Fracking fears reignited for Yorkshire village as US firm buys shale gas company Third Energy

Plans for test fracking in Kirby Misperton attracted protests in 2017. Picture: Tony Johnson
Plans for test fracking in Kirby Misperton attracted protests in 2017. Picture: Tony Johnson
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A Yorkshire village could soon be back at the centre of controversy around fracking after a company that had planned to start the controversial shale gas extraction process at a site on its outskirts was bought by new American owners.

Kirby Misperton in Ryedale was at the centre of a national debate around fracking during 2017 as shale gas company Third Energy spent millions preparing to carry out test work there. It appeared likely to become the first place in the country where the process would be tried since earth tremors had halted work in Lancashire in 2011.

More than 80 arrests were made in autumn 2017 as environmental protesters - some of whom were living in a temporary camp on a nearby farmer’s field - attempted to frustrate the work.

Inside Third Energy's fracking site
But the tests never went ahead after the Government ordered a “financial resilience” review of Third Energy and fracking equipment was moved off-site in early 2018.

This week, the purchase of the onshore elements of Third Energy to a new company called York Energy (UK) Holdings Ltd which is a subsidiary of US investment firm Alpha Energy was completed - leading to concerns that fracking plans may be revived.

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A spokeswoman for Third Energy Onshore said the company “will be providing an update on its plans in the near future” when asked by The Yorkshire Post what it intended to do in relation to fracking in Kirby Misperton.

Anti-fracking campaigner Eddie Thornton said: “I don’t know why this American firm would have bought Third Energy if they didn’t want to frack.”

Before the “financial resilience” review was ordered, Third Energy had met 13 technical requirements that are required before final consent for fracking can be given, covering issues such as environmental protections and planning conditions.

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Fracking is designed to recover gas and oil from shale rock using high-pressure water mixture. The Government believes, despite environmentalists’ concerns about the increased use of fossil fuels, as well as chemicals escaping and contaminating groundwater, that “shale gas has the potential to provide the UK with greater energy security, growth and jobs”.

Tom Reed, chief executive officer of Alpha Energy, said: “We are very grateful for the support our development plans have received from all key stakeholders during the acquisition process, and we now look forward to deploying our engineering-led approach to being responsible owners and operators of these onshore assets.”

The current management and staff of Third Energy Onshore, which also runs a power generating station in East Knapton, North Yorkshire, are being retained and Alan Linn, the company’s former chief operating officer, has been named as its chief executive officer.

Mr Linn said: “I am very pleased that Third Energy Onshore has secured its long-term future, including the jobs of our team in Yorkshire, through acquisition by York Energy.

“The sales process has delivered a strong outcome for the business and prospects for growth. The recently published Committee on Climate Change report highlighted the important role indigenous natural gas must play in supporting delivery of the government’s 2050 net zero target for carbon emissions. Our focus will be on developing our onshore gas and power generation businesses.”

In late 2017, Third Energy officials said the company was spending around £17m on drilling a two-mile deep well and exploring it in a series of tests of over eight weeks that would have resulted in the site operating permanently and potentially paved the way for the rollout of fracking at six other well sites it owned in the local area.

Six other companies also hold Government licences to start exploring for shale gas across Yorkshire.

The Kirby Misperton site, where the well was drilled but the exploratory work has yet to take place, had been due to be the first involved in test fracking since an investigation in 2011 found that it was “highly probable” shale gas test drilling by firm Cuadrilla had triggered earth tremors in Lancashire.

Work instead began first last year at another Cuadrilla site in Lancashire - only to be halted on several occasions as further earth tremors occurred. The situation resulted in industry calls to loosen regulations which force them to halt work when minor earthquakes occur.

The Government said in February it had no plans to review the existing rules.