UK government bans fracking ahead of election

Practice has been blamed for causing earthquakes in north-west England

(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 16, 2018 Cows graze in a field as work gets under way at the Preston New Road drill site where energy firm Cuadrilla Resources have commenced fracking (hydraulic fracturing) operations to extract shale gas, near the village of Little Plumpton, near Blackpool, north west England on October 16, 2018. The British government called a temporary halt on November 2 to the controversial process of "fracking" due to fears it could trigger earthquakes. / AFP / OLI SCARFF
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The UK fracking industry suffered a fatal blow as the Conservative government ended its support for the controversial practice.

The move, just weeks ahead of a general election, effectively bans new wells using hydraulic fracturing technology. Companies from Cuadrilla Resources to Ineos Group had been hoping to exploit reserves trapped in difficult-to-tap shale formations deep underground.

The move underscores the unpopularity of the technique, which involves injecting water and sand into well-bores under high pressure. It also indicates a growing consensus between the main political parties about the need to zero out fossil fuel emissions by the middle of the century to rein in climate change.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s administration acted before campaigning for an General Election starts next week. His Conservative Party is fighting to retain votes in rural areas in northern England where the shale reserves sit.

Cuadrilla had no immediate comment and Ineos’s press office didn’t respond to phone calls or emails outside normal office hours.

The opposition Labour Party said the Conservative government moved too slow in imposing the ban.

“It is over eight years since fracking caused earthquakes near Blackpool,” said Rebecca Long Bailey, the Labour member of Parliament who speaks on business and energy. “The Tories owe the public an apology and an explanation of how much public money they wasted while ignoring the science.”

Ministers decided to implement a ban on new permits for fracking wells after new scientific evidence from the Oil & Gas Authority. The regulator found that it’s not possible to accurately predict the probability and magnitude of earthquakes caused by fracking.

Seismic activity around the two wells currently probing shale formations plagued the practice for years in the UK, prompting ministers to halt work several times.

As recently as August, the government supported fracking and said it saw shale gas as a crucial domestic energy source that can cut imports and help a transition away from coal. The UK is a major importer of liquefied natural gas, which has transformed the market in the past decade, but the price of the commodity is extremely volatile and depends on global demand.

“Whilst acknowledging the huge potential of UK shale gas to provide a bridge to a zero carbon future, I’ve also always been clear that shale gas exploration in the UK must be carried out safely,” said Andrea Leadsom, the UK Energy Secretary.

Pressure from large-scale environmental protests and widespread public opinion has damped the enthusiasm for the fossil fuel as the UK strives to put more climate friendly policies in place. But the industry isn’t giving up. Lobby group UK Onshore Oil and Gas plans to demonstrate that companies can operate safely and in an environmentally friendly manner.

“Flow testing and core sampling across Lancashire and North Nottinghamshire show that our high-quality indigenous gas can reach the surface, leaving the UK with no excuse to continue importing overseas gas,” said Ken Cronin, head of UKOOG.