Fracking: On its way to the UK?

Fracking equipment in Colorado
R.J. Sangosti | The Denver Post | Getty Images

The path towards controversial gas extraction method fracking in the U.K. has been paved, with a north of England site likely the first to use it.

Lancashire County Council planners recommended on Monday the approval of gas exploration company Cuadrilla's application to frack at the Preston New Road site, but rejected another at nearby Roseacre Wood due to concerns about traffic.

The final decision on whether fracking can go ahead will come from meetings of the Council's Development Control Committee, which conclude on Friday, June 26. There is no guarantee it will follow the planning officers' recommendations.

Hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, involves pumping water, sand and chemicals into a well to extract oil or gas. The rocks are then fractured, and gas can escape to the surface through the cracks.

Its use in the U.S. has helped the country move closer to energy independence and become less dependent on oil imports.

However, the environmental dangers posed by fracking have concerned many. Drinking water reserves are a particular cause for concern among environmentalists. More than 30,000 people from around the U.K. have signed a petition against fracking in Lancashire.


Cuadrilla, which is chaired by former BP chief executive and oil industry heavyweight John Browne, has previously been blamed for causing two small earthquakes in the north England town of Blackpool in 2011.

The council's decision marks a changing attitude in the U.K. towards the controversial gas extraction method.

North Sea oil and gas, the biggest source of energy in the U.K. for decades, is a finite and shrinking resource. The U.K. has moved from being a net exporter of oil and gas to a net importer in recent years, as supply in the North Sea has dwindled. The recent slump in the oil price has made the industry as a whole less upbeat, with concerns that smaller players will be forced out by the declining price for their oil.

The GMB union, which represents many U.K. gas industry workers, spoke earlier this month of the "moral duty" for Britain to meet its own gas needs rather than export from countries where safety and workers' rights standards are lower.

United Kingdom Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG), the U.K. oil and gas industry body, claims that generating natural gas via shale could eventually lead to "many thousands of highly skilled well paid jobs".

Reacting to today's announcement Friends of the Earth's north west campaign Furqan Naeem said in a statement that fracking had "already been halted in Scotland and Wales because of the serious risks it poses to the environment and health, and impacts on climate change - two thirds of people in Lancashire want it halted too.

"Rejecting Cuadrilla's plans is the only way to stop Lancashire's communities and environment being made the UK's guinea pig for risky and polluting fracking."

- By CNBC's Catherine Boyle