North Yorkshire fracking meeting draws protesters
Hundreds of protesters demonstrated as councillors began to decide whether to approve fracking for the first time in England since a ban was lifted in 2012.
The hearing is considering plans by Third Energy to frack for shale gas at its existing site near Kirby Misperton in Ryedale.
More than 80 people opposed to the plan addressed the council meeting in Northallerton.
A decision on the proposals is expected on Monday.
Third Energy said it had been producing gas "safely and discreetly" for over 20 years and had a "responsible approach".
North Yorkshire county councillors were greeted by placard-waving protesters as they arrived for the planning committee meeting at County Hall.
Opening the meeting, committee chairman Peter Sowray said: "It's plainly obvious from the attendance today and by the amount of correspondence received by members, and the press coverage both locally and nationally, that this is by far the most controversial application that we have had to deal with."
Ryedale councillor Lyndsay Burr, who was the first scheduled speaker, told committee members: "Ryedale residents do not want to be the first in the UK to allow fracking".
She said she feared giving it the go-ahead would "devastate the area" and ruin its reputation as a tourist destination.
Baroness McIntosh, the former Conservative MP for the area, told councillors: "There are too many unknowns and there are too many answered questions.
"I believe you are being asked to take too much on trust today."
Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside.
Last week, officers at North Yorkshire County Council recommended the granting of permission for Third Energy's application.
Thousands have since contacted the authority with representations, with the vast majority against the proposal.
The government has said it is going "all out for shale" to boost energy security and the economy.
Opponents fear it could cause problems including water contamination, earthquakes, noise and traffic pollution.
Environmentalists have also warned pursuing new sources of gas is not compatible with efforts to tackle climate change.
No fracking has taken place in the UK since 2011, when tests on the Fylde coast were found to have been the probable cause of minor earthquakes in the area.
Since then, two high-profile applications to frack in Lancashire have been rejected by councillors and are now the subject of appeals.
Those speaking in favour of the application will be heard by councillors on Monday.
If approved, fracking could start by the end of the year.
Third Energy has licences to produce gas in North Yorkshire and offshore in the North Sea.
In 2013 it drilled an exploratory well near the village of Kirby Misperton, close to the North York Moors National Park.
Rasik Valand, chief executive of Third Energy, said: "The planning officer's positive recommendation comes after very detailed scrutiny of the application by the Planning Officer and statutory consultees and taking into account representations by members of the public and other groups.
"Third Energy has been drilling wells, producing gas and generating electricity safely and discreetly in North Yorkshire for over 20 years and we will continue to maintain the same responsible approach in the future."