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Government upholds fracking appeal in landmark ruling


Horizontal fracking can go ahead, the government has said, in a landmark ruling for the UK shale gas industry.

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid has approved plans for fracking at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site at Little Plumpton in Lancashire.

A second site, Roseacre Wood, has not yet been given the green light amid concerns over the impact on the area.

It means, for the first time, UK shale rock will be fracked horizontally, which is expected to yield more gas.

But protesters say it uses techniques that risk the environment because of the chemicals and pressure used.

Lancashire County Council refused permission to extract shale gas at both sites last year on grounds of noise and traffic impact, but Cuadrilla appealed.

Cuadrilla chief executive Frances Egan said: “We have been through an exhaustive environmental impact assessment on this.

“We have assessed everything; noise, traffic, water, emissions, etc.

“The Environment Agency are entirely comfortable with it.”

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Environmentalists and local campaign groups reacted angrily to the decision, with Friends of the Earth campaigner Pollyanna Steiner calling it a “betrayal of local people”.

“Fracking goes against everything we need to do to tackle climate change.

“The government must end its fixation with dirty fossil fuels and focus instead on harnessing the UK’s huge renewable energy resource,” she said.

Drilling companies believe trillions of cubic feet of shale gas may be recoverable from beneath parts of the UK and more than 200 onshore exploration licences have been awarded to energy companies.

In 2011, all fracking was suspended in the UK after it caused earthquakes near Blackpool. The ban was lifted in 2012.

It is not the first time fracking has been approved since the ban was lifted – but it is the first to involve horizontal drilling.

In horizontal fracking, the well is turned horizontally at depth to extract gas from a layer – or layers – of shale rock.

It is seen as far more productive than conventional vertical drilling, which goes directly through the seam and reaches a smaller area.

In May, North Yorkshire County Council approved an application by Third Energy to vertically extract shale gas at a site near Kirby Misperton in Ryedale.

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Analysis: Judy Hobson, BBC North West environment correspondent

This decision was never about fracking. For those against it, that argument has already been lost. The government wants a shale gas industry and on a big scale.

This was a planning issue. The government has ruled that the proposed fracking site at Preston New Road is perfect for test fracking.

In agreement with local planning officers, the secretary of state didn’t think the other site, Roseacre Wood, met the planning criteria.

Whatever the reasons for Thursday’s decision, it is significant. Cuadrilla wants to carry out unconventional fracking – that means drilling wells vertically and horizontally. It’s never been done before on mainland Britain.

Using the latest technology, the company says huge amounts of gas could be extracted with relatively little impact above ground.

Cuadrilla expects to begin fracking at the end of 2017. Anti-fracking campaigners could delay or even stop that happening by asking for a judicial review.

They’d have to prove this decision was arrived at in an unlawful manner, and it’s a costly process. But residents in Lancashire know it’s more than likely their area is the testing ground for a future industry.



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