People living close to a proposed fracking operation in North Yorkshire have told councillors they do not want to be the first community in the UK to allow the controversial gas extraction technique.
A meeting has begun to consider an application by UK firm Third Energy to frack for shale gas at its existing drilling site near the village of Kirby Misperton, between Malton and Pickering, in North Yorkshire.
Councillors were greeted by placard-waving protesters as they arrived for the county council planning committee meeting in Northallerton.
The plan has provoked angry protests from environmental campaigners opposed to the controversial hydraulic fracturing technique as well as groups concerned about more local environmental impact issues.
The first of more than 80 scheduled speakers at the meeting, independent Ryedale councillor Lyndsay Burr, told committee members: “Ryedale residents do not want to be the first in the UK to allow fracking.”
Councillor Burr said there was a danger the Ryedale district would become known for fracking rather than tourism.
She said: “Do not devastate our area.”
She added: “Please refuse this application for the sake of this beautiful area and our residents.”
Last week, officers at North Yorkshire County Council recommended the granting of permission for Third Energy’s application.
The Government has said it is going “all out for shale” to boost energy security and the economy.
But opponents fear fracking – in which liquid is pumped deep underground at high pressure to fracture rock and release gas – can cause problems including water contamination, earthquakes and noise and traffic pollution.
Environmentalists also warn that pursuing new sources of gas – a fossil fuel – is not compatible with efforts to tackle climate change, and that the focus should be on developing cleaner sources of energy such as renewables.
No fracking has taken place in the UK since 2011, when tests on the Fylde coast were found to have been the probable cause of minor earthquakes in the area.
Since then, two high-profile applications to frack in Lancashire have been rejected by councillors and are now the subject of appeals.
Third Energy wants to frack for shale gas using an existing two-mile deep well – called KM8 – drilled in 2013. The firm wants to erect a 120ft high drilling rig over the well.
It said it has taken “every possible step” to ensure the plan will not impact on the environment.
Rasik Valand, chief executive of Third Energy, said: “Today sees the start of determination by North Yorkshire County Council’s planning committee of our application to hydraulically fracture our existing vertical well that was drilled in 2013 near the village of Kirby Misperton, on a wellsite that has been operational for decades.
“The Planning Officer’s positive recommendation comes after very detailed scrutiny of the application by the Planning Officer and statutory consultees and taking into account representations by members of the public and other groups. This work is reflected in the Planning Officer’s Report together with the planning conditions proposed. We believe that this thorough report will enable North Yorkshire County Council to reach a positive determination on our application.
“Third Energy has been drilling wells, producing gas and generating electricity safely and discreetly in North Yorkshire for over 20 years and we will continue to maintain the same responsible approach in the future.”
Friday’s planning committee meeting at County Hall, in Northallerton, is likely to continue on Monday due to the number of people who have applied to speak.