Lancashire county council has rejected a planning application for shale gas exploration at two sites between Preston and Blackpool, delivering the latest blow to the UK’s controversial fracking industry.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves pumping a high-pressure mixture of water and chemicals underground to fracture shale deposits and release trapped natural gas.
Despite council planning officers recommending that one of the two sites – at Preston New Road near Blackpool – should be approved, councillors rejected both applications, citing the adverse visual, noise and traffic impacts of the proposed developments.
Both bids were made by Cuadrilla, which is the only company to have successfully ‘fracked’ in the UK to date.
Fracking is an important part of the energy mix in the US and the Government is hoping to replicate this success in the UK.
Chancellor George Osborne has already announced a £5 million fund to provide independent evidence of the safety of fracking in the UK, as well as proposing a ‘Shale Gas Sovereign Wealth Fund’ to ensure that local communities benefit.
A report commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) – previously with large parts redacted but now published in full – suggests that an increase in fracking could boost economic growth and improve energy security. However, it also reveals that fracking could increase the UK's greenhouse gas emissions, reduce property values and have an adverse impact on water availability and other environmental issues.
Green campaigners and businesses will hope the decision in Lancashire will help to cement the importance of renewables in the UK’s energy mix as a viable and safe alternative, with the government’s plans to end subsidies for onshore wind facing particular criticism from both campaigners and the renewables industry.
Green MP, Caroline Lucas, said that she hoped the refusal “will open the government’s eyes to the huge opposition to fracking in this country, and help to persuade them that clean, renewable energy is where we must invest.”
Pieter Kiernan, energy analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, was guarded on the prospects for the shale gas industry going forward.
“It is clear that the emergence of shale gas in the UK, and more broadly in Europe, will be very much slower than what has been witnessed in the US given [Europe's] lower levels of public support and tighter environmental rules”, he said.
In a statement, Cuadrilla said it was “surprised and disappointed” with the decision to go against planners’ recommendations to approve the Preston New Road site, adding that it remained “committed to the responsible exploration of the huge quantity of natural gas locked up in the shale rock deep underneath Lancashire”.
Energy minister, Andrea Leadsom, also expressed her disappointment, calling it a missed opportunity “to develop a new, home-grown energy source that would displace foreign imports and create tens of thousands of jobs.”