North Yorkshire County Council has approved an application by an energy firm to carry out fracking in England, for the first time since a ban was lifted in 2012. The application was made by Third Energy, who is planning to extract shale gas near Kirby Misperton in Ryedale.

Councillors on the counties planning committee voted 7-4 to allow the controversial drilling process to take place, despite opposition from hundreds of protestors who had gathered outside. The meeting, which was held in Northallerton, also heard from those expressing concerns about the environmental impact of the plans, citing water contamination, earthquakes and noise and traffic pollution as possible negative factors.

Whilst supporters of the project - including landowners, farmers and Third Energy employees - expressed their support for the plans, a council planning officer said there had been 4,375 letters of objection and 36 of support for the application.

Fracking - or Hydraulic Fracturing - is a process which involves drilling into the earth and injecting shale rock with a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals to release natural gases found inside. The process has been prohibited in the UK since 2011, when tests on the Fylde coast, in Lancashire, were found to have been the probable cause of minor earthquakes.

Rasik Valand, chief executive of Third Energy, told the BBC that the approval meant the firm now had "a huge responsibility". He said: "We will have to deliver on our commitment, made to the committee and to the people of Ryedale, to undertake this operation safely and without impacting on the local environment".

Campaign group, Frack Off, said: "These plans could pave the way for thousands of fracking wells to spread across Yorkshire and many other parts of the country if not stopped. Impacts, including pipelines, air pollution and waste disposal, will spread far beyond the areas being drilled.

"Third Energy's plans in Ryedale are the thin end of a very large wedge." In the last five years, two further fracking applications, made in Lancashire, have been rejected by councillors.

The plans stipulated that Third Energy wants to use an existing two-mile deep well to begin the practice. The energy company said that it would halt operations if a seismic event measuring above 0.5 on the Richter Scale occurred.

fracking structure
Hydraulic fracturing involves using huge amounts of pressurised water mixed with chemicals to crack open shale sedimentary rock containing hydrocarbons -- to release natural gas Leon Neal/ Getty Images)