Climate activists celebrate suspension of all fracking in England

Expert report finds it impossible to predict likelihood and magnitude of earth tremors caused by controversial gas extraction process

Boris Johnson hints at UK ban on fracking

Environmentalists were celebrating victory in a “David and Goliath” struggle against the energy industry after the government called a halt to all fracking in England.

Andrea Leadsom, the business secretary, announced the moratorium after an expert report found it was not possible accurately to 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 minor earthquakes over the summer, including a 2.9 magnitude event near Blackpool on 26 August which led to the suspension of operations.

Devolved authorities have already turned their backs on fracking in Scotland and Wales.

Now the government’s upcoming energy white paper is expected to prioritise renewable energy over fracking, which involves releasing natural gas from deep underground by blasting a mixture of water and chemicals into shale rock deposits.

Ms Leadsom said that the Oil and Gas Authority’s report into seismic activity linked to the Lancashire site made clear that it was impossible to rule out “unacceptable” impacts on the local community if operations continued.

No more fracking will be allowed unless new evidence emerges to show that it can be carried out safely, and changes to planning law designed to make it easier to open shale gas operations have been shelved.

But industry representatives made clear they had not given up hope of demonstrating that the “world-class resource” of shale gas in areas across Lancashire and north Nottinghamshire can be extracted safely.

The deputy chief executive of the CPRE countryside charity, Tom Fyans, said: “This is a fantastic win for local democracy and everyone who cares about protecting the countryside from climate catastrophe and mass industrialisation.

“When calls were made to change the rules to allow fracking to continue, even when it caused ever bigger earthquakes, countryside campaigners said no. We’ve long called for fracking to be stopped, and are thrilled that our messages have resonated finally.”

A protester stands outside Cuadrilla’s Preston Road fracking site near Blackpool

Friends of the Earth’s chief executive Craig Bennett said the government was right to call a halt on a “damaging and deeply unpopular industry”.

“This moratorium is a tremendous victory for communities and the climate,” said Mr Bennett. “For nearly a decade local people across the country have fought a David and Goliath battle against this powerful industry.

“We must now ensure that legislation is passed so that the ban is made permanent.”

Labour’s shadow energy secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey said that the party would institute a permanent ban on the controversial technique, which has been taken up on a large scale in countries including the US, Canada and Argentina, rather than the temporary halt announced by the Conservatives.

“When the Tory government over-ruled local democratic decisions to halt fracking, communities did not give up,” said Ms Long Bailey.

“When fracking protestors went to jail, communities did not give up. And now they have forced the government to U-turn in their support for a dirty industry once described by Boris Johnson as ‘glorious news for humanity’.

“It is over eight years since fracking caused earthquakes near Blackpool. The Tories owe the public an apology, and an explanation of how much public money they wasted while ignoring the science.”

But Ken Cronin, chief executive of trade body UK Onshore Oil and Gas said: “We are fully committed to working closely with the OGA and other relevant regulators to demonstrate that we can operate safely and environmentally responsibly.

“Given the size of the prize at state – the significantly lower carbon footprint of domestic gas compared to imports and the significant investment the industry and the government have already made, we believe this is the right approach.”

OGA director of regulation Tom Wheeler said that the authority had reached its conclusions after considering information from the seismic activity around the Lancashire site and independent scientific analysis of data from the Preston New Road well.

The drilling rig at Preston New Road shale gas exploration site

Its report concluded that with current technology it was impossible to be sure of the probability or magnitude of tremors caused by shale-gas fracking.

“The OGA believes that further detailed geo-mechanical analysis would be needed before we could evaluate with confidence whether hydraulic fracturing could resume in Fylde, or elsewhere, consistent with the government’s policy aims,” said Mr Wheeler.

Ms Leadsom said the government had always been clear that exploration of the UK’s shale gas reserves could proceed only if the science showed it to be “safe, sustainable and of minimal disturbance to those living and working nearby”.

“Whilst acknowledging the huge potential of UK shale gas to provide a bridge to a zero carbon future, I’ve also always been clear that shale gas exploration in the UK must be carried out safely,” she said.

“After reviewing the OGA’s report into recent seismic activity at Preston New Road, it is clear that we cannot rule out future unacceptable impacts on the local community.

“For this reason, I have concluded that we should put a moratorium on fracking in England with immediate effect.”

She said that maintaining diverse gas supplies would remain a priority for the government, as part of the UK’s diverse energy mix. The Committee on Climate Change has previously said that there will still be a requirement for natural gas in the net-zero carbon economy which ministers envisage for 2050.

Kwasi Kwarteng, the energy minister, insisted that the decision would not impact “in any way” on the UK’s energy supplies.

Greenpeace UK’ head of politics Rebecca Newsom said: “Opening up a new fossil fuel industry in this climate emergency was always an awful idea, and it’s only seemed worse as the industry has lurched from mishap to disaster.

“If the government reads the science and listens to the strong public opposition then fracking has no future.

“This lesson now needs to be applied to unlock onshore wind and solar, and significantly ramp up offshore wind. The focus must now be on delivering the net-zero carbon target.”

Cuadrilla made no comment on the announcement.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in