England’s fracking ban has been lifted as Liz Truss’s Government vowed to explore all avenues to improve energy security, setting Downing Street on a collision course with environmental campaigners.
Business and Energy Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg said the impact of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine means securing domestic energy supplies is vital as he defended lifting the moratorium on fracking, which has been in place since 2019 after a series of tremors caused by the process.
Mr Rees-Mogg suggested limits on acceptable levels of seismic activity are too restrictive and said the Government is determined to “realise any potential sources of domestic gas”.
Fracking is the process of hydraulic fracturing, which uses high-pressure liquid to release gas from shale formations.
The 2019 Conservative manifesto pledged not to lift England’s moratorium unless “the science shows categorically it can be done safely”.
A Government-commissioned report by the British Geological Survey (BGS) was inconclusive, saying more data was needed, but despite the lack of scientific progress, Ms Truss’s administration has torn up the manifesto commitment.
Mr Rees-Mogg said: “In light of Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and weaponisation of energy, strengthening our energy security is an absolute priority, and – as the Prime Minister said – we are going to ensure the UK is a net energy exporter by 2040.
“To get there we will need to explore all avenues available to us through solar, wind, oil and gas production – so it’s right that we’ve lifted the pause to realise any potential sources of domestic gas.”
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said lifting the ban means future applications will be considered “where there is local support”.
Developers will need to have the necessary licences, permissions and consents in place before they can commence operations.
Mr Rees-Mogg said while the Government will “always try to limit disturbance” to those living and working near to fracking sites, “tolerating a higher degree of risk and disturbance appears to us to be in the national interest”.
BEIS said the BGS review “recognised that we have limited current understanding of UK geology and onshore shale resources, and the challenges of modelling geological activity in relatively complex geology sometimes found in UK shale locations”.
The Government argued that limited understanding should not be a barrier to fracking, but instead a reason to drill more wells to gather further data.
A BEIS statement said: “It is clear that we need more sites drilled in order to gather better data and improve the evidence base, and we are aware that some developers are keen to assist with this process.
“Lifting the pause on shale gas extraction will enable drilling to gather this further data, building an understanding of UK shale gas resources and how we can safely carry out shale gas extraction in the UK where there is local support.”
Ms Truss insisted she will not authorise “anything that carries a risk” but “I’m clear that energy security is vital”.
Shadow climate secretary Ed Miliband said: “Fracking is a dangerous fantasy – it would do nothing to cut energy bills, costs more than renewables, and is unsafe.
“The Tories have broken another promise because they are more interested in standing up for the fossil fuel lobby than the British people.”
The Government also announced a new oil and gas licensing round, expected to be launched by the North Sea Transition Authority in early October.
This is expected to lead to more than 100 new licences being granted to search for oil and gas in the North Sea.
Friends of the Earth campaigner Danny Gross said fracking was the most unpopular and least effective way of generating energy in the UK, was opposed by communities wherever it was tried, and any attempt to water down the rules that safeguarded against the process would “only fuel its unpopularity”.
“If Liz Truss wants to build a strong economy for the future, she should champion home insulation and the UK’s plentiful renewable resources. They are cheap, quick to develop and are popular with the public,” he said.