The UK Court of Appeal upheld the government's decision to permit natural gas exploration at two sites, rejecting claims that the government failed require sufficient cumulative impact analysis and should have considered the possible climate effects of any future natural gas production.
In 2016 the UK Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government issued a decision allowing exploratory wells and associated monitoring to test the feasibility of the commercial extraction of shale gas at two sites in Lancashire. The decision was challenged in an action that the Administrative Court dismissed. In 2017, the Preston New Road Action Group and an individual named Gayzer Frackman both appealed the dismissal on different grounds; Frackman's appeal raised several climate-related issues.
Frackman claimed, among other things, that the Secretary of State failed to follow Directive 2011/92/EU, which requires that an environmental impact assessment analyze indirect, secondary, and cumulative effects. Frackman argued that the Secretary had improperly failed to require an assessment of the effects of greenhouse gas emissions arising from the extended flow testing phase of the proposed project. The court disagreed, concluding that greenhouse gas emissions associated with exploration were fully assessed. Frackman also challenged the omission of any analysis of the indirect impacts of the succeeding production stage if the exploration proved the existence of a viable shale gas play. The court rejected this claim, reasoning that any possible future proposal would have to be considered on its own panning merits in light of a new environmental assessment. Finally, Frackman asserted that the Secretary was inconsistent in considering the potential benefits of natural gas in meeting the UK's planning goal of transitioning to a low-carbon future without assessing potential harms. The court dismissed this argument, concluding that the Secretary properly determined that shale gas exploration would help to achieve the objective of reducing carbon by establishing whether commercially viable natural gas existed on the sites in question.
The court dismissed both appeals in their entirety.