Fracking will be explored to improve UK’s energy security following Ukraine invasion, No 10 says

New strategy to be set out by Boris Johnson next week will consider lifting ban on drilling for shale gas

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 09 March 2022 19:52 GMT
Anti-fracking protests in UK

The return of fracking will be explored as part of plans to boost the UK’s energy security following the invasion of Ukraine, No 10 has said.

An “energy security strategy” – to be set out by Boris Johnson next week – will consider lifting the current ban on drilling for shale gas.

“It’s clear that we need to move away from reliance on Russian hydrocarbons, so everybody would expect the prime minister to look at all options,” his spokesperson said.

The move – which will be popular with many Tory backbenchers – follows the announcement that the UK will ban Russian oil imports in an effort to tighten the financial screw on Moscow. The hunt is now on for alternative sources of energy that are “less vulnerable to the whims of a dictator”, as one government source put it in a reference to Vladimir Putin.

The announcement came after Mr Johnson rejected Labour demands to use a windfall tax on the bumper profits of energy companies to extend chancellor Rishi Sunak’s £9bn package of support for households facing a cost of living crisis.

Sir Keir Starmer said the Ukraine war could trigger a £1,000 hike in average gas and electricity bills this autumn, on top of the £700 rise this April, taking the typical household’s annual expenditure on energy close to £3,000.

At today’s Prime Minister’s Questions, Sir Keir called for new nuclear plants and changes to planning law to allow more onshore wind farms, and accused the government of “protecting energy profits, not working people”.

But Mr Johnson said that energy firms would pass the cost of any windfall tax on to consumers, adding that the Labour leader must be “absolutely out of his mind” to call for a U-turn on Mr Sunak’s plan.

Meanwhile, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng suggested UK households were ready to accept rising prices, telling MPs: “People are willing to endure hardships in solidarity with the heroic efforts that the people of Ukraine are making.”

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey called for the Russian oil boycott – due to be phased in by the end of 2022 – to be extended to gas, warning: “People from Poland to the UK are inadvertently funding Putin’s war when they fill up their car or pay their bill.”

Meanwhile it has emerged that trial fracking sites in Lancashire that are due to be concreted over in just a week’s time could now be used for further research. However, experts strongly dispute the idea that fracking can contribute meaningfully to the diversification of Britain’s energy sources, given the difficulty of extracting the UK’s reserves of shale gas.

Iain Conn, the former boss of the energy firm Centrica, said that it would not be “possible to drill enough wells to be able to make a material difference to the UK’s supplies”.

Ministers were forced to impose a moratorium on fracking in 2019 when experts warned that it was not possible to predict accurately the danger of earth tremors from the controversial extraction process.

Drilling was blamed for a series of minor earthquakes – including a 2.9 magnitude tremor near Blackpool in August 2019, which led to the suspension of operations.

Scotland and Wales had already turned their backs on fracking, which involves releasing natural gas from deep underground by blasting a mixture of water and chemicals into shale rock deposits.

Greenpeace ridiculed the idea of a U-turn, its head of energy Rosie Rogers saying: “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.”

The No 10 spokesperson, asked about the looming new strategy, said: “The moratorium on fracking remains in place. 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.”

The new strategy could also see the Conservatives loosen their opposition to onshore wind farms, by relaxing current restrictions.

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