Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has overruled the decision in 2015 by Lancashire County Council to refuse planning permission to Cuadrilla Bowland to drill exploratory wells for shale gas near Blackpool.

In a landmark ruling, exploration company Cuadrilla’s appeals for permission to drill and frack for shale gas at its Preston New Road site near Little Plumpton on the outskirts of Blackpool are now allowed. The company can also recommence monitoring environmental effects. However, it has been asked to provide more information about proposals for another site in the area at Roseacre Wood before planning for that site can be allowed to go ahead.

In his statement, the minister said that the need for shale gas exploration was one of the Government’s objectives, in that it could help achieve secure energy supplies, but that there was no Government support for such development that would be unsafe and unsustainable.

Claire Jakobsson, Head of Energy and Climate Policy at EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, said: “Following today’s decision, we could see production start within the next eighteen months. It’s hoped that this development will provide vital information on the longer-term prospects for a UK shale industry. Approval of the second application, currently under consideration, would help to build this picture further and we hope the green light will be given for this too in due course.

Jakobsson added: “Shale gas has the potential to deliver significant economic benefits to the UK from more affordable energy to security of supply through to jobs in the energy and manufacturing sectors. It is right that we explore this opportunity and understand the potential for shale gas as part of the UK’s energy mix.”

Environmental and local campaigners reacted strongly to the news, however. Greenpeace campaigner, Hannah Martin, said: “Digging up more fossil fuels that we can’t burn if we are to honour the international agreement we signed in Paris and is coming into force next month makes little economic or environmental sense. If the prime minister wants to promote an affordable and fair energy system whilst bolstering business growth and job creation, renewable and smart energy technologies are the way to go.”

John Baldwin of CNG Services, one of the architects of the renewable gas industry in the UK, welcomed the decision, saying it heralds a golden age for gas in the UK. He said: "It has always been very difficult to understand why environmental activists are opposed to shale gas. UK shale gas has a much lower carbon footprint than imported LNG whether from Qatar or made from US shale gas.
“Gas is the ideal fuel for back-up generation for intermittent wind and solar especially if produced in the UK with a low ‘well head to burner tip’ carbon footprint.”

“Shale gas will give the UK a massive environmental and financial boost and the tax received can be used to fund gas demand reduction and renewables. Even better if the US and Qatar LNG that is not needed in the UK goes to China and helps coal to stay in the ground.”

Image: Drilling for shale gas (Cuadrilla)