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Lancashire’s decision not to let energy firm Cuadrilla drill for shale gas has divided opinion. What will happen next and what does this mean for small to medium sized businesses?
Lancashire County Council’s decision not to grant planning permission for Cuadrilla Resources to extract shale gas at two sites in Lancashire came as a surprise, especially as planning officers previously recommended that one of the applications be approved.
The decision may have repercussions far beyond the two sites it covers. The rejection claimed the project would have an unacceptable visual and noise impact, a finding that may make it difficult for similar projects to gain approval.
The strong opposition to fracking is likely to have been a factor in the Council’s decision. Again, other areas with shale gas deposits will almost certainly face protests, discouraging their Councils from allowing exploration or drilling (as seen in Sussex).
The official backing of the central Government could see the decision overturned on appeal. Indeed, some observers claim that the Council may have intended this outcome, which could offer the economic benefits of fracking but avoid any responsibility.
But even if the applications are eventually approved, the delays and wrangling will likely put off investors in other potential projects. There is only one other application awaiting a decision in the UK, by energy company Third Energy.
Shale oil and gas has been transformative for the US, the first country to really exploit fracking. The nation has gone from being a net oil and gas importer to being an exporter. Cheaper energy has boosted manufacturing and other industries.
With Britain’s geology thought to have substantial deposits of shale gas, many hoped that fracking could replace dwindling North Sea oil and gas output. The decision of other European countries with large resources, such as France and Germany, to ban fracking has left the UK an outlier. While it is unlikely that an official ban will be put in place (at least in the short- to medium-term), realising the potential of fracking will be more difficult than the pro-fracking camp hoped.
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