EFFORTS to start a shale gas industry in the UK have taken a significant step forward with a recommendation that test fracking should go ahead in Lancashire.
Council officers have told county councillors they should agree to the controversial method being used at one site between Preston and Blackpool but a second should be refused because of concerns over traffic levels.
The application by energy firm Cuadrilla is seen as an important test of how local authorities will treat fracking applications.
Third Energy recently withdrew an application to carry out test fracking at a site in Kirby Misperton, between Pickering and Malton, North Yorkshire, but is expect to re-submit it in the coming weeks.
Both Cuadrilla and Third Energy want to test fracking to see if using the method produces gas in quantities that would make full production commercially viable.
Fracking - properly known as hydraulic fracturing - involves the pumping of water, sand and chemicals into rock formations at high pressure to release trapped gas.
Cuadrilla welcomed the recommendation that one site in Lancashire be approved and disappointment that council officers were not supporting the second application despite trying to allay their concerns.
“We will await the councillors’ decisions on both these applications at the end of June,” the company said.
But environmental campaigners were dismayed that Cuadrilla could soon be carrying out fracking operations and promised to continue to fight the proposals.
Furqan Naeem, from Friends of the Earth, said: “The council must now listen to the tens of thousands of people who have objected to fracking at both sites, and the strong evidence put before them, and reject both of Cuadrilla’s proposals to frack.
“Rejecting Cuadrilla’s plans is the only way to stop Lancashire’s communities and environment being made the UK’s guinea pig for risky and polluting fracking.”
North Yorkshire County Council, which will eventually consider Third Energy’s application to frack at Kirby Misperton, has already been petitioned by Ryedale residents calling for the authority to “oppose fracking”.
But councillors in other local authorities have previously been advised that to impose a blanket ban on fracking could prompt a legal challenge and applications must be considered on their individual merits.
The Government is enthusiastically pushing for the development of a shale gas industry in the UK, claiming it would create jobs and growth, reduce energy prices and cut the country’s reliance on gas imports.
But opponents have raised fears that the process causes earthquakes, can pollute water supplies, and could lead to inappropriate development in the countryside and damage house prices.
Lancashire County Council’s development control committee is due to make decisions on the Caudrilla planning applications next week.
Cuadrilla submitted revised plans after planning officers recommended refusal for both sites in January for different reasons.
Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said: “I would urge them to consider the strength of opposition to fracking in the surrounding communities, and around the country - which polls have demonstrated have only grown as the public has learnt more about extreme energy extraction.
“I will be joining what will I am sure be huge protests against fracking outside the council meeting.”