Campaigners in North Yorkshire have lost their landmark High Court challenge against one of the first planning applications to carry out fracking in England.
Residents from the village of Kirby Misperton, in Ryedale, were supported by environmental group Friends of the Earth in a bid to block a decision to allow hydraulic fracturing near their homes.
But Mrs Justice Lang, sitting in London, dismissed their application for judicial review in a decision which allows fracking to go ahead.
One of the lead campaigners, Reverend Jackie Cray, said: “I’m obviously disappointed in the verdict but it doesn’t end here. There is no support in North Yorkshire for this risky industry.”
Fracking company Third Energy was granted permission by North Yorkshire County Council in May 2016 to frack just a quarter of a mile from Mrs Cray’s home.
She said: “We will continue to campaign on behalf of local communities for the sake of our children and their children’s health and wellbeing, and the long-term prosperity of our area.
“We are not prepared for Ryedale to become a sacrifice zone for the sake of industry greed.”
Donna Hume, Friends of the Earth campaigner, said: “The High Court has ruled that fracking can go ahead in beautiful Yorkshire, and we must rise to this latest challenge.
“The judge found that North Yorkshire councillors had assessed the impacts of climate change.
“But we know that climate change was barely mentioned at that crucial council meeting where the decision to allow fracking was taken, and more damningly, that councillors didn’t have the information about the total carbon emissions produced from the fracking project.
“Residents have said they will continue to do everything they can to peacefully prevent Barclays’ owned Third Energy from fracking, and we will be standing with them.”
Residents in Ryedale issued a statement saying they were “outraged” at the decision.
David Davis, one of the residents behind the legal action said: “We respect Mrs Justice Lang’s decision whose duty was to carefully interpret the law as it stands today. Our greatest disappointment is with the government, our own MP, and an industry who are conspiring to force fracking on unwilling communities with the threat of overruling any councils who refuse planning permission.”
He added: “Our own County Council failed to respect residents wishes and those of the district council, five town councils and 14 parish councils in Ryedale who objected, and did not even have the courage to use the authority’s own draft Minerals and Waste Plan as a basis to throw out this application.”
Mr David said the decision would “open the floodgates to other fracking companies”.
Third Energy welcomed the court ruling that the council had acted properly in granting planning permission for test fracks at the existing KM8 well in Ryedale.
The company said 40 conditions accompanied the grant of planning permission “which the company is well on its way to satisfying”.
Rasik Valand, chief executive of Third Energy, said: “The permission places a great obligation on Third Energy to prove that we can carry out the test fracks in the same safe, discreet and environmentally sensitive way that we have conducted our gas exploration and energy generation activities over the past two decades.
“We are confident that we will prove to the local community that their elected representatives were right to grant this permission.
“We look forward to the results of the test fracks which will help establish whether gas can be produced from deeper and tighter rock formations at the Kirby Misperton site.”
Andrew Cooper, Green Party energy spokesperson, said the county council had “let down” local people.
He said: “The decision to allow fracking in North Yorkshire is a bitter blow not only to the communities there, who have fought so hard to stop this from happening, but to all who care about the fight against climate change.
“If we are to stop climate chaos, there can be no new dirty fossil fuel infrastructure. No pipelines. No mines. No fracking.
“We should be choosing an energy system powered by the renewable sources that we have in abundance and keep fossil fuels in the ground. Fracking is a dirty, expensive and dangerous gamble with our environment, security and economy.
“The Conservative controlled North Yorkshire county council has let people down. We need to elect Green politicians who will stand up for local people and the environment they live in to protect them against fracking.”
The controversial decision in May was approved by seven of the 11 North Yorkshire county councillors on the planning committee.
Planners had recommended the plan was approved, despite acknowledging that the majority of representations received in consultation were objections.
The committee was told that, of 4,420 individual representations, 4,375 were objections and just 36 were in support of the application.
The vote allows Third Energy to frack for shale gas using an existing two-mile deep well - called KM8 - drilled in 2013.
The fracking application was the first to be approved in the UK since 2011, when tests on the Fylde coast, in Lancashire, were found to have been the probable cause of minor earthquakes in the area.
Since then, two high-profile applications to frack in Lancashire were rejected by councillors.
But in October, the scheme to drill up to four wells and frack for shale gas at Preston New Road, Fylde, which had been turned down by Lancashire County Council, was given the go-ahead by Communities Secretary Sajid Javid following an appeal.
A second site in Lancashire, Roseacre Wood, has not yet been given the green light amid concerns over HGV traffic and road safety in the area.
David Davis, one of the residents behind the Kirby Misperton legal action, said: “Third Energy will now press ahead with its plans at Kirby Misperton.
“Sadly, this decision will open the floodgates to other fracking companies such as Ineos who together have plans for more than 14,000 wells in Ryedale alone.
“Large areas of Yorkshire, the North and the Midlands are covered by petroleum exploration and development licences for fracking which, if exploited, will lead to the widespread industrialisation of our countryside.”
The judge said Third Energy currently has operational control of six sites in the Ryedale district where one or more gas wells have been drilled.
One of the sites is the KMA well site at Alma Farm, Kirby Misperton, where permission has been granted to carry out fracking.
A pipeline network links the wells to a gas-fired electricity generating station in Knapton, which is capable of supplying up to 41.5MW of electricity, enough to power up to 40,000 homes.
The gas is burnt through a jet engine which in turn produces electricity for supply to the National Grid.
The judge said the process generated greenhouse gas emissions, notably carbon dioxide, which contribute to global warming.
Knapton is operated under an environmental permit regulating emissions generally, and also a greenhouse gas emissions permit which specifically caps emissions of carbon dioxide, both of which have been granted by the Environment Agency.
The judge said the anti-fracking campaigners had accused the county council, acting in its role of local minerals planning authority, of unlawfully failing to take into account an assessment of the impact of burning fracked gas at Knapton on climate change.
Dismissing their challenge, the judge said: “The real thrust of the objections was that energy requirements ought to be met by other, less environmentally damaging means than gas production and a gas-fuelled electricity generating station.
“This was essentially a judgment for the committee to make. They were extensively briefed by officers on the climate change issues, as well as the Government’s policy in favour of shale gas.”
The judge also rejected a claim that the authority misdirected itself in law by failing to require Third Energy to provide a financial bond in relation to any long-term environmental pollution caused by fracking.
The judge agreed with the council that financing restoration of the site could be dealt with adequately by planning conditions.
She said: “In my judgment, the council acted lawfully in the exercise of its discretion in imposing these conditions and deciding not to seek a financial bond.”
North Yorkshire County Council said it had “not sought to bring fracking” to the area.
The council said in a statement: “Having received this application, we had a responsibility to determine it and to apply national and local policies. We followed a statutory process, and the High Court has found that we followed it correctly and has rejected the issues raised by Friends of the Earth.”
The council said it was “now focusing on a new draft minerals and waste joint plan” which would “put in place robust measures to balance the interests of the fracking industry with those of residents, businesses and the environment in areas where planning applications may be made”.
The statement said the plan “adopts a raft of measures that include an extended buffer zone to protect residential locations as well as environmentally important places, such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, nature conservation areas and important historic sites”.
But Jackie Cray, who took part in the legal action and lives half a mile from the Third Energy site, said she was “devastated” that the views of local people had been ignored.
She added: “We will not be defeated though, because we hold firm in the belief, supported by a huge amount of evidence, that fracking is wrong, and will continue to campaign against this ‘stop-gap’ industry that the Government is trying to force on communities across the country.”