Lancashire Council has today rejected a planning application for a shale gas fracking site at Preston New Road, near Fylde – against the recommendations of its own planning officials.
This is the second such setback in less than a week for Cuadrilla – whose mirror application for another temporary test drill for shale oil at nearby Roseacre Wood was also recommended by council officials.
The UK onshore oil operators group – UKOOG – said today it was ‘extremely disappointed’ at the council’s decision.
Ken Cronin, Chief Executive, UKOOG, (pictured left) said: “This rejection comes despite a recommendation from the council’s planning officer and advice from the council’s own legal officer backed up by QC opinion that “a refusal which is not backed by substantial objective evidence cannot be described as unlawful, it nonetheless can readily be described as unreasonable in planning terms.”
“We are also disappointed that legal advice it made public yesterday at the same time as others was completely ignored by the committee.
“An important plank of the (UK) Government’s energy policy and manifesto commitment has been reduced to a position that despite all the advice a rejection has been given. This – after 15 months of a long drawn out process – cannot be right and I urge the government to urgently review the process of decision making.
“There is a growing coalition in this country including manufacturing industries and trade unions that support the need for shale from an economic, environmental and energy security perspective.
“80% of our homes are supported by gas for heating and the chemical industry supports 500,000 jobs that use gas as the raw material to make products as diverse as toothpaste and computers.
“The Government needs to take a strategic review of how to ensure these planning decisions are made in the prescribed timescales – this one has taken 15 months as opposed to a guideline of 16 weeks. This lengthy delay is bad for the industry and the communities involved.
“This is just one adverse planning decision, where the professional judgement of planning officials, leading counsel and expert agencies was to approve based on the fact that all of the environmental, safety, health and local issues had been addressed. Other exploration companies have already stated they will be putting in their own applications very shortly.”
Cuadrilla also said it was “surprised and disappointed” and would consider its “options” regarding an appeal. The spokesman added:
“We remain committed to the responsible exploration of the huge quantity of natural gas locked up in the shale rock deep underneath Lancashire.”
Cuadrilla have six months in which to lodge any appeal against the council’s decisions. Industry observers widely expect the company to appeal.
If successful, such an appeal would establish a legal precedent for all similar such shale oil drilling wells in future in England.
And while a successful appeal in England would not have the same legal effect in Scotland, it would be regarded by the courts as ‘highly persuasive’ – potentially driving a legal coach and horses through the Scottish government’s temporary moratorium on shale gas applications.
A spokesman for Friends of the Earth Scotland said: “It is encouraging that Lancashire is joining Scotland and Wales in taking a precautionary approach to an industry that has proved disastrous for public health and the environment in the US and around the world.”