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[LONDON] A shale gas fracking project won approval in Britain for the first time since 2011 on Monday as councillors in Yorkshire gave the go-ahead to a plan slammed by greens and locals.
After listening to arguments for and against the scheme as protesters gathered outside, the North Yorkshire County Council voted 7-4 in favour of allowing the fracking to go ahead.
"This is by far the most controversial application that we have ever had to deal with," committee chairman Peter Sowray said.
The committee had received 4,375 objections to the plan by British firm Third Energy and 36 submissions supporting it.
In 2011, tests found the technique of blasting water, sand and chemicals underground to release oil and gas had likely caused minor earthquakes in north west England.
Locals had expressed fears that the fracking could damage the area's tourist industry, contaminate water supplies, hurt wildlife, cause earthquakes and contribute to global climate change.
But Third Energy said it had a strong record in the area and would be using a well two miles deep that was drilled in 2013 and that had already been in operation.
"Third Energy has been drilling wells, producing gas and generating electricity safely and discreetly in North Yorkshire for over 20 years and we will continue to maintain the same responsible approach in the future," chief executive Rasik Valand said.
Demonstrators, who had assembled outside the County Hall in the town of Northallerton with banners and placards as the two-day meeting took place, greeted the decision with boos and chants of "we say no".
"This is an absolute travesty of a decision but the battle is very far from over," said Simon Bowens, Yorkshire campaigner for Friends Of The Earth.
"Despite this decision, public support for fracking is plummeting... The risks to people's health and the environment are unacceptable and we will fight on."
Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to go "all out for shale" in a bid to increase energy independence as the North Sea oil fields dwindle.
In December 2015 Britain's industry regulator granted 93 onshore licences to allow for exploration for shale oil or gas in a bid to "get shale gas moving".
Lawmakers have also approved fracking underneath national parks.
Since 2011, two high-profile fracking applications have been blocked by councillors, and are currently being appealed.
In a statement, North Yorkshire County Council had the process had been "long and taxing" and that the government's policy of support for fracking had to be taken into account.
"This has been a very difficult decision for the Council to make and we know it is a difficult decision for the people of this county," North Yorkshire's chief executive Richard Flinton said.
"We are proud of our beautiful county which attracts so many visitors and maintains a thriving tourism industry... The decision taken today does not have a bearing on future decisions."