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Out-Law News 2 min. read

Campaigners begin judicial review of North Yorkshire fracking project

A coalition of campaigning groups led by Friends of the Earth has filed an application for judicial review of North Yorkshire County Council's recent decision to grant planning permission to a shale gas fracking project.

Lawyers acting for Friends of the Earth and Frack Free Ryedale, a local residents' group, filed their application with the High Court last week. They have claimed that the council did not fully assess the potential impact that burning any gas extracted from the site to generate electricity would have on climate change, and did not secure "long-term financial protection" against environmental damage from Third Energy, the developer.

Energy and planning expert Mike Pocock of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that news of the application "reinforces the obstacles that fracking developers have to overcome".

"This decision was always likely to be subject to challenge, given the high public interest and level of objection," he said.

He added that the claim was likely to be treated as "significant" if the campaigners were granted permission to proceed, meaning that it would be subject to a more expedited process in the courts.

"However, even then it will probably be the autumn before a hearing takes place, and then there are potential further avenues for appeal," he said.

Judicial review is a two-stage process. First, a judge will have to decide whether the claim is "arguable" on the basis of the papers filed with the court, which Pocock said was "quite a low hurdle to get over". If successful, the claim will then proceed to stage two which is a formal hearing.

In a statement, Friends of the Earth said that they expected to find out whether or not they would receive a full hearing "in the next few weeks".

The judicial review process is focused on narrow grounds such as alleged legal errors made by the local authority, and is not an opportunity to re-examine the merits of the proposals.

North Yorkshire County Council's planning committee voted seven to four in favour of allowing Third Energy to frack for shale gas at an existing well outside the village of Kirby Misperton at the end of May, following two days of hearings. Fracking is a process which involves pumping water at high pressure into rock to create narrow fractures through which trapped natural gas can flow out and be captured.

Third Energy's planning application was the first to be approved in England since 2011. However, 99.2% of local residents and other respondents to a consultation carried out by the council objected to the proposals, according to Friends of the Earth.

"Shale gas is a dirty fossil fuel and it is the responsibility of North Yorkshire County Council to require a full assessment of the impact this fracking application would have on the climate," said Simon Bowens, a Friends of the Earth campaigner for Yorkshire and Humber. "They failed to do that, and this is why we believe the courts need to consider the way that this decision was arrived at by seven councillors in May."

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