Sajid Javid, UK Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, in the first use of new government powers taken last year, today overruled a Lancashire County Council ban on fracking for natural gas at a site in northwest England.
In a pivotal decision for the nascent UK fracking industry, the minister approved an application by Cuadrilla Resources to test-drill four wells for gas at a site at Preston New Road, near Blackpool, but deferred a decision on a second site, at nearby Roseacre Wood, to give Cuadrilla more time to provide evidence on road traffic issues and to allow other parties to make further representations. But he said he was “minded” to grant planning permission at that site too, which would see a further four wells drilled and fracked. Francis Egan, Cuadrilla’s CEO, noting that these will be the first horizontal shale gas wells drilled and tested in the UK, said that April 2017 is the earliest date at which drilling can begin.
Cuadrilla’s plans for the sites, first filed for approval in 2014, were rejected by the county council on the grounds of noise and traffic impact last summer, despite the site near Preston being recommended for approval by local planning officials. The company’s appeal against the decision was heard at a public inquiry earlier this year, with the resulting report by the Planning Inspectorate being referred to the Communities Secretary on 4 July. Privately owned Cuadrilla, chaired by former BP CEO Lord John Browne, is the second largest player in the nascent UK fracking industry, after Ineos.
Although the decision is seen as ground-breaking, this is not to be the first time fracking has been approved in the UK after a ban imposed in 2011 after test drilling by Cuadrilla led to earth tremors in Blackpool, was lifted the following year. In May, North Yorkshire County Council approved an application by Third Gas to frack a vertical well it had already drilled near Doncaster. However, the company has so far been unable to proceed pending the outcome of a judicial review requested by Friends of the Earth. No further work on the project is expected before 2017.
Rival shale gas explorer IGas Energy, the third largest player in the industry, encountered a setback on Wednesday when a decision on its application to drill two wells in the East Midlands was put on hold by Nottinghamshire County Council until 15 November. The company’s proposed fracking site is close to a Site of Special Scientific Interest(SSSI) and the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, supported by Friends of the Earth, has warned that it may mount a legal challenge if the plans are given the go-ahead because of concerns about their impact on a number of species, including Long-Eared Owls. The county council says it want to take further legal advice on the plans. IGas says that Natural England, the government’s official adviser on the natural environment, which has statutory responsibility for the SSSI, is satisfied with the proposals.
Fracking is now the subject of a sharp division of political opinion in the UK after the opposition Labour Party pledged at its annual conference last week to ban the technique in the event, unlikely in the opinion of most political observers, that it comes to power in the next general election, officially due in 2020. The party previously advocated a moratorium. The Scottish government in Edinburgh has already imposed a moratorium on fracking in Scotland. The devolved Welsh government also opposes fracking and has instructed local authorities to turn down applications.
Secretary of State Javid said on Monday that he was in favour of exploiting the UK’s shale. “I can’t talk about a particular planning application but in general terms this [Conservative] government has been clear … that fracking, and using the resources that we have in this country, is part of the future of this country,” he told Sky TV news.
By Natasha Alperowicz
Source: Chemical Week
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