Environmental campaigner, Gayzer Frackman, has launched a legal challenge in the Court of Appeal against the Government's decision to approve fracking at Preston New Road, near Little Plumpton, Lancashire.
The four 'exploratory' wells planned by Cuadrilla at the site represent the biggest fracking operation to be given the go-ahead in the UK to date. Round-the-clock protests have hampered Cuadrilla's preparatory work since January.
The appeal will seek to overturn a High Court judgment last month, which cleared the way for shale rock to be drilled into horizontally for the first time in the UK through a series of exploratory wells. The High Court found the Government did not have to consider the carbon emissions generated during a three-year "exploratory" phase, even though the gas generated during this period would be piped into the national grid and burned in homes and industrial sites.
Last month the High Court dismissed Gayzer Frackman's legal challenge to the decision by Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid to overturn Lancashire County Council's refusal to allow planning permission for fracking on the site.
The Court of Appeal challenge will be on the basis the Government did not fully assess the impact of greenhouse gas emissions likely to be generated from the site over the next three years, before it approved fracking on the site, contrary to the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations. The appeal also questions whether it was safe for the Government to grant permission for fracking in the absence of a robust regulatory system that ensures fracking can be carried out without risk to health and with minimal damage to the environment.
If the Court of Appeal challenge is successful the Government will have to reconsider its decision to approve fracking at the Preston New Road site and may be forced to strengthen its regulatory regime before granting permission for fracking elsewhere in the country.
Estelle Dehon, who is representing Mr Frackman, said: "The High Court accepted that the carbon impact of shale gas production must be taken into account, but disagreed about when that should happen. Mr Frackman's challenge shows that this impact must be taken into account at the first opportunity, otherwise there would be no point in permitting exploration, and that it must include emissions from any gas pumped into the grid."
Gayzer Frackman, from Blackpool, became involved in opposing fracking when his property was damaged by two earthquakes in Lancashire caused by fracking in 2011. He said: "This case is vitally important because it seeks to hold the Government to account for failing to protect its citizens from the health impacts of fracking and the untold damage it will cause to our environment and those living near the site. We do not consider the regulatory system in the UK is sufficiently robust to ensure that shale gas extraction is safe for local residents. Moreover, it is our view that the government is simply wrong to permit so-called 'exploratory' fracking when, in fact, the operations will amount to full-scale production in disguise."
Studies have found fracking can cause exposure to air pollutants that can cause a range of health impacts, including cancer.
In a recent report on fracking by the Climate Change Committee (CCC) it was made very clear that the implications of UK shale gas exploitation for greenhouse gas emissions are subject to considerable uncertainty – from the size of any future industry to the potential emissions footprint of shale gas production. The CCC is an independent, statutory body with responsibility for advising the UK Government and Devolved Administrations on emissions targets and progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The CCC also found that exploitation of shale gas on a significant scale is not compatible with the UK's 2050 commitment to reduce emissions by at least 80%, unless three tests are satisfied, namely that emissions are strictly limited, overall gas production does not increase and measures are taken to reduce emissions in other areas to offset the impact of shale gas production. There is no evidence to show that these three tests have yet been satisfied, noted Mr Frackman who said: "Since the 2015 Paris Agreement, the UK's obligations to reduce carbon emissions are much greater. It is clear that the Government cannot meet the three tests set out by the Climate Change Committee for justifying shale gas production. The Government is simply putting corporate interests above safety, environmental concerns and the concerns of local communities".
Gayzer Frackman is represented by environmental law specialists, Marc Willers QC of Garden Court Chambers, Estelle Dehon of Cornerstone Barristers, and Paul Stookes of Richard Buxton Environmental and Public Law Solicitors. Geza Frackman has been greatly assisted by the Environmental Law Foundation who helped him find a legal team to work on the case.
Whilst there have been very few legal challenges on climate change in the UK courts, there has been an increase in climate litigation globally. Gayzer Frackman's case was prompted in part by the on-going climate litigation in the US brought by Our Children's Trust (https://www.ourchildrenstrust.org/us/federal-lawsuit/) and by the legal challenge by Urgenda in Holland (http://www.urgenda.nl/en/climate-case/). It is expected that Gayzer Frackman's case will be the first of many brought by those objecting to fracking in the UK.