Campaigners opposed to what was expected to be the first UK fracking operation for more than six years have packed up their protest camp, saying they no longer believe the project will go ahead in the near future.
But Third Energy – the firm planning to frack for shale gas at the North Yorkshire village of Kirby Misperton – said it will still happen “on completion of the approval process”.
The firm had expected to complete a series of test fracks at its KM8 well before Christmas but the process was held up as it waited for the final go-ahead from the Government.
In January, after business secretary Greg Clark ordered an assessment of the “financial resilience” of Third Energy before deciding whether to give it the green light, the company decided to let contractors remove some of the equipment from the site.
Now campaigners from the Kirby Misperton Protection Camp (KMPC), which is about a mile from the KM8 compound, said the firm has removed the main rig.
A message posted on the camp’s Facebook page said: “The last two weeks have seen convoys of fracking equipment leaving the site and this week we celebrated as the rig was finally removed.
“It’s clear that Third Energy are not going to be fracking anytime soon, and so the time has come to begin packing up the Kirby Misperton Protection Camp.”
They said: “We end this with a warning to any fracking company planning to exploit this land for your own profit and personal gain: Expect us.”
A Third Energy spokesman said: “We are sure that the residents of Kirby Misperton who have had their daily lives disrupted by the activities of the protesters, many of whom are not local, will breathe a sigh of relief at the news they are leaving the area, as will our employees and suppliers who have been regularly intimidated and threatened.”
He said: “We are currently working with the Government on the final step of the regulatory process which involves providing the financial information requested to facilitate the final Secretary of State consent for our Hydraulic Fracture Stimulation programme near Kirby Misperton.
“On completion of the approval process we will finalise our operational arrangements and move forwards with the Hydraulic Fracture Stimulation and production of the KM-8 well; delivering some much needed gas for power.”
Third Energy secured permission from North Yorkshire County Council in 2016 to use KM8 – drilled for conventional gas extraction in 2013 – to run test fracks almost two miles underground.
Several companies are attempting to get the shale gas industry in the UK off the ground, amid hopes it will boost the economy, jobs and energy security.
But opponents fear it can cause earthquakes, pollute water and is not compatible with targets to cut use of fossil fuels.
Earlier this week, the office of the North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner said the policing of the protests had cost an extra £670,000.
It said officers had made 81 arrests during the operation.