Friends of the Earth has made a last-ditch attempt to prevent test-fracking beginning in North Yorkshire after asking police to investigate whether starting the controversial shale gas procedure could put protected species of bats at risk.
The environmental organisation has written to North Yorkshire Police about the issue and the force has confirmed it is now determining what “next steps” to take as firm Third Energy prepares to undertake test work in the village of Kirby Misperton.
It comes as three men were arrested yesterday as dozens of protesters attempted to block lorries carrying specialist fracking equipment from entering the site in Ryedale.
Disturbing bats or damaging their habitats is a criminal offence unless a mitigation licence from Natural England is issued.
A letter from a Friends of the Earth lawyer seen by The Yorkshire Post has called for a full police investigation to be carried out into the potential presence of bats before fracking operations commence.
It states that development consent was given on assumption the area was devoid of bats but suggests it is now believed “there are significant numbers of protected bat species present”.
A spokesperson for North Yorkshire Police said: “We have received correspondence from Friends of the Earth raising concerns about protected species of bats at Kirby Misperton. We are working with Natural England and other relevant organisations to determine the next steps in relation to this issue.”
Simon Bowens, a Friends of the Earth Yorkshire campaigner, said: "Expert opinion has indicated that Third Energy have not done enough to assess or reduce the risks of significant disturbance from fracking. Bats are legally protected and we welcome the police’s commitment to look at this further.”
Third Energy intends to conduct around eight weeks of testing whether the controversial process of extracting gas from shale is commercially viable. The tests will see the company attempt the fracking process at five different depths using an existing two-mile deep well.
The company is starting to transport specialist equipment on to the site but before the hydraulic fracture procedures can begin, Third Energy’s hydraulic fracture plan must be approved by both the Oil & Gas Authority and the Environment Agency. Once this is approved, final consent is required from the Secretary of State.
While there are no other current applications for fracking in the local area, the company has six existing well sites in Kirby Misperton, Malton and Pickering where it has said it may consider “further appraisal activity”.
Fracking is designed to recover gas and oil from shale rock using a high-pressure water mixture. The Government has said that despite environmentalists’ concerns about chemicals escaping and contaminating groundwater, “shale gas has the potential to provide the UK with greater energy security, growth and jobs”.
Dozens of campaigners were involved in trying to prevent lorries entering the site yesterday, carrying out ‘slow-walking’ protests in front of vehicles and sitting in front of the site’s gates until they were moved by police, with around 50 officers in attendance.
Commenting on the start of mobilisation, John Dewar, director of operations for Third Energy, said “After almost three years of planning it is very rewarding to now be starting work at the well site. We look forward to running a safe and successful operation that will be carried out with minimal impact on local residents and the environment.”
Two cautioned after anti-fracking protest arrests
Two men have been cautioned and a third released without charge following arrests at anti-fracking protests in Kirby Misperton.
A 69-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of assaulting a police officer and obstructing an officer, while a 33-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of obstructing a police officer, while a 23-year-old man was also arrested for obstructing a highway.
The 69-year-old accepted a caution for obstructing a police officer, as did the 23-year-old for wilfully obstructing a highway.
Superintendent Lindsey Robson, of North Yorkshire Police, said: "We'll continue to take a neighbourhood policing approach to protests – that means we will talk to people, to explain what is acceptable in terms of safety and reasonableness, and ask them to work with us to make this a safe and peaceful protest. We would rather talk to people and persuade them to move, than have to make arrests."