* Third Energy shale permit first since ban lifted in 2012
* Friends of the Earth say to continue to oppose fracking
* Third Energy says welcomes verdict
(Adds details, background)
By Karolin Schaps
LONDON, Dec 20 Britain's High Court ruled on
Tuesday that a fracking permit awarded by a local council to
developer Third Energy was legal, after it was challenged by
environmental campaigners, opening the way to shale gas
extraction in the UK.
Substantial amounts of shale gas are estimated to be trapped
in underground rocks and the British government wants to exploit
it to help offset declining North Sea oil and gas output, create
some 64,000 jobs and help economic growth.
The contested permit in Yorkshire, in the north of England,
was the first approval for shale gas fracking since a moratorium
was lifted in 2012.
"The substantive claim for judicial review is dismissed,"
Justice Lang said in her written verdict on the case, ruling
that the permit remains valid.
Despite government support, progress has been slow due to
regulatory hurdles and public protests, with environmental
groups concerned fracking could contaminate groundwater and that
it is incompatible with fighting climate change.
"We will continue to campaign on behalf of local communities
for the sake of our children and their children's health and
well-being," said Jackie Cray, a co-claimant in the case.
Third Energy, which is owned by former employees of the
Barclays Natural Resource Investments private equity business,
had been expected to produce Britain's first shale gas this year
before its permit award was appealed.
The company said it was pleased with the ruling.
Since Third Energy was granted its permit, shale gas
developer Cuadrilla has gained approval for a second permit in
northwest England after the government intervened and overruled
a local authority decision.
Other British shale gas developers include IGas,
Egdon Resources and INEOS.
(Editing by Louise Heavens and Alexander Smith)