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Fracking approval: In spite of public opinion

The decision to approve Third Energy’s application to begin exploratory drilling for shale gas outside of Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire has been hailed as a landmark decision for the UK fracking industry. Many believe that it will open the door to a swathe of further approvals, while setting a precedent which could help rival firm Cuadrilla in their appeal against the decision not to allow them to frack up on the Fylde coast. However, industry chiefs would do well to keep their champagne on ice, as public opposition is growing, and the announcement from North Yorkshire only appears to have hardened the resolve of campaigners.

Polls show that public opinion has swung firmly against the practice, and reports suggest that 99% of locals opposed fracking at Kirby Misperton. When laid alongside the growing body of scientific studies linking proximity to drilling operations (and perhaps more importantly, the concoction of chemicals used to extract gas from shale rock) to an increase in a number of serious health issues, it is easy to see why.

Public health concerns and environmental issues have done nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the Conservative government, which has used a little known “statutory instrument” to push through changes to existing law without the usual scrutiny and debate. One such change allows drilling to take place in National Parks and beneath homes without the owner’s consent. While the government redoubles its support for the nascent fracking industry, it has also cut many of its green subsidies (namely for solar and wind power), withdrawn £1 billion ($1.53 billion) in funding for carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, which would drastically lower the carbon emissions of fossil-fuel burning power stations, and opened up around 1,000 square miles of the English countryside to potential fracking operations.

While the government apparently shows as little regard for the commitments it made at the Paris climate conference as it does for either the health or wishes of the UK population, opposition to fracking grows. The prospect of new protest camps in Lancashire and Yorkshire, along with the threat of a judicial review examining the approval of Third Energy’s application will hamper the industry in the short term, but may also further raise the media profile of the anti-fracking campaign, creating even greater obstacles in the long run.

For more on this, look out for our Analyst Insight piece, coming soon.