4 November 2019
By Adam Vaughan
The UK government has introduced a moratorium on fracking in England and dropped measures to speed the development of shale gas wells, ringing the death knell for the nascent industry.
The sharp reversal of support ends nearly a decade of protests, court cases and minor earthquakes without any energy being produced.
The move follows a magnitude-2.9 quake in August caused by fracking near Blackpool, the largest so far after operations by shale firm Cuadrilla this summer and last autumn. A scientific analysis published last week by the UK oil and gas regulator concluded that bigger future tremors couldn’t be ruled out, which could cause unacceptable “damage and disturbance”.
In a statement, business secretary Andrea Leadsom said the report made it “clear that we cannot rule out future unacceptable impacts on the local community”.
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While the moratorium only applies to England, fracking is already effectively banned in Scotland and Wales, and opposition political parties have pledged to ban the method of extracting gas. The government also ditched controversial planning reforms to aid the industry.
The decision follows the UK spending watchdog saying last month that fracking had cost police forces and public bodies £33 million, and the industry’s progress had been much slower than expected.
Labour, the UK’s main opposition party, accused the government of trying to win over voters in next month’s general election and said it would ban fracking permanently. Prime minister Boris Johnson has said the environment will be one of his top three domestic priorities. Opposition to fracking has long outstripped support in official polling.
Cuadrilla’s Australian co-owner, AJ Lucas, said it would continue to give the company its full support, and it would continue to work with UK regulators to try to lift the moratorium. The UK imposed a moratorium in fracking in 2011 after concerns over earthquakes, but later lifted it and set new regulations.
The North Sea is still an important source of the UK’s gas, but around 60 per cent is imported, mostly from Qatar and Norway. Utility firm National Grid expects these imports to fall in coming years as “green gas”, such as that produced by anaerobic digesters, increases.
While environmentalists welcomed the government’s fracking moratorium, on the same day officials gave the green light for the country’s first deep coal mine in decades, near Whitehaven in Cumbria.
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