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UK lifts fracking ban in England

September 22, 2022

The UK government said it is ending England's moratorium on fracking. Environmentalists say the extraction method poses extreme dangers — including potentially causing earthquakes.

Hydraulic fracturing operation outside Rifle, in western Colorado
Fracking is a controversial procedureImage: Brennan Linsley/AP Photo/picture alliance

The UK government on Thursday lifted England's moratorium on fracking, saying the move aims to shore up energy security as Russia cuts gas deliveries amid tensions over its invasion of Ukraine.

"To bolster the UK's energy security, the UK government has today lifted the moratorium on shale gas production in England," the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said in a statement.

The UK had halted fracking, or hydraulic fracking, in 2019 over fears that the procedure could trigger earthquakes.

Thursday's announcement follows through on indications given by new Prime Minister Liz Truss two weeks ago that her government would allow fracking operations again to tackle growing energy shortages caused by Russia's actions.

Diagram showing how fracking operates

What has the UK government said?

The BEIS not only announced an end to the fracking moratorium but also confirmed that it supported awarding 100 new licenses for oil and gas exploration next month.

It said that future fracking applications will be considered "where there is local support."

It added that developers would need licenses, permissions and consents, including regulatory approvals, before they can commence operations.

The UK's business and energy secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg, said that strengthening energy security was a top priority "in light of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's illegal invasion of Ukraine and weaponization of energy."

Rees-Mogg, a supporter of fossil fuel use and a climate change sceptic, said the UK aimed to become a "net energy exporter by 2040."

 "To get there we will need to explore all avenues available to us through solar, wind, oil and gas production — so it's right that we've lifted the pause to realize any potential sources of domestic gas," he said.

Touching on the earthquake danger, Rees-Mogg told parliament, "We need to revisit the seismic limits to ensure that shale gas extraction can be done in an effective and efficient way," adding that: "We know that shale gas is safe. It is safe in the United States."

Rees-Mogg has previously spoken out in favor of extracting "every last drop" of North Sea oil and gas.

What is fracking?

Fracking is a procedure to extract shale oil and gas from underground by blasting bedrock formations with a mixture of water, sand and chemicals under high pressure to create fractures through which petroleum and gas can flow.

Many environmentalists argue that the method pollutes water supplies, harms fauna and flora and can trigger earthquakes, as well as advancing global warming.

Experts also say that the resumption of fracking will not help reduce energy costs or boost energy security in the short term, as it will take years for operations to get underway. In addition, there is no guarantee that gas can be extracted on any meaningful scale.

The largest tremor caused by fracking in Britain took place at a site in Blackpool in northern England in 2011. That quake had a magnitude of 2.3.  

tj/kb (AFP, AP)