London (AFP) - Britain on Thursday approved a shale gas fracking project in the northwest of England, overruling a local council's decision to prevent the controversial scheme which is also opposed by environmentalists.
Communities Secretary Sajid Javid gave the green light for the drilling of up to four wells by energy group Cuadrilla at the Preston New Road site.
However he has yet to decide on a second site, also in the county of Lancashire, a government statement said.
The government said permission had been granted for "construction and operation of a site for drilling up to four exploratory wells".
Phil Foster, managing director of broker Love Energy, described the decision as "a big step".
He added: "The government, faced with a growing energy crisis in the UK, probably felt that it had no choice. However, the decision rides rough-shod over the feelings of people in Lancashire, and could now open the floodgates for other projects across the UK."
It follows the green light earlier this year for a shale gas fracking project in nearby Yorkshire -- the first such approval in Britain since 2011.
Locals and environmentalists argue that fracking damages tourism, contaminates water supplies, hurts wildlife, causes earthquakes and contributes to global climate change.
In December 2015 Britain's industry regulator granted 93 onshore licences to allow for exploration for shale oil or gas.
Lawmakers have approved fracking also beneath national parks.
Cuadrilla chief executive Francis Egan insisted the country needs access to new gas supplies.
"The country is running out of gas, and without some form of energy development, we're going to end up importing all of our fuel from overseas," he told ITV television.
"We've seen... the ridiculous situation where Scotland is importing shale gas from America, which frankly is crazy," he said.
A tanker carrying the first shipment of shale gas from the United States last week arrived in Britain, where North Sea gas supplies are dwindling amid a fierce public opposition to fracking.