The confirmation that Boris Johnson’s administration will not pursue shale gas in the UK comes after operations in Lancashire ceased in September 2019 following a national outcry, huge local opposition and regular earthquakes.
Mr Kwarteng made the comments while speaking to the BBC about a new 50-megawatt cryogenic battery facility outside Manchester that will store renewable energy. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has awarded the project a £10m grant.
Asked yesterday by Roger Johnson, of the BBC’s North West Tonight, whether a shift to renewables marked the end of fracking, the minister said: “We had a moratorium on fracking last year and frankly the debate’s moved on. It is not something that we’re looking to do.
“We’ve always said we’d be evidence-backed, so if there was a time when the science evidence changed our minds, we would be open to that. But for now, fracking is over."
The government announced the moratorium after an expert report found that it was not possible to accurately predict the danger of earth tremors from the controversial gas-extraction process.
The only fracking site in the UK, Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road well in Lancashire, was wound up in October after the work was blamed for earthquakes over the summer, including a 2.9-magnitude event that was felt across the region on 26 August and led to the suspension of operations.
The company’s licence to carry out hydraulic fracturing expired on 30 November 2019 and Cuadrilla said at the time that it would not seek a new licence.
The government’s decision not to pursue fracking has been widely welcomed.
Green Party peer Baroness Jenny Jones told The Independent: “The end of fracking in the UK is a victory for all the campaigners who faced arrest in order to stop another climate chaos technology from taking root.
“It is a victory for all those who have promoted and invested in solar panels and wind turbines as a cheaper, planet-friendly alternative to burning carbon. It is a victory for the planet and our future existence on it.”
She said: “I hope that the government stops wasting time and starts building better as we emerge from the Covid crisis.”
Dr Doug Parr, Greenpeace’s policy director, said the Conservative Party’s focus on shale gas had resulted in a “wasted decade” when the government could have been putting resources into proven technologies.
He told The Independent: “It’s hard to believe the UK government wasted a whole decade trying to impose this polluting industry on a country that neither wanted nor needed it.
“If successive governments had put the same energy into fixing our draughty homes and developing wind and solar power, and backed real innovation in energy storage and clean heating, we would have achieved a lot more than just a couple of holes in a muddy field.”
He added: “Ministers should learn the lesson from this wasted decade and redouble their effort to build a green recovery that can help us tackle both the climate emergency and a looming recession.”
Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), told The Independent: “The government has clearly seen all the evidence showing that fracking isn’t something the country needs.
“Gas demand in power stations and for heating homes is going to decline very quickly, and anyway the world is awash with cheap LNG (liquefied natural gas) – which is why very few investors have ever shown any enthusiasm for UK shale gas.
“Added to opinion-poll evidence showing the public’s growing distaste for fracking and growing concern about climate change, the government has now, it appears, closed the door for good, concentrating instead on low-carbon energy and the race to net zero.”
Claire Stephenson, of the organisation Frack Free Lancashire, told the UK fossil fuel news website Drill or Drop: “It’s good to hear that the government have finally caught up with public opinion and science to say that fracking is over.
“Although it isn’t a permanent ban, common sense and a climate emergency will dictate fracking won’t resurface.
“The most expensive fracking experiment in the UK happened on our doorstep here in Lancashire and resulted in millions of pounds of cash and drillers’ dreams being invested into, essentially, two deep and dirty holes in what was once pristine agricultural land.”
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