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Fracking to restart in UK after last-minute legal bid fails

High court rejects request to temporarily block Cuadrilla operation in Lancashire

The Cuadrilla fracking site in Preston New Road, Lancashire.
The Cuadrilla fracking site in Preston New Road, Lancashire. Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA

The first fracking in the UK for seven years will start on Saturday, the shale gas company Cuadrilla has confirmed, after campaigners lost a last-minute legal challenge to block the operations.

Lancashire resident Robert Dennett won an interim injunction last Friday against Lancashire county council, putting a temporary halt to the start of fracking at a well outside Blackpool.

His lawyers argued on Thursday that the council’s emergency planning was inadequate in the event of an incident at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site.

But on Friday a high court judge rejected the request for an injunction, on the grounds that the council had not failed in its duties regarding civil contingency planning. Justice Supperstone also dismissed an application for a judicial review of emergency planning.

Lawyers for the company had said it was incurring costs of £94,000 for every day it was injuncted and prevented from fracking.

The oil services firm Schlumberger has been contracted to undertake the hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, which involves pumping water, chemicals and sand underground at high pressure to fracture shale rock 2km below the surface to release gas.

The operation is allowed to run from 9am-1pm on Saturday, and then 8am-6pm Monday to Friday. In all, the process is expected to take around three months, because the company is proceeding slowly to monitor any seismic activity.

The only serious threat to fracking starting on Saturday comes from the strong gusts being brought by Storm Callum, which could delay the process until Monday for safety reasons.

Dennett said: “[I’m] obviously disappointed. We will continue to be defiant and fight this. We will never give up. We’ve put too much effort in to throw the towel in.”

Lawyers for Dennett said he would appeal against the judge’s decision. They believe that a case could be won on the grounds that the court erred in regard to government guidance on the civil contingencies act, which covers emergency planning by authorities.

Rebecca Long-Bailey, Labour’s shadow business secretary, said: “It’s a scandal that the government has been allowed to force through fracking at any cost.”

Jonathan Bartley, the Green party co-leader, said the court verdict was a “real blow”, coming just days after a report by the UN climate science panel, the IPCC, said fossil fuel use must be cut dramatically to limit temperature rises to 1.5C.

He vowed to continue his opposition to fracking and said public attitudes were hardening against the industry.

“We will fight on. It means direct action. We’ll be taking the fight to the fracking companies,” Bartley told the Guardian outside the court.

Marc Willers QC, representing Dennett, had asked for a two-week interim injunction while the court considered the matter. “It’s a small price to pay for the safety of local residents,” he told a packed courtroom.

But lawyers for Cuadrilla had argued there was no serious case to be tried, and said the ultimate arbiter for whether the company could frack was not the local authority but the business secretary, Greg Clark, who issued a fracking consent this summer.

The campaign group Frack Free Lancashire said it was disappointed by the court’s decision.

“Cuadrilla can now carry on regardless, ignoring the urgent warning issued this week by the IPCC about the need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, but all of the fracking companies need to know that fracking will never get a foothold in the UK because they will meet resistance at every stage of their projects,” a spokesperson said.

Fracking opponents have pledged to hold a national climate change rally at a farm near Cuadrilla’s site later this month. As well as opposing fracking at Preston New Road, the event will call for the release of three fracking activists who were recently jailed over their protests at the site last year.

Cuadrilla’s well will be the first to be fracked since one in 2011, which triggered minor earthquakes and led to a moratorium and stronger regulations.

Inconveniently for ministers, the return of fracking also coincides with the launch of the government’s first ‘Green GB Week’, which is billed as a celebration of 10 years of the Climate Change Act, the UK’s law enshrining an 80% cut in carbon emissions by 2050.

On Monday the government is expected to formally instruct its climate advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, to explore whether that target should be reviewed in light of the IPCC’s 1.5C report.

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