UK’s Lancashire Denies Two Shale Gas Permits

Plans by the government of British prime minister David Cameron to launch an all-out shale gas offensive have been dealt another setback, one that could prove lengthy. In two decisions a week apart, the county council of Lancashire turned thumbs down on issuing two permits to exploration company Cuadrilla to drill in the area near Blackpool.

The council had been expected to give the green light at least for the site at Preston New Road, but reports say individual council members changed their votes at the last minute. Earlier, officials had denied Cuadrilla permission to drill at the Roseacre Wood site.

Lancashire is the only area of the UK where drilling has taken place to date. Work was halted in 2011 after two small earthquakes, prompting a moratorium on drilling that was lifted at the end of 2012.

In the cases up for decision, local citizens and environmental advocates had argued that fracking would lead to excessive traffic and noise around the drilling site – grounds the council gave for rejecting the Roseacre Wood permit.

Taking the concern a step farther, the Lancaster council also rejected Cuadrilla’s plans for a seismic monitoring array at Preston New Road, saying the cumulative effect of exploration activity would lead to the industrialization of the countryside and adversely affect its landscape character.

Cuadrilla is expected to appeal one or both of the decisions. Earlier, the company had warned the county that it was likely to lose the appeal and incur significant financial penalties.

As could be expected, fracking proponents slammed the Lancaster decision, while opponents applauded it. The Onshore Operators Group (UKOOG), which represents the shale gas industry, called on the UK government to review the planning process, which it said was excessively long.

The British Chambers of Commerce called the county’s decision “perverse, short-sighted and timid,” while energy consultants Poyry warned that energy companies could decide not to invest in UK shale gas exploration if the approval process was not simplified.

By contrast, Greenpeace UK said the Lancaster vote was “a triumph for democracy and a Waterloo for the fracking industry.” Friends of the Earth called it a "bigger win than anyone was expecting,” which it said showed “the huge strength of feeling here.”

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