In the past few minutes a High Court judge has backed plans by Third Energy to frack for shale gas at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire.
Mrs Justice Lang rejected a legal challenge to the decision by North Yorkshire County Council to grant planning permission in May this year.
The ruling could mean Kirby Misperton will see the first use of high volume hydraulic fracturing in the UK since 2011.
Friends of the Earth and the campaign group, Frack Free Ryedale, had argued that the council had acted unlawfully because it failed to take account of climate change impacts or protect the area from long-term damage.
During a two-day hearing last month (22-23 November), the two groups said the council had underestimated greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the project.
Gas from well is to be burned at the nearby Knapton power station to generate electricity. Barrister for the claimants, David Wolfe QC, argued that the council should have taken account of emissions from the power station, as well as from the well operations.
He also argued that the council had misdirected itself in law by concluding that it could not require Third Energy to pay a financial bond to cover the costs of site restoration or damage.
But in her judgement given this morning Justice Lang rejected the grounds for the judicial review.
She supported the county council’s argument that bonds should be required only in exceptional circumstances and that the development did not include emissions from the power station.
The council’s barrister, Sasha White QC had argued that emissions from the power station were controlled by other permissions and regulatory regimes.
Justice Lang said in her judgement:
“In my view, the terms of the conditions [of the planning permission] afford a considerable degree of protection to residents. Despite the Claimants’ submission that the protection we too short-lived, it was apparent that the conditions extend beyond mere restoration to a programme of after care, in accordance with the PPG [planning practice guidance]”
Costs of £10,000 were awarded against Friends of the Earth and £5,000 jointly against Rev Jackie Cray and David Davis, of Frack Free Ryedale.
Third Energy’s plan to frack its existing KM8 well was opposed by Ryedale District Council, every Ryedale town council, 15 parish councils, Flamingo Land, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, the Castle Howard estate and more than 4,300 individuals. The county council’s planning committee voted by seven to four in favour of the scheme.
David Davis, one of the claimants for Frack Free Ryedale, said this morning:
“We respect Mrs Justice Lang’s decision whose duty was to carefully interpret the law as it stands today. Our greatest disappointment is with the government, our own MP, and an industry who are conspiring to force fracking on unwilling communities with the threat of overruling any councils who refuse planning permission.
“Our own County Council failed to respect residents wishes and those of the District Council, five town councils and 14 parish councils in Ryedale who objected, and did not even have the courage to use the authority’s own draft Minerals and Waste Plan as a basis to throw out this application.
“Third Energy will now press ahead with its plans at Kirby Misperton. Sadly, this decision will open the floodgates to other fracking companies such as INEOS who together have plans for more than 14,000 wells in Ryedale alone. 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.”
Frack Free Ryedale said it drew some comfort from Justice Lang’s comment in her judgement that it was the responsibility of the Council’s planning committee to reach an independent view on whether “energy requirements ought to be met by other, less environmentally damaging means than gas production and a gas-fuelled electricity generating station” Frack Free Ryedale statement
Reverend Jackie Cray, the other claimant for FFR, said:
“I’m obviously disappointed in the verdict but it doesn’t end here. There is no support in North Yorkshire for this risky industry.”
Rev Cray, who lives about a quarter of a mile from the KM8 well, said said local people would not give up their fight.
“We will continue to campaign on behalf of local communities for the sake of our children and their children’s health and well-being, and the long term prosperity of our area. We are not prepared for Ryedale to become a sacrifice zone for the sake of industry greed.”
Donna Hume, Friends of the Earth campaigner, said:
“The high court has ruled that fracking can go ahead in beautiful Yorkshire, and we must rise to this latest challenge.
“The judge found that North Yorkshire Councillors had assessed the impacts of climate change. But we know that climate change was barely mentioned at that crucial council meeting where the decision to allow fracking was taken, and more damningly, that councillors didn’t have the information about the total carbon emissions produced from the fracking project.
She added that Third Energy, 97% owned by Barclays, could expect resistance to its plans:
“Residents have said they will continue to do everything they can to peacefully prevent Barclays’ owned Third Energy from fracking, and we will be standing with them.”
North Yorkshire County Council reaction
A statement from the council this morning said:
“North Yorkshire County Council is grateful for the judgement of the High Court, which confirms the planning committee gave proper regard to all material planning considerations before approving the application by Third Energy to undertake fracking for shale gas in the vicinity of Kirby Misperton.
“The County Council has not sought to bring fracking to North Yorkshire. Having received this application, we had a responsibility to determine it and to apply national and local policies. We followed a statutory process, and the High Court has found that we followed it correctly and has rejected the issues raised by Friends of the Earth.
“We have a statutory duty to deal with such issues, and are now focusing on a new draft Minerals and Waste Joint Plan for York and North Yorkshire, which has been produced by the County Council with City of York Council and the North York Moors National Park Authority.
“The plan will put in place robust measures to balance the interests of the fracking industry with those of residents, businesses and the environment in areas where planning applications may be made.
“It adopts a raft of measures that include an extended buffer zone to protect residential locations as well as environmentally important places, such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, nature conservation areas and important historic sites.
“We have been encouraging people and organisations to make representations on the draft by tomorrow, 21 December.
“When given final approval, the plan will become a key reference for planning decisions for development for the next 15 years, including hydraulic fracturing for shale gas.”
Third Energy reaction
A statement from Third Energy said:
“Third Energy is pleased that the court has found that North Yorkshire County Council acted properly in granting planning permission for test fracs at the existing KM8 well in Ryedale. The council set 40 conditions to the grant of planning permission which the company is well on its way to satisfying. It is worth remembering that we are nearly two years into a planning application process for a proposed operation that would take less than three months to complete.”
The company’s chief executive, Rasik Valand, added:
“The permission places a great obligation on Third Energy to prove that we can carry out the test fracs in the same safe, discreet and environmentally sensitive way that we have conducted our gas exploration and energy generation activities over the past two decades.
“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.”