Britain formally lifted a moratorium on fracking for shale gas in England on Thursday that has been in effect since 2019, saying strengthening the country’s energy supply is an “absolute priority”.
Energy prices have skyrocketed in Europe after Russia invaded Ukraine, and Britain is subsidizing household and business bills at a projected cost of more than £100 billion ($113 billion).
New Prime Minister Liz Truss said earlier this month that fracking — extracting shale gas from rocks by breaking them up — would have been allowed where supported by communities.
Economics and Energy Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg said on Thursday that all energy sources should be explored to increase domestic production, “so it is good that we have lifted the pause to realize potential sources of domestic gas.”
Fracking, opposed by environmental groups and some local communities, was banned after the sector’s regulator said it was not possible to predict the magnitude of earthquakes it could cause.
However, Rees-Mogg said the practice was “safe” and the limits for seismicity should be reassessed so it can take place in an “effective and efficient manner.”
Cuadrilla, 96% owned by Australian AJ Lucas, had the most advanced fracking wells in Britain and found a natural gas well, but earthquake regulations forced operations to be halted, meaning neither well could be fully recovered. are flow-tested.
The company welcomed the decision and said it was committed to returning some of its shale gas revenues to local communities.
“Lifting the moratorium will help the shale industry to unlock onshore natural gas in the UK in quantities sufficient to meet the UK’s needs for decades to come,” said Cuadrilla CEO Francis Egan.
Chemical and energy giant INEOS, which has multiple UK permits for shale gas exploration, said the government should view shale gas development as “a national infrastructure priority”.
However, experts say restarting the industry will do nothing to lower energy prices this winter, as it would take many years for an industry to develop and it remains unclear whether a significant amount of gas could be extracted.
“Even if the risks turned out to be manageable and acceptable, shale gas would only have a significant impact on UK supply if thousands of successful wells were drilled over the next decade,” said Andrew Aplin, an honorary professor at the University of Durham.
Moratoria on fracking in Scotland or Wales will continue, their devolved governments have said.
A report requested by the government and published Thursday by the British Geological Survey (BGS) said that as little fracking had taken place in the country, it “remains a challenge” to estimate the seismic impact it could have.
The largest quake caused by fracking occurred at the Cuadrilla site in Blackpool, northern England, in 2011, measuring 2.3 on the Richter scale, which residents said woke them up at night.
Following this, the government implemented a traffic light system that would suspend work if seismicity of 0.5 or greater on the Richter scale was detected.
The BGS said that threshold was the most conservative of all regions where fracking has occurred, with some states in the United States, where fracking is common, having a magnitude 4 threshold.
Rees-Mogg said activity of 2.5 and below happened “millions of times a year around the world”, adding that ground-level movement limits for the construction industry were double those ever achieved by fracking in England.
Restarting the drilling would generate data to understand how shale gas can be extracted safely if there is local support, the government said.
It also reaffirmed its support for a new oil and gas licensing round, expected to be launched by the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) in early October.
($1 = 0.8835 pounds)
(Reporting by Paul Sandle and Susanna Twidale Editing by William James and Mark Potter, Kirsten Donovan)
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