The day after Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said that local people’s say would be taken into account before any future fracking was allowed, he has now asked the British Geological Survey to see if technology has improved to predict the earth tremors associated with shale gas extraction.
There has been a moratorium since November 2019, on the basis of evidence that it was not possible to accurately predict tremors associated with fracking.
Now the minister wants a report on the latest science around fracking including new techniques, improvements in geological modelling or on areas outside of Lancashire less at risk of tremors.
He said the Government was and would be guided by the science on shale gas but in the light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine it was “absolutely right that we explore all possible domestic energy sources”.
It comes as the fossil fuel industry and some Tory MPs have urged a restart to fracking or more extraction from North Sea oil and gas to secure energy supplies and ease prices.
Mr Kwarteng said: “It remains the case that fracking in England would take years of exploration and development before commercial quantities of gas could be produced for the market, and would certainly have no effect on prices in the near term.
“However, there will continue to be an ongoing demand for oil and gas over the coming decades as we transition to cheap renewable energy and new nuclear power.
“In light of Putin’s criminal invasion of Ukraine, it is absolutely right that we explore all possible domestic energy sources.
“However, unless the latest scientific evidence demonstrates that shale gas extraction is safe, sustainable and of minimal disturbance to those living and working nearby, the pause in England will remain in place,” he said.
Fracking is a process in which liquid is pumped deep underground at high pressure to fracture shale rock and release gas trapped within it.
The process has been mired in controversy since it hit the headlines in 2011 for causing earthquakes. Opponents fear it can also cause water contamination, noise and traffic pollution and allows greenhouse gas methane to be vented into the atmosphere.
Gas exploration firm Cuadrilla was ordered to permanently cap the only two horizontal shale wells that have been drilled in the UK, at Preston New Road.
That demand was suspended as Russia’s aggression intensified already soaring gas prices.
A Friends of the Earth spokesman said: “We don’t need a review to know that fracking is not the answer to our energy needs. The idea that shale gas extraction will significantly lower energy bills or improve energy security is pure fantasy.
“Fracking has been deeply unpopular with communities that have faced the prospect of shale gas extraction. They have stopped fracking once and, if necessary, they’ll stop it again.
“Energy efficiency and developing the UK’s vast renewable power potential are the best ways to deal with the energy crisis and bring down soaring fuel bills – and this must be the focus of the government’s upcoming energy review.”
A spokesman for onshore oil and gas industry body, UKOOG, said: “We appreciate that the Government has listened to our logical arguments.