08 September 2022

Liz Truss lifts fracking ban and pushes domestic energy to tackle bills crisis

08 September 2022

A ban on fracking in England has been lifted as the Government pushes for an increase in domestic energy production in the face of soaring bills.

The controversial move to end the moratorium, which was imposed in 2019 after tremors caused by fracking in Lancashire, could get gas flowing from onshore shale wells in as little as six months, Liz Truss said.

But it will be met with strong opposition from local campaigners and environmentalists, who fear it can cause water contamination, traffic and noise pollution, and it is incompatible with efforts to cut climate-warming fossil fuels and switch to clean energy.

And Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer warned it would not cut bills or strengthen energy security, but would “drive a coach and horses through our efforts to fight the looming climate crisis”.

The energy package, launched by the Prime Minister 48 hours into the job in a bid to tackle soaring prices, will see the Government drive forward new sources of energy supply from North Sea oil and gas, as well as clean power including nuclear, wind and solar.

But there was nothing on efforts to help households save energy through increased insulation and other efficiency measures that can permanently cut gas use and bills – a key ask from green groups and anti-poverty campaigners.

The package includes the launch of a new oil and gas licensing round, which is expected to lead to more than 100 new licences for fossil fuel extraction from the North Sea.

The move comes despite the International Energy Agency (IEA) warning that no new new oil and gas exploration should go ahead if the world is to meet its goal to curb temperature rises to 1.5C and avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

The UK has a legal target to cut climate emissions to zero overall by 2050, and the Government has also announced the launch of a review to ensure it is meeting the goal in an “economically-efficient way” and that it is not placing undue burdens on businesses or consumers.

News of the review may alarm environmental groups, who fear the new administration is not fully committed to tackling the climate crisis, but it is being chaired by former energy minister Chris Skidmore, a strong supporter of net zero.

How fracking produces shale gas (PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)

A decade of controversy over fracking seemed to be drawing to an end when, at the beginning of 2022, it was announced the only two shale wells in the UK were to be permanently capped.

But as gas prices soared in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there were calls to rethink the ban to secure UK energy supplies.

Ms Truss told the House of Commons: “We will end the moratorium on extracting our huge reserves of shale – which could get gas flowing as soon as six months – where there is local support for it.”

Fracking is back on the table despite the Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, when he was business secretary earlier this year, warning that English shale reserves would not be produced at scale for a decade and would not be enough to lower international prices, which drive UK energy costs.

Polls also show it is far less popular with the public than clean energy sources such as offshore and onshore wind and solar power.

Georgia Whitaker, oil and gas campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said fracking would not make the UK less dependent on volatile gas market or reduce carbon emissions – and may not work at all as the UK does not “have the vast empty expanses of the USA” where fracking has been widespread.

And she said: “Before the fracking moratorium, the industry had 10 years of the Government ‘going all out for shale’ and giving them all the support denied to onshore wind.

“In that time, the frackers produced no energy for the UK but managed to create two holes in a muddy field, traffic, noise, earthquakes and enormous controversy.”

The Government has made the right call, and we look forward to working with them to ensure this industry can start generating results as soon as possible

She said the Government was elected on a manifesto promise that fracking would not happen unless the science changed – which it had not.

Alongside the package, the Government is publishing a science review of fracking it commissioned earlier this year from the British Geological Survey, which officials said showed more drilling is required to establish data on shale reserves seismic impacts.

Francis Egan, chief executive of energy company Cuadrilla, which has fracking operations in Lancashire, welcomed the lifting of the moratorium.

“A thriving shale gas industry will drive job creation across the North of England, generate much-needed tax revenues for central and local government, and benefit local communities financially.

“The Government has made the right call, and we look forward to working with them to ensure this industry can start generating results as soon as possible.

“The prize if we get this right will be an energy strategy fit for the 21st century that provides security of supply, economic prosperity, and vital support to the British public,” he said.

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