On 7th July, the Committee on Climate Change confirmed that fracking can go ahead if three key tests are met. The three tests are
- Emissions should be strictly limited during shale gas development, production and well decommissioning. This will need tight regulation, close monitoring of emissions and rapid action to address any leaks;
- Overall gas consumption in the UK must remain in line with UK carbon budgets and so shale gas must displace imported gas rather than increasing gas consumption; and
- Emissions from shale gas production must be counted as part of the UK’s carbon budgets and so emissions in other areas may need to be cut further to accommodate fracking.
The Government is confident that it can meet these tests, however it seems to be accepted that any increase in carbon emissions will make meeting current targets even more challenging. This may mean that the need to develop carbon capture and storage technology is more urgent if fracking is to become a reality.
Despite the assurances given by the Government to the Committee on Climate Change, opponents of fracking clearly remain concerned that fracking causes environmental damage and it is unlikely that the response from the Committee on Climate Change will allay their concerns.
On the same day as the announcement from the Committee on Climate Change, opponents to a proposed fracking scheme in North Yorkshire applied to the High Court for a judicial review of the decision by North Yorkshire County Council to grant planning permission to Third Energy to extract shale gas at a site near Kirby Misperton. Friends of the Earth and a local community group, Frack Free Ryedale, are claiming that the decision by North Yorkshire County Council did not properly assess climate change or future environmental damage. It will now be for the Court to consider the decision making process and to decide whether the assessments were adequate. Although this case is being seen as a test case, given the nature of a judicial review, which considers process and lawfulness rather than the merits of a case, it is unlikely to signal the end of applications for fracking although it may set out useful guidance for both energy companies and planning authorities. In addition the announcement from the Committee on Climate Change is now a material consideration and how that influences those considering making applications, and also those determining them, remains to be seen.
We await with interest the Government’s decision on appeals by Cuadrilla to extract shale gas at two sites in Lancashire.