Third Energy had originally hoped to start test-fracking on the outskirts of Kirby Misperton before Christmas but began withdrawing specialist equipment from the site last month after the Government said it would not allow work to begin until it had conducted a review of the company’s finances.
The company has today confirmed it is taking down the top part of a sound barrier that had been installed around the site, as well as planning to reopen a public footpath that had been shut while equipment was coming in and out of the location.
The Yorkshire Post understands that following consultation with local farmers and the nearby theme park Flamingo Land, work is unlikely to restart at the start until at least the autumn so it does not clash with the summer holidays or the harvest season; even if Government sign-off is granted before hand.
Third Energy today said it hopes the move will see anti-fracking campaigners who have set up camp by the gates of the site “follow our lead” and leave the area. More than 80 people have been arrested in protests in the village since September, with activists climbing on lorries and locking their arms in metal tubes in a bid to frustrate the start of work.
On Friday, campaigners who had been occupying a ‘protection camp’ on the other side of the village for over a year said they would be closing down the camp after declaring ‘victory’, but added a presence would remain by the gates where some protesters have set up caravans and tents.
Alan Linn, chief operating officer of Third Energy, said: “As we work through the final government approvals for the project we think it is very important that residents in the Kirby Misperton area see their lives return to normal. “We consider re-opening the footpath and significantly reducing the height of the sound barrier are positive step towards this. We now expect the protestors camping on the grass verges in Habton Road to follow our lead and that of their fellow activists and leave the area.”
Mr Linn said he hopes both the grass verges by the gates and the private field where the original camp have been in operation will be returned to their original condition given the “self-declared environmental protection credentials”.
He added: “Working to anything less than the standards of restoration and environmental protection required of Third Energy would demonstrate double standards on the part of the protestors.”
Kirby Misperton has been on the frontline of the battle over fracking in Yorkshire and in the UK as it had been anticipated the Third Energy operation would be the first fracking work in the country since 2011, when it was found to be the cause of minor earthquakes in Lancashire.
The process of retrieving shale gas from rocks deep underground using high-pressure water mixture is backed by the Government as a way of reducing the nation’s reliance on imported energy, with seven companies holding exploratory licences for Yorkshire. But campaigners highlight safety and environmental concerns and oppose the expanded use of fossil fuels.
Hannah Martin, Head of Energy for Greenpeace, said: “Thanks to the efforts of local people, Third Energy have finally admitted that they are delaying fracking in Yorkshire."
She said in the six years since the first well was fracked in the UK, the industry has failed to meet any of the UK's energy demand "despite ministers overruling local democracy, changing planning law, restricting homeowners’ property rights, and trying unsuccessfully to sell fracking to communities".
She added: "If the government put this level of support behind any of the clean energy technologies which will be dominating this century, we could be a world leader. Instead, we have two muddy fields with holes in them.”