Britain to resume fracking: Liz Truss lifts ban in strategic energy revamp

Drilling for shale gas was banned in 2019 because of earthquake risk to local residents

Fracking operations such as this one near Blackpool, north-west England, have been banned since 2019. AFP
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Britain will resume onshore drilling for gas after Prime Minister Liz Truss announced the end of a ban on fracking in one of her first moves in power.

Ms Truss announced the policy change to MPs on Thursday as part of a multi-pronged plan to tackle Britain’s energy crisis.

Shale gas extraction could restart within months but only where there is local consent, she said, anticipating potential resistance from residents and environmentalists.

With short-term cost of living relief expected to cost £100 billion ($115bn) or more, Ms Truss is pledging to increase domestic energy supply so that Britain does not face such a squeeze again.

She said the new Business Secretary Jacob-Rees Mogg would set out plans within weeks to make Britain a net exporter of energy by 2040.

"It is vital that we take steps to increase our domestic energy supply," Ms Truss told the House of Commons.

"We will end the moratorium on extracting our huge reserves of shale, which could get gas flowing as soon as six months where there is local support for it."

Fracking for shale gas was banned in 2019, under Boris Johnson’s government, after regulators said it was not possible to accurately predict earthquakes linked to the process.

Mr Johnson said in one of his final speeches as prime minister that he was “slightly dubious” that fracking would be the answer and preferred less environmentally risky offshore wind farms.

But as energy concerns mounted after Russia invaded Ukraine, the British Geological Survey was told to have another look at fracking in April by the business secretary at the time, Kwasi Kwarteng, who is now chancellor of the exchequer under Ms Truss.

The geologists’ report was handed to ministers in July and the government said it would now be made public. The Conservative election manifesto in 2019 said ministers would not support fracking unless scientific advice changed.

Prime Minister Liz Truss will reveal details of her energy plans to MPs on Thursday. Reuters

The oil and gas industry says about 2,000 wells have been drilled on the British mainland, of which 10 per cent have been hydraulically fractured to extract shale gas.

“If we want energy sufficiency we have to look at every source, including, clearly, new nuclear [and] more renewables, but we also want to look at technologies like fracking,” cabinet minister Simon Clarke told Sky News on Thursday.

Bill Esterson, a Labour shadow minister for business and energy, said he would “oppose fracking all the way” and said it would take years to start generating any gas.

But Tory MP Julian Knight described the onshore gas reserves as a “shale weapon against Putin’s energy war”.

Ms Truss is separately promising to increase offshore oil and gas extraction from the North Sea to build up Britain’s energy independence.

“Putin’s war in Ukraine and weaponisation of gas supply in Europe is causing global prices to rise ― and this has only made clearer that we must boost our long-term energy security and supply,” she said.

“We will take action immediately to help people and businesses with bills but also take decisive action to tackle the root cause of these problems, so that we are not in this position again.”

Ministers are planning a revival of Britain’s nuclear power industry, with the planned Sizewell C plant granted £700 million of public funding in Mr Johnson’s final days in office.

But there is less enthusiasm in the Truss camp for onshore wind and solar panels, whose construction on farmland she described as “one of the most depressing sights” in the country.

Updated: September 08, 2022, 11:26 AM