The widely publicized decision of Lancashire County Council to refuse Cuadrilla's planning permission to explore for shale gas at two sites may be a set-back for shale gas development in the UK, but it is unlikely to be the end of the story. Cuadrilla has said that it remains committed to extracting shale gas in Lancashire and it seems almost certain to appeal.
The Council's decision to refuse the application for Little Plumpton was against the recommendation of the planning officer, and had been delayed since last week to allow councillors to consider legal advice on whether they would be able to refuse the application reasonably. That advice (available here) warned that a refusal could be difficult to defend on appeal, but it seems that further legal advice was provided to Councillors shortly before they voted to refuse.
The applications by Cuadrilla are significant because they are the first since the UK lifted its moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in December 2012. No shale gas wells have been drilled and hydraulically fractured in the UK since 2011 when Cuadrilla's operations near Blackpool resulted in minor earth tremors.
The Council's decision comes at a critical time for the future of the UK shale gas industry, which will be hoping for a swift and successful outcome on appeal. In the UK, there are very significant potential shale deposits, favorable tax and incentive regimes, and strong support from central government.
The question facing developers is whether opposition from local communities and planning committees can be overcome and if so, at what cost and delay. What happens next will be crucial to the future development of shale gas in the UK.