The UK government officially lifted a ban on fracking for shale gas in England on Thursday, citing Russia’s war on Ukraine and the ‘weaponisation of energy’ as justification for exploring ‘every avenue’ to achieve energy security.
A moratorium on shale gas production has been in place in England since 2019, amid concerns over minor earthquakes triggered by the process of hydraulic fracturing – or hydraulic fracturing. The UK’s target to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 had also seen fracking fall off the agenda in recent years.
However, new Prime Minister Liz Truss has put much more emphasis on energy security, is pushing for the UK to exploit more of its remaining fossil fuel reserves and aims for the country to become a net exporter of energy. by 2040. Despite warning energy analysts that any significant gains in shale gas production could be delayed for years, Truss has made lifting the ban a totemic part of its energy strategy.
The UK also confirmed on Thursday its support for a new licensing round for North Sea oil and gas, allowing developers to seek new reserves.
A formal decision on fracking was expected following a scientific review of mining impacts, including seismic risk, by the British Geological Society, which was also published on Thursday. The report concludes that predicting the risk of earthquakes and their magnitude “is complex and remains a scientific challenge”.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy argued, however, that lifting the ban would allow additional data to be collected.
Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg said: “In light of Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and the weaponization of energy, strengthening our energy security is a top priority and – as the Prime Minister said – we are going to make the UK a net energy exporter by 2040. To achieve this we will need to explore all the avenues open to us through solar, wind, oil and gas production – so it’s only fair that we lifted the pause [on fracking] to realize all potential sources of domestic gas.”
Hydraulic fracturing has been unpopular in the UK, with an autumn 2021 government analysis showing 44% opposition and just 17% support. Bans remain in place in Scotland and Wales.