A judge will rule on whether North Yorkshire County Council acted unlawfully in reaching its decision to approve a test drilling site for the extraction of shale gas in Ryedale at a hearing in November.
Friends of the Earth has confirmed that the case, brought jointly with campaign group Frack Free Ryedale, will be heard at the Royal Courts of Justice in London on Tuesday, November 22 and Wednesday, November 23.
The legal challenge was launched after the county council’s planning committee voted in May to grant Third Energy permission to frack using an existing well at a gas field near the village of Kirby Misperton.
Campaigners argue that the council’s decision was unlawful because it failed properly to assess climate change by not considering the environmental impact of burning gas from its KM8 well at a nearby power station at Knapton, and that it failed to secure long-term financial protection against any environmental damage.
The forthcoming court hearing will take the form of a “rolled up” hearing during which Friends of the Earth will put forward their case to the judge who will then rule on whether the challenge should be put to judicial review. If the case is put forward, the judge will then make a ruling on the case.
Simon Bowens, Yorkshire and Humber campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: “The decision made in May by North Yorkshire County Council was potentially unlawful due to their failure to both assess the true impact of gas emissions from the development and for failing to put in place long term protection from very considerable risks from the site.”
Asked how confident he was that the legal challenge will succeed, Mr Bowens said: “It is difficult to say. We have put forward a very strong case.”
A spokesman for North Yorkshire County Council said: “North Yorkshire County Council welcomes that a date has been set for the hearing. We are confident that we have followed proper processes and gave proper regard to all material planning considerations before approving the application by Third Energy to undertake fracking for shale gas in the vicinity of Kirby Misperton.”
In a statement released this afternoon, Third Energy said: “It is in the interests of both the local community and Third Energy that a decision is reached quickly. This ‘rolled up’ hearing which will mean all the issues will be dealt with at one hearing.
“Approval for the KM8 application came after an exhaustive review by NYCC and a comprehensive, specially convened planning committee meeting which lasted two days, and we have every confidence that the council has followed all due processes in coming to its determination.”
If North Yorkshire County Council is cleared of any wrongdoing, then Third Energy is not expected to be ready to carry out any fracking until early next spring at the earliest. Should the ruling go against the council, then Third Energy’s planning application would have be re-heard by the council.
MP’S VIEWS OF FRACKING SITE PROXIMITY QUESTIONED
Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake said he stands by his belief that shale gas drilling sites should be located at least a mile from homes and schools but that it made “little sense” to move the controversial test site at Kirby Misperton.
Despite its proximity to homes in Ryedale - a distance of 300 metres to the nearest house - the recently approved test site lies within an existing gas field that operators Third Energy have run for more than 20 years.
Mr Hollinrake said: “This is an existing site and it makes little sense to me to move it.”
The Conservative MP was targeted by campaigners from Frack Free Ryedale outside his constituency surgery on Saturday. They presented the politician with a ‘fracking bribe’ cheque and new research that links health complaints with proximity to fracking sites in Pennsylvania, USA.
Mr Hollinrake, who self-funded a five-day trip to Pennsylvania last year to research the impact of the fracking industry on communities there, said he had met with US health professionals who did raise health concerns, particularly about air quality.
Mr Hollinrake said: “That’s why I have been pressing for independent monitoring of air, water and seismic activity, which is now being carried out by British Geological Survey.
“I am also insisting on clear guidelines for the number of well sites with minimum distances between them and from settlements. Most scientists agree that fracking can be carried out within safe environment limits and I will be very robust in my oversight of any activity.”
The Government proposes to make payments to communities affected by fracking when local fracking operations become profitable; an offer which campaigners claim constitutes bribery.
But Mr Hollinrake said the Treasury payments, plus investment packages for communities that the fracking industry had committed to, could see communities benefit from “hundreds of millions of pounds” over a 20-year period.