In a ruling that has the potential to open up scores of sites across the UK to fracking, a local council has approved the first fracking operation to take place in England after all activity was halted five years ago amidst concerns of seismic activity. The decision was greeted with boos and jeers from crowds, who had gathered outside the County Hall in protest of fracking, after it was announced that councillors had voted seven to four in favor of the operations.
After fracking on the north-west coast of England was found to have been the probable cause of two minor earthquakes in 2011, all fracking activity was stopped, until a year later when the government lifted the ban. Since then, however, councils have been reluctant to allow the activity to continue amidst fears of more seismic activity, pollution of water sources, and increased traffic and construction, among other issues. Energy companies have tried to get licenses since then, but until now all attempts have been knocked back.
Third Energy, the company given the green light to frack, have already drilled a well at the gas site near Kirby Misperton, North Yorkshire. They did this in 2014, but it has taken them this long to get permission to actually start the fracking, which involves injecting chemical-laden water down a hole at high pressure. This cracks the rock open, releasing the tiny bubbles of methane trapped within, which are then pumped back up to the surface.
It is this process that has divided many as to its safety. Some claim that the action of fracking the rock can cause mini earthquakes, as seen in 2011, though Third Energy maintain that the Kirby site is seismically inert. Others are concerned that pumping the ground full of chemicals will pollute water sources. Both of these claims are highly disputed by the energy sector, and the scientific evidence for the latter is mixed.
There have been a lot of protests and push back from the public over fracking in the UK, including at Balcombe in West Sussex. Randi Sokoloff/Shutterstock
Either way, despite the fact that only 36 out of over 4,400 replies to the consultation undertaken by the local council were in support of the fracking application, the council still voted in favor of the operations. This comes with the backdrop of a government that has already said they will go “all out for shale” and an energy secretary who has said she will “deliver shale.” They argue that fracking is necessary to create jobs and make the UK more energy independent.
But others have shown that the jobs created by fracking only last for a short period of time when setting up the well. In addition to that, the backing of the government seems to be in contrast to earlier claims that they will be the “greenest government ever.” They have since slashed subsidies for solar, banned onshore wind farms, and then thrown their full weight behind fracking – an energy source that by some estimates has a carbon footprint comparable to that of coal.
If all goes to plan, Third Energy should be fracking by November or December, apparently timed so that the cold winter weather deters as many protestors as possible who might try to block the operations from taking place. But if those against the company’s operations get their way, then Third Energy might be having to fight an appeal to the ruling, as campaigners continue to try to block fracking from taking place.