Return of the Frack

Demonstration against granting planning permission for fracking in Ryedale. Photo: Guy Shrubsole.
Demonstration against granting planning permission for fracking in Ryedale. Photo: Guy Shrubsole.
Conservative councillors have passed an application to frack in the Yorkshire Dales by Third Energy, signalling the return of shale gas exploitation in the UK after a five year break, writes Victoria Seabrook. Campaigners vow: 'We will fight on!'
It doesn't end here. We will appeal. The fight has to go on - fracking would be devastating for this area. The authorities must listen to the will of the people: 99 percent opposed the plans - that says it all. Nobody is for it!

Yorkshire district Ryedale will be "devastated" and "changed forever" campaigners warned Monday evening after county councillors gave the go-ahead for the first fracking tests in the UK in five years.

North Yorkshire County Council yesterday approved Third Energy's plans to frack for shale gas at its existing well in Kirby Misperton, known as KM8, following two days of deliberations and representations.

The decision rides roughshod over a litany of concerns about gas leaks and safety breaches, as well thousands of objections.

Nicky Mason, resident of nearby Great Habton, broke the story at last Friday's planning committee meeting about an unreported gas leak at Third Energy's Malton 4 well-site in November 2015. Around 70,000 cubic metres of gas were subsequently released at the Knapton Generating Station.

Third Energy breached its permit by failing to report the leak to the Environment Agency when it should have. Ms Mason said:

"This is just the latest in a succession of problems experienced by Third Energy and their ageing infrastructure which have been previously documented. We all know that Hydraulic Fracturing brings a substantially higher level of risk than current conventional gas operations, and these are to be self-regulated."

In 2008 the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) wrote a scathing review of a pipeline operated by Third Energy (then known as Viking UK Gas Ltd). It was particularly concerned about "continuing poor standards" and "unresolved failures".

And in 2014 Third energy staff detected a leak of 'sour gas', which is extremely poisonous even in small quantities.

The fight goes on!

The council's decision sweeps aside the long and bitter campaign fought by the local community and environmentalists to keep Ryedale frack-free.

North Yorkshire County Council had received 4,375 objections - compared to just 36 statements in support - and impassioned pleas to reject the plans from the likes of Sir Richard Storey, a local landowner, and Flamingo Land, a tourist attraction and large employer.

All five town councils and Ryedale District Council had passed anti-fracking motions. But earlier this month the council's own officers recommended the plans for approval and today the Conservative majority Planning and Regulatory Functions Committee voted through Third Energy's plans, with a majority of seven votes to four.

However, campaigners Monday evening vowed to "fight on" despite the council having bowed to government pressure to approve the tests.

Russell Scott, a spokesperson for Frack Free Ryedale, said: "It doesn't end here. We will appeal. The fight has to go on - fracking would be devastating for this area. The authorities must listen to the will of the people: 99 percent opposed the plans - that says it all. Nobody is for it!"

It doesn't end here. We will appeal. The fight has to go on - fracking would be devastating for this area. The authorities must listen to the will of the people: 99 percent opposed the plans - that says it all. Nobody is for it!

He added: "Third Energy has never hydraulically fracked in its life. And the process is inherently risky anyway - the industry's own stats tell you these wells will leak eventually. Pumping pressure into the ground at high pressure constantly for years - to suggest that would have no impact is impossible."

Mr Scott rejected accusations that protesters against fracking were 'NIMBYs', saying: "That isn't the case. We have made commitments to meet climate change targets and reduce fossil fuel consumption. How can you tackle that by opening up even more extreme forms of fuel extraction?"

This rural area will 'change forever'

Third Energy has said it helps support local businesses, currently employs more than 20 staff locally and supports local grassroots sports.

But Mr Scott remains unconvinced of the benefits or fracking, warning Ryedale would "change forever" if the plans to frack go ahead: "The pattern in America shows fracking does not create much local employment, only short term jobs. The energy companies just drill a well and move on. All the while jobs in farming and agriculture are damaged."

Simon Bowens, Yorkshire and Humber campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: "This is an absolute travesty of a decision but the battle is very far from over. Today 7 out of 11 North Yorkshire county councillors voted to approve this fracking application in Ryedale, ignoring the objection of Ryedale District Council itself, as well as thousands of local residents and businesses.

"Despite this decision, public support for fracking is plummeting as Wales, Scotland and countries across Europe have suspended it. The risks to people's health and the environment are unacceptable and we will fight on."

Of the decision, North Yorkshire County Council said: "The planning committee is satisfied that in this particular application, mitigation of the effects of the development with regard to safeguarding the natural environment, protected species and habitats, the amenity of local residents, the protection of ground and surface water quality and traffic management can be achieved through the discharge of the planning conditions."

Richard Flinton, North Yorkshire's chief executive, said: "We are proud of our beautiful county which attracts so many visitors and maintains a thriving tourism industry. We have no intention of jeopardising those qualities and our rural industries and livelihoods. For that reason the planning conditions must be fully discharged and monitored."

Third Energy did not respond to a request for comment.

This does not mean fracking will ever really get going in UK

Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth and injecting shale rock with a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals to release the gas inside.

The Ryedale planning permission paves the way for the first shale gas exploration in Britain since 2011, when tests in Lancashire were believed to have caused minor tremors in the area. A ban was temporarily based on fracking but lifted the following year.

In 2013 Third Energy drilled an exploratory well near the village of Kirby Misperton, close to the North York Moors National Park. Now it has the green light to frack the well to test whether it can unlock shale gas from rocks up to 3,000m underground.

But Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said that it remained highly doubtful that large-scale fracking would ever go ahead in the UK:

"Although proponents of fracking will claim today's decision as a victory, the fundamental questions around UK shale gas haven't changed. As we see from protests outside the council today and from opinion surveys, the public is not supportive, and the economics remain unclear - so whether commercial fracking ever goes ahead is still an open question.

"Other issues also remain open. Last year, the Commons Environmental Audit Committee said fracking is incompatible with our climate change targets, and the government hasn't been able to show they're wrong. If leakage rates are above a few percent, gas burning turns out to be worse than coal for climate change, and yet the government hasn't set a maximum permissible leakage level.



Victoria Seabrook writes about climate change, the criminal justice system, and social justice. She is news editor at independent local newspaper Hackney Citizen, a co-editor of Prison Watch UK, and a regular correspondent for

This article was originally published on Some additional reporting by The Ecologist in this version.



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