Earth tremors in Lancashire were at the heart of decision to suspend fracking, says Government minister Kwasi Kwarteng

In an exclusive article written for the Lancashire, Minister of State for Energy Kwasi Kwarteng explains why the Government announced its suspension of fracking.

Saturday, 2nd November 2019, 12:09 pm
Kwasi Kwarteng speaking in Preston in his former role as Brexit minister

Seizing the ​opportunity to explore the full potential for shale gas here in Lancashire was the right thing to do.

Why rely on gas from abroad when there’s the possibility of extracting it on home turf, in the rocks that lay under our feet here in the red rose county.

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Fracking has been suspended across the UK because of earth tremors in Lancashire

And as the Committee on Climate Change has rightly pointed out, natural gas will be key as part of a transition towards meeting our legally binding target to eliminate our contribution to climate change by 2050.

But we have always been clear that we will only support shale gas exploration through fracking if it can be done in a safe and sustainable way. We introduced world-leading regulations, pinned closely to the latest scientific evidence. In this, the wellbeing of Lancashire residents and businesses have been at the forefront of our minds.

It’s for that reason that the tremors felt near to where Cuadrilla had been fracking a second well at Preston New Road this summer proved a watershed moment. Such significant seismic events were considered highly unlikely and were sufficiently low to avoid causing significant damage.

But when tremors reaching 2.9ML on the Richter Scale were felt in holiday parks in Blackpool on August Bank Holiday Monday, urgent action had to be taken. The Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) rightly suspended activity immediately.

We fully understand the anxieties caused by these tremors and have carefully listened to the views of local people.

Important new scientific evidence has now also come to light from the OGA, which makes it clear that we cannot rule out future unacceptable impacts on the community around Preston New Road were fracking to continue.

The detailed and independent analysis of Cuadrilla’s recent operations in Lancashire has concluded that it not currently possible to accurately predict the probability or magnitude of earthquakes linked to fracking operations.

They conclude that they cannot evaluate with confidence whether a proposal to resume hydraulic fracturing in the Fylde, or to start operations elsewhere, would meet our aims. More and greater seismic activity related to fracking cannot be ruled out. It would therefore be remiss of us not to heed this advice.

We are therefore taking decisive, evidence-based action to halt further fracking operations in the interests of safety. We’re introducing a moratorium with immediate effect on fracking in England and this will only change if compelling new scientific evidence comes to light.

We have been clear from the start that the exploration of the feasibility of hydraulic fracturing would only ever continue if the science shows that it is safe, sustainable and minimises disturbance to those living and working near Preston New Road. On the basis of this latest evidence, we simply cannot be assured of this.

We know that most of you will welcome this news. Whatever your feelings, it’s important to stress that natural gas is going to continue to have a key role to play in the net zero world of 2050. However, as of today, this gas will need to come from sources other than domestic fracking.