Government formally lifts moratorium on fracking

The government has formally lifted the moratorium on fracking stating that doing so will “strengthen our energy security'.

Business and energy secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg announced today that the moratorium on shale gas production in England has been formally lifted, with a new licensing round expected to be launched by the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) next month. 

Applicants will need to bid for licences which will then be awarded to developers to allow them to search for new oil and gas sources in ‘blocks’ of the UK Continental Shelf that the NSTA has allocated. Developers will still need to seek regulatory approval for activities such as drilling or construction of infrastructure.

The government has said they will also consider future applications for ‘Hydraulic Fracturing Consent’ where there is local support, and said that before starting operations developers will need to have the necessary licences, permissions and consents.

This announcement comes as the British Geological Society (BGS) peer-reviewed report advising on the latest scientific evidence on seismic activity associated with fracking has been published today after being submitted to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in July this year. 

The report, which centres around six questions related to earthquake risk and hazard, overwhelmingly found that predicting earthquakes remains a “scientific challenge”, adding that  there are “significant gaps in our knowledge” in regard to whether there are sites which might be at a substantially lower risk of seismic activity than Lancashire. This follows multiple earth tremors that were experienced in this region which subsequently led to the 2019 ban. 

READ MORE: What Truss’s fracking announcement means and why the practice was banned in the first place

According to the government, the rationale  for continuing now, despite this risk, is that drilling needs to occur at more sites to gather better data and improve the evidence base, as there have only been three test wells which have been hydraulically fractured in the UK to date. 

Rees-Mogg said that following Putin's “weaponisation of energy”, “it’s right that we’ve lifted the pause to realise any potential sources of domestic gas."

Just this week, the geologist who founded Cuadrilla Resources, the UK's first fracking company and the site of the Lancashire tremors, warned that the geology of the UK was unsuited to widespread fracking operations.

Chris Cornelius told the Guardian: “This is a sad situation. It is a let-down. There was an opportunity 10 years ago to look at this [fracking] sensibly, but that opportunity has now gone. It was worth looking at then, but it’s not practical now.”

Campaigners also argue that the decision to restart fracking does not fulfil the Conservative Party manifesto promise that they would not support the practice "unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely".

Claire Stephenson from Frack Free Lancashire said: “Fracking is a failed technology in the UK and should absolutely be confined to the past. We’ve witnessed more than 10 years of attempts to jack gas out of the ground in Lancashire, with no progress. There have, however, been uncontrollable earthquakes and structural damage – almost 200 reported claims.

“There’s also been colossal methane leaks, community disharmony, and most notable of all: zero commercial gas produced.

“We’re in a climate crisis with a desperate need for a clean, green energy future. Fracking will not make any positive impact on the UK’s energy needs or fuel bills, and any attempt to suggest it will, is blatant spin.”

The news that the ban has been lifted and a new licensing round will begin has been welcomed by independent oil and gas exploration and production company IGas. Chris Hopkinson, IGas interim executive chairman said: "This is a significant statement from Government and we welcome the commitment to pursue secure and affordable supplies of domestic energy."

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