In a major boost to the UK fracking industry and after a long and taxing process, shale development company Third Energy has been given the go-ahead by North Yorkshire County Council to hydraulically fracture an existing well near the village of Kirby Misperton. The application, which will allow the firm to fracture the well in multiple places over an eight week test period, was approved with 63% of the council voting for the proposal.

This is the first time an application for fracking in the UK has been given council approval since a ban was lifted in 2012 and is being viewed as a landmark decision for the sector. The result is likely to trigger the recommencement of the mission to establish a UK unconventional hydrocarbon market. The beleaguered fracking industry has faced significant challenges in getting projects off the ground, with many having been blocked by councils. This is despite the Conservative Government pledging its full support for shale gas exploration. Last year it confirmed new measures to fast-track applications.

Although this is a positive step forward for the recommencement of shale gas exploration in the UK onshore market, the split decision of the Council and the presence of hundreds of protesters at the Council’s meeting demonstrates just how precarious the industry is. To offer reassurance, the government has assured it will keep the regulatory regime for shale gas under review as the industry develops.

As well as Third Energy’s application to frack the existing well, two other shale exploration firms have fracking applications under review in the UK. Cuadrilla has two applications under appeal but officials have warned that the appeal process could take at least 16 months to resolve. Also, IGas has applied for planning permission to monitor groundwater and drill exploratory shale gas wells across four locations near Springs Road, Nottinghamshire. Last November the government announced that such appeals would be determined by the Secretary for State for Local Communities and Government.

It is unlikely that this decision will create a precedent for future decisions however it is hoped that, with Third Energy’s assurances that it sees the decision as “a responsibility to deliver on its promises, not a victory”, this approval will allow it to demonstrate that key players are committed to developing an unconventional hydrocarbon industry in a safe and responsible way. With a successful and safe exploration campaign, perhaps some of the protesters’ key concerns will be allayed.

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