THE government has approved plans to continue extracting underground gas at several sites, clearing the way for a further 15 years of operations by an energy firm.

North Yorkshire County Council’s planning committee is expected to approve issuing decision notices to Third Energy later this week over seven well sites and an underground pipeline network which connects them.

The decision-making meeting follows the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy issuing his formal screening directions in respect of operations at Kirby Misperton, Great Habton, Marishes and Pickering, and a pipeline linking the wells to the existing operational Knapton gas-fired electricity generating station, which opened in 1995.

The power station is capable of supplying up to 41.5MW of electricity enough to power up to 40,000 homes.

In January, Third Energy announced it was dropping plans to frack at Kirby Misperton, but wanted to continue the gas extraction operations across the Vale of Pickering, where the industry began in 1985 with the granting of consent for exploration under licence.

The firm’s original plan had seen Kirby Misperton become a frontline in the national battle over fracking with more than 80 protesters arrested as they encased their arms in concrete and leapt on lorries to hamper the firm’s wish to be the first to frack in the UK for years.

The most recent proposals attracted objections from local and national campaign groups, such as Frack Free Ryedale and Friends of the Earth, as well as residents and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.

Objectors claimed the operations would threaten air and water quality, harm biodiversity, create high levels of noise and traffic, hit the local economy and tourism, industrialise the countryside and affect climate change ambitions by relying on fossil fuels.

A report to the planning committee states the Secretary of State had agreed with the council’s planning officers’ opinions on the proposals.

Government papers submitted to the council state the gas network proposals are “unlikely to have significant environmental effects in terms of contamination”, and that with the proposed mitigation measures, the proposals would not have a potential adverse impact in terms of releasing pollutants or any hazardous, toxic or noxious substances into the air”.

The papers state while The Friends of the Earth had highlighted the impact of the continued operation of the site until 2035 on climate change, neither the Environment Agency, Natural England or Historic England, had raised any concerns about the proposals. In addition, they state the potential impacts on the use of natural resources, generation of waste and pollution, including impact on air quality; impacts on human health, sensitive areas, on the social, environmental and traffic impacts were considered. The government spokesman said: “Having taken into account all this evidence the Secretary of State has concluded that the proposal would not have a significant adverse impact in terms of climate change.”

However, the report includes an amended condition that the energy firm would have to abide by to protect residents in the area. The report recommends that if the gas extraction operations exceed the maximum permitted noise level, all operations will have to cease within four hours until the firm can prove it has introduced effective mitigation measures.