Since the Conservatives won a majority in the general election just over three weeks ago, there has been an increase in the number of planning applications submitted relating to hydraulic fracturing.
This observation comes after a marked rise in the share price of many fracking companies since fracking-friendly Amber Rudd was selected as secretary of state for the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
And while fracking did not get a direct mention in the Queen’s speech on Wednesday, it was noted that “measures will be introduced to increase energy security and to control immigration.”
This is because the existing Infrastructure Act, enacted under the Tory-LibDem Coalition, already gives the government all the legal powers it needs to expedite its fracking programme.
Notably, promised provisions to exclude sensitive areas such as national parks, important wildlife sites and groundwater sources from fracking were taken out of the primary legislation, and will be enacted in regulations by the current government – which can now make the protection as weak and ineffective as it wishes.
‘Energy Security’ has often been highlighted as one of the major reasons for pushing ahead with fracking, and this subtle implication could be interpreted as continued support in the push for more unconventional oil and gas extraction in the UK.
Let the applications begin …
Firstly, and perhaps most controversially, is news of Third Energy’s planning application to hydraulically stimulate and test its existing gas well at Kirby Misperton in the Thirsk, Malton and Filey constituency. The application was submitted to North Yorkshire County Council by the energy company on Friday last week.
The area’s recently elected Conservative MP, Kevin Hollinrake, wants to ensure that fracking is safe if it is to get the go-ahead. He took over as the Conservative Party candidate after the incumbent, Anne McIntosh, was deselected last year.
This was controversial at the time, as McIntosh, who chaired the Commons Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs’ Select Committee. was an outspoken opponent of fracking.
In addition, McIntosh did not support the government’s Infrastructure Bill, which contained numerous provisions to expedite fracking. She also demanded that the government’s heavily redacted report on fracking be made wholly transparent for the public.
Third Energy’s other controversial planning application, submitted in September 2014 for two waste water reinjection wells at Ebberston Moor, was due to be discussed by the North York Moors Planning Committee on Thursday 14 May. But discussions have been deferred yet again and it’s likely that they will be debated at some point in June.
East Yorkshire, Notts, planning applications in motion
Meanwhile, in East Yorkshire, Rathlin Energy is seeking approval of plans for a second exploratory oil and gas well at the West Newton site, in Holderness, East Yorkshire.
East Riding of Yorkshire Council, which remains a Conservative-controlled council following the 2015 local elections, has recommended that the application should be granted to the company but the council’s planning committee will make the final decision on Thursday 4 June.
Many of the people who objected to the application raised concerns about Rathlin Energy breaching environmental permits at their existing drilling site at West Newton.
In North Nottinghamshire, IGas has identified a new site where it wants to explore for shale gas. Nottinghamshire County Council announced on Monday that IGas had asked for a scoping opinion on the site: the first step that needs to be taken before making a full planning application.
According to the press release, the site is off Springs Road, north-east of Misson, in Bassetlaw, near the local authority boundary with Doncaster and North Lincolnshire. IGas is expected to submit a planning application at the end of June.
Fracking London boroughs
Lastly, it was brought to the public’s attention this week that Nick Grealy, the chief executive of London Local Energy, has applied for a hydrocarbon licence in the London Borough of Merton.
As well as Merton, the company has also applied for a licence in North London and other parts of Surrey. Grealy is expecting a response from the government by August this year, and, if successful, the drilling could start at the end of next year.
Local residents may well be alarmed at the prospect, since fracking can give rise to earthquakes – in particular from the re-injection of pollutant-laden waste water, as confirmed last month by the US Geological Survey, an agency of the US Government.
Even a small earthquake in densely-inhabited London could give rise to considerable property damage, for example from broken porcelain and glassware, slipped tiles, falling chimney pots and cracks in masonry and plaster.
Evidence has already emerged, as reported in the Guardian, of house price falls in areas where fracking may take place due to fears over fracking, pollution, heavy traffic, noise and the nuisance of industrial operations taking place in hitherto quiet rural and residential areas.
Ben Lucas is a writer for Desmog.uk. Currently pursuing an Investigative Journalism Master’s degree at the City University of London, he has a particular interest in UK and international politics, economics and environmental issues. Twitter: @benjameslucas.
This article was originally published on DeSmog.uk. Additional reporting by Oliver Tickell.