In an encouraging sign for the future of shale gas development in the United Kingdom (UK), a county government in northern England has awarded a planning application to perform hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations to an energy company with ties to Barclays plc.

On Monday, the North Yorkshire County Council voted 7-4 to approve an application by Third Energy to perform fracking at an existing well site in the Ryedale district, near the village of Kirby Misperton. The company drilled the KM8 well in 2013. After analyzing samples taken from different depths at KM8, Third Energy concluded that it needed to conduct further testing through fracking to determine the well’s commercial potential.

“This approval is not as a victory but is a huge responsibility,” said Third Energy CEO Rasik Valand. “We will have to deliver on our commitment, made to the committee and to the people of Ryedale, to undertake this operation safely and without impacting on the local environment.”

But Valand added “don’t expect to see any activities on site in the near future” because the company still needs to secure additional regulatory approvals, including from the UK’s Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government. That office has been asked to intervene in a separate case involving a rejected application by Cuadrilla Resources Ltd. to perform fracking in Lancashire County (see Shale Daily, April 4).

“The purpose of this application is to establish if the gas seen in some samples in this hybrid sandstone shale formation can be made to flow, at what process conditions and for how long,” Valand said. “If this flows then we will need to assess how it performs for some months before making any conclusions. So now we move on to the next stage of obtaining required approvals.”

According to Third Energy, the KM8 well had two targets when it was drilled in 2013. The primary target was remaining gas trapped beneath a Permian era unconformity in the Kirby Misperton Field. Meanwhile, the company drilled deeper to acquire data from a secondary target: unconventional tight gas formations underlying the Kirby Misperton Field, including the Skipton Moor Grits, and other sandstones and shales.

Several reports said Third Energy is 97% owned by Barclays Natural Resource Investments (BNRI), the bank’s equity division, but Reuters reported the company is owned by former BNRI employees.

“This decision is not in our name,” fracking opponent Sue Gough told Drill or Drop, an anti-fracking blog, on Monday.”We know that Third Energy and their backers Barclays bank are the only ones that stand to benefit from these fracking plans. This application would put at risk Yorkshire’s beautiful landscape and the tourism industry that inspires millions of visitors each year and supports thousands of jobs.”

In July 2015, the Lancashire County Council Development Control Committee denied Cuadrilla an application to drill up to eight test wells targeting the Bowland-Hodder Shale (see Shale Daily, July 6, 2015). Cuadrilla subsequently filed an appeal to the Secretary of State. A planning inspector appointed to handle the dispute is to announce her recommendation by July 4. It will then be analyzed by the Secretary of State’s office, which will render a final decision.

In 2013, the British Geological Survey said there was a 50% chance the Bowland-Hodder Shale holds 1,329 Tcf of natural gas. It also released high and low estimates for the play, at 2,281 Tcf and 822 Tcf, respectively (see Shale Daily, June 28, 2013).