousands of objections they have received and reject Cuadrilla’s fracking applications next week. Only by doing so will they ensure that fracking is not allowed to cause further climate change while also putting communities and the local environment at risk.”
Several countries including France have banned the process, as has New York state.
Companies hold dozens of licences to explore for shale gas in the UK but only a handful of wells have been drilled because of public opposition.
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