09 March 2022

PM ‘looking at all options’ on fracking amid mooted return over Russian oil ban

09 March 2022

Boris Johnson was facing calls not to reverse the fracking ban after Downing Street said he would look at “all options” to ease concerns of soaring energy prices being compounded by the phasing out of Russian oil.

Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said on Wednesday he had agreed with the Prime Minister that it “didn’t necessarily make any sense” to concrete over the Cuadrilla wells in Lancashire as planned.

No 10 repeatedly declined to deny that a rethink on hydraulic fracturing for gas in England was under way to alleviate the move to punish Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Environmental campaigners warned that reconsidering the moratorium in place in England for over two years after fracking triggered earthquakes would be a waste of time with “no impact on our energy bills”.

But the Government was working to find alternate supplies of energy after committing to phase out imports of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s oil by the end of the year.

(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said: “With the invasion of Ukraine and high global gas prices, it is clear that we need to move away from our reliance on Russian hydrocarbons, so I think everybody would expect the Prime Minister to look at all options.”

He said the details will come in the energy supply strategy, expected in the “coming days”, but said “of course we will look at any scientific evidence as it emerged”.

The manifesto the Conservatives were elected on in 2019 said that they “will not support fracking unless the science shows categorically it can be done safely”.

“The moratorium on fracking remains in place,” the spokesman added.

“But as I say, you would expect the Prime Minister to look at all options given what has happened in Ukraine, given the rising cost in oil and gas, the wholesale prices and the effect that is having here in the UK.”

Mr Kwarteng echoed the Government being committed to supporting shale gas exploration “if it can be done in a safe and sustainable way”, saying the approach will be “evidence-led”.

“In conversation with my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, we were clear that it didn’t necessarily make any sense to concrete over the wells, we’re still in conversations about that,” he told MPs.

“Our position on the moratorium has already been the same, if it can be done in a safe and sustainable way, the Government is open to the idea of fracking.”

Under pressure from some Tory MPs, suggestions emerged that the two Cuadrilla sites in Lancashire may be handed over to the British Geological Survey rather than being concreted over.

But a statement from the organisation said: “British Geological Survey staff have not been approached regarding the re-purposing of Cuadrilla sites and we are therefore currently not able to comment.”

Cuadrilla also appeared unaware of any change of approach and said as things stand it will still plug the shale wells but remains “open to any other proposals” from the Government.

Francis Egan, chief executive of Cuadrilla Resources, said he was awaiting contact from the business department over the suggestions.

“Cuadrilla’s plans to plug the Lancashire shale wells under Government mandate are very advanced and the rig will still be arriving on site next week,” he added.

“We remain open to any other proposals or ideas the Government may have, but as things stand nothing has changed.”

Fracking has been suspended for over two years after it caused two minor quakes in the county but the suggested move could allow the sites to be opened up at a later date.

Greenpeace UK head of energy Rosie Rogers said: “After a decade of hype and bluster, all the fracking industry has given us are two holes in a muddy field and some minor earthquakes.

“Trying to restart fracking now would only mean wasting more time when we have little. It will take many years to develop and if it ever gets produced, it will be sold to the highest bidder on the international market, with no impact on our energy bills.”

Instead, she said the Government should work on an emergency plan to “free our country from gas dependence”, adding: “This would protect households from soaring bills, tackle the climate crisis and weaken Putin’s hand.”

(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)

Last month, energy company Cuadrilla said the UK Government’s Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) had ordered the two horizontal shale wells in Lancashire to be filled and abandoned.

Lancashire county councillor Gina Dowding, who represents the Green Party, said it was “disappointing and distressing” to suggest a rethink was a solution.

“It’s just not appropriate to be even looking at this in Lancashire or anywhere in the UK, in our densely populated country,” she said.

“I’ve absolutely no doubt the community would rally again because the strength of feeling based on the scale and evidence of damage shale gas does hasn’t gone away, there’s no change in that.”

Former Cabinet minister Lord Frost, who has been campaigning for the ban to be reversed, said it was a “sensible first step” from the Government.

Robert Jenrick, a former communities secretary, called for a “more pragmatic energy policy” that would ease soaring bills while the UK strives to hit net zero.

“I personally was always a supporter of fracking, I don’t think it’s a quick fix, but I think we should be revisiting that question,” he told BBC Newsnight.

As recently as Monday, Downing Street had denied suggestions the fracking moratorium could be lifted in response to the Ukraine crisis.

And energy minister Lord Callanan warned of “severe environmental problems” with shale gas production, adding that “Lancashire is not Texas”, being much more heavily populated.

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