UK lifts ban on fracking

Britain formally lifted a moratorium on fracking for shale gas on Thursday, saying strengthening the country's energy supply was an “absolute priority”. The ban has been in place since 2019.

New Prime Minister Liz Truss said earlier this month that fracking, extracting shale gas from rocks by breaking them up, would be allowed where it was supported by communities.

After the decision Business and Energy Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg said that all sources of energy needed to be explored to increase domestic production, “so it’s right that we’ve lifted the pause to realise any potential sources of domestic gas”.

Fracking, which has been opposed by environmental groups and some local communities, was banned after the industry regulator said it was not possible to predict the magnitude of earthquakes it might trigger.

UK’s gas need will be met

Cuadrilla, 96 percent owned by Australia’s AJ Lucas, had the most advanced fracking wells in Britain and found a natural gas resource, but the rules around earth tremors meant its operations could not fully progress, meaning that neither of its two wells was fully flow-tested.

Cuadrilla welcomed the government decision and said it was committed to returning a portion of any shale gas revenue to local communities.

Lifting the moratorium will help the shale industry unlock UK onshore natural gas in quantities sufficient to meet the UK’s needs for decades to come,” Cuadrilla CEO Francis Egan said.

No new gas this winter

Experts say restarting the industry will do nothing to ease energy prices this winter, however, since 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 proved to be manageable and acceptable, shale gas would only make a significant impact to UK supply if, over the next decade, thousands of successful wells were to be drilled," Andrew Aplin, Honorary Professor at Durham University said.

Possible repercussions

A report, requested by the government and published on Thursday by the British Geological Survey (BGS) said since little fracking had taken place in the country it “remains challenging” to estimate the seismic impact it could have.

The largest tremor caused by fracking took place at Cuadrilla's site in Blackpool, northern England, in 2011, registering a magnitude of 2.3 which residents said woke them in the night.

The government said ending the ban would allow drilling to restart and more data to be gathered, building an understanding of how shale gas can be safely extracted where there was local support.

It also confirmed its support for a new oil and gas licensing round, expected to be launched by the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) in early October.

Energy crisis

Energy prices have soared in Europe after Russia invaded Ukraine. Britain is subsidising bills for households and businesses at a predicted cost of more than GBP 100 billion (USD 114 billion).