Communities secretary Sajid Javid today gave the go-ahead to one of two fracking schemes in Lancashire in a landmark ruling for the UK’s shale gas industry.
Javid overruled an earlier decision from Lancashire County Council and approved plans for fracking firm Cuadrilla Resources to both monitor and explore for shale gas at a site in Preston New Road.
At a second site at Roseacre Wood, the government said Cuadrilla will be allowed to monitor but not explore for shale gas. This is still subject to a final decision from ministers, though City A.M. understands they are "minded to approve" the permit for exploration, subject to concerns about highway safety issues being satisfied.
Cuadrilla launched an appeal for permits after Lancashire County Council refused permission for the company to extract shale gas at the sites, which are close to Blackpool, last year.
The council rejected both planning applications last year due to expected increased noise and a negative "visual impact" at the New Preston Road site, and the impact of traffic on nearby residents at Roseacre Wood.
Cuadrilla has held off from fracking since 2010 when its activities caused earth tremors in Blackpool.
The half-and-half decision was thought to be one of the likely outcomes of the appeal.
The decisions follow extensive consideration of all the evidence, including an independent planning inspector’s report and evidence submitted during a two week public inquiry.
Shale gas has the potential to power economic growth, support 64,000 jobs, and provide a new domestic energy source, making us less reliant on imports.
When it comes to the financial benefits of shale, our plans mean local communities benefit first. We will take the big decisions that matter to the future of our country as we build an economy that works for everyone, not just the privileged few.
Matt Lambert, director at Cuadrilla, told City A.M. a pilot well will be drilled at the Preston New Road site in the second quarter of next year. Fracturing the well and flow testing will then commence in the third and fourth quarters respectively.
Lambert denied the overruling of the Lancashire County Council will set a precedent for the industry.
"The planning process has an appeals part that happens all the time. People who wish to develop all sorts of projects may be turned down by councils and ultimately the secretary of state has the right to choose those decisions and that's how it works," Lambert said.
"In that sense, it doesn't set any precedent because this happens all the time.
"This is a great opportunity for the people of Lancashire in terms of jobs and economic investment. Over the next 18 months we expect to invest £50m in the operations and millions of that will go to contracts for firms in Lancashire."
Environmental groups slammed the decision. Helen Rimmer, north-west campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: "This is bad news for Lancashire – the community have been fighting fracking for more than five years. This fight continues until this unproven and unpopular industry disappear for good.
"Instead of shoving us down a dangerous path that inevitably leads to climate change, the government should invest in renewables and energy efficiency, an emerging industry that could create 24,000 jobs in the north west alone."