THE "financial resilience" of Knapton gas firm Third Energy is to be assessed before it is given final permission to frack at Kirby Misperton.

The decision was announced by Greg Clark, secretary of state for business, in a written statement today.

Mr Clark said: "I note that as of January 24, Third Energy UK Gas Limited and other related companies had yet to submit their accounts for the accounting period ending in December 2016, despite a statutory deadline of September 30 2017 for them to do so.

"I have therefore asked the Oil and Gas Authority to seek further financial information from the company, including the required set of up-to-date accounts, to inform my decision.

"I have also asked the Infrastructure and Projects Authority to assess the financial resilience of the applicant, including its ability to fund decommissioning costs.

"Once I have received this assessment I will inform the Oil and Gas Authority whether I am satisfied with the application as required by the 1998 Act.

"The Government considers that the financial resilience of a company wishing to hydraulically fracture is a relevant consideration."

The announcement marks yet another delay in Third Energy's ambitions to conduct test fracks at its Kirby Misperton well.

It had had ambitions to frack before Christmas, but these were dashed when a legal loophole was found in the relevant legislation.

It currently sits poised at the site, with equipment, awaiting the secretary of state's permission.

'Satisfied with the technical requirements'

There was good news for Third Energy in that Mr Clark said he was satisfied that the technical requirements are in place.

Mr Clark said: "I am committed to ensuring that a meticulous approach, rooted in rigorous evidence, is taken when reviewing the application.

"Having given careful consideration to the evidence submitted, I have informed the Oil and Gas Authority today that I am satisfied that the thirteen technical requirements set out in section 4A of the Petroleum Act 1998 have been met."

"We call on him to oppose the plan in its entirety"

The announcement has been largely welcomed by anti-fracking campaigners.

Russell Scott of Frack-Free Ryedale, said: "We call on Third Energy to come clean on their financial health and conform with regulations that they submit their accounts on time.

"With such huge health and environmental concerns associated with fracking, and the enormous costs involved, we are deeply concerned that the company appears unable or unwilling to publicise its finances. Do they have something to hide?

"We welcome Minister Greg Clark's decision to withhold granting permission to Third Energy to frack in Kirby Misperton until the companies financial stability is proven, guaranteed and made public.

"We do however find it very frustrating that Mr Clark has glossed over the health, safety and environmental concerns raised about Third's plans and we call on him to oppose the plan in its entirety."

And a representative of the KM Protection Camp said: "Having publicised Third Energy's shambolic financial situation, KMPC are pleased that Greg Clark has acknowledged this concern.

"We have little faith that Third Energy will be able to meet their long term responsibilities and we will continue to draw attention to the failings of the fracking industry.

"We are surrounded by counties who have banned fracking, and the Conservatives are the only political party who are still endorsing the industry."

"Annual accounts are being finalised"

Third Energy itself welcomed the endorsement by Greg Clark of its technical operation and said its accounts are being finalised.

A spokesperson said: "After almost four years of planning and preparation, we are delighted that the Secretary of State is satisfied that Third Energy has met all of the thirteen technical requirements set out in section 4A of the Petroleum Act 1998.

"Our annual accounts are being finalised and we will now be working with the Infrastructure and Projects Authority and the Oil and Gas Authority towards achieving hydraulic fracturing consent from the Secretary of State."

This sentiment was echoed by the industry group, UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG).

Ken Cronin, chief executive of UKOOG, said: "We are pleased that the Secretary of State is satisfied that Third Energy has met each of the thirteen conditions laid out in section 4A of the Petroleum Act 1998 as they prepare to hydraulically fracture in North Yorkshire.

"Final ministerial consent for any hydraulic fracturing is part of the robust regulatory regime we work within, and we therefore look forward to Third Energy working with the Oil and Gas Authority and the Infrastructure and Projects Authority to satisfy the additional requirements requested of them."