CAMPAIGNERS vowed to fight on last night after the first onshore fracking in the UK five years was given the green light in North Yorkshire.
Protesters who had gathered outside Northallerton's County Hall sang "we shall overcome" and chanted "we say no" in the moments after the decision and promised to continue to oppose the plan to frack at Kirby Misperton, in Ryedale.
Opponents are expected to look at whether they have legal grounds to challenge North Yorkshire County Council’s decision.
Test drilling at Barton Moss, in Greater Manchester, and Balcombe, in Sussex, have previously led to large scale protests by anti-fracking activists even where the controversial mining method was not being used.
Asked about the prospect of protest at the Kirby Misperton site, Third Energy chief executive Rasik Valand said: “If they examine what we are proposing to do carefully, in a specific way, they will see that a lot of the fallacies that have been assumed to lead to problems are not there which is way the regulatory bodies have not put in an objection.
“What reason would they have for continuing?”
Mr Valand said it would be "many many months" before work begins on the site and he believed "fears will diminish" once they have carried out the process safely.
North Yorkshire County Council's planning committee voted by a margin of seven to four in favour of the application last night after a two day hearing and listening to more than 80 speakers.
Opponents raised concerns over the possible impact of fracking on water, farming, tourism and the wider environment.
Speaking to protesters outside County Hall after the meeting, Coun John Blackie, who voted against the application, said: “As a result of that vote up there I’m afraid I see Ryedale is doomed unless we fight every single application that comes forward with the same passion as you fought this.
“I’m only sorry my fellow councillors didn’t listen to you but some of us did and we totally supported what you were trying to do, make Ryedale free from fracking.”
Other energy firms have licences to explore in the area and are now expected to submit their own applications with Ineos already having begun public consultations.
Local campaigner Sue Gough said: “I just can’t believe that the committee has approved this application and totally ignored those people who will be directly affected by fracking.
“They have effectively now opened the floodgates for every fracking company to follow in Third Energy’s footsteps and bring about the industrialisation and destruction of not only Ryedale, but potentially the whole of North Yorkshire and swathes of the rest of the UK.”
Fracking was suspended in Lancashire in 2011 over concerns at earth tremors. Two applications to frack in the county again last year were rejected.
The rejections were a significant blow to the Government's efforts to kickstart a UK fracking industry, which it has claimed would create jobs, help energy security and generate valueable tax revenues.
Vicky Perkin, a council planning officer, told the committee that, of 4,420 individual representations, 4,375 were objections and just 36 were in support of the application.
But the planning officers’ report said: “It should also be noted that there is national policy support for the development of a shale gas industry in this country and this is an important material consideration.”
The Government has said it is going “all out for shale” to boost energy security and the economy.
Opponents of fracking had hoped a further rejection in North Yorkshire would persuade the energy industry and the Government public opinion could not be won over but the approval represents a major shot in the arm.
Ken Cronin, from industry body UK Onshore Oil and Gas, said: "We think this is a very important first step for the industry.
“We need to understand what the geology in this country is telling us. We know there’s a lot of gas there but we don’t know if we can get it to flow, get it to come out of the ground in the relative cost environment we are in at the moment.”
The hearing heard repeated concerns from opponents that Ryedale’s image as a food producer and tourism destination would be seriously damaged by association with fracking.
County Council chief executive Richard Flinton said: “This has been a very difficult decision for the Council to make and we know it is a difficult decision for the people of this county.
“We are proud of our beautiful county which attracts so many visitors and maintains a thriving tourism industry.
“We have no intention of jeopardising those qualities and our rural industries and livelihoods. For that reason the planning conditions must be fully discharged and monitored.”
Mr Flinton said the decision would not have a bearing on future similar applications and every request for planning permission would be considered “on its merits”.
Dr Adam Marshall, acting director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, described the decision as a “much-needed victory for pragmatism, in the face of the serious energy security problems Britain faces”.
He said: “Fracking has the potential to play a part in solving the UK’s energy crunch, and create new energy-related jobs in many areas.”