Environmental charity Friends of the Earth said the Environment Agency (EA) had failed in its duty to promote the “best available techniques” to reduce the impact of controversial gas extraction at the Preston New Road site.
It argued the permit granted to the oil and gas exploration and production company was not based on sufficient evidence that it would effectively deal with contaminated waste fluid.
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The group said the EA should have considered other techniques that produce less waste when it considered the firm’s application in 2017.
Instead of existing measures, the campaigners said the EA should have required a technique for dealing with water known as flowback, which results in less water use and less waste.
However, the judge did not uphold the challenge and suggested that it should have been made when the original permit was granted two years previously.
“We’re obviously disappointed that the judge has not upheld our challenge. However we will continue to scrutinise the fracking industry closely,” said Tony Bosworth, a Friends of the Earth campaigner. “The government claims that fracking has gold standard regulation but there are many examples of shortcomings in the actual regulations and problems in their implementation.”
Mark Lappin, technical director at Cuadrilla, said: “We welcome this judgment in our favour. We will continue to operate within the permits and regulations in place at our shale gas exploration site in Preston New Road.”
An Environment Agency spokesperson said the ruling “affirmed that we correctly made our decision to approve changes to the environmental permit for hydraulic fracturing operations at Preston New Road”.
Fracking at Preston New Road is expected to continue this year after gas was extracted there towards the end of 2018.
The site has been a target for protesters, and drilling has been brought to a halt repeatedly after earth tremors at the site exceeded legal limits.
There have already been two unsuccessful attempts to stop proceedings at the site by groups unhappy about the local and environmental impacts of fracking.
The government supports drilling for shale gas, arguing it is essential to ensure future fuel security for the UK.
However, many MPs and local councils – including Conservatives – have been vocal in their opposition. Greater Manchester announced last week it would essentially ban fracking altogether.
Besides the fear of excessive water consumption and contamination, environmental groups say investing in fracking will lock the country into a future of fossil fuel use.
“With scientists warning that there is little time left to get on top of climate change, the government is backing the wrong horse in supporting fracking. The future lies in clean, renewable energy,” said Mr Bosworth.