The ban on fracking in England has been lifted after Jacob Rees-Mogg called current limits on seismic activity “too low” and admitted they were likely to be raised.
Applications can now be made for new shale gas drilling following confirmation from the government on Thursday that the moratorium, which has been in place since November 2019, had been lifted.
Ministers gave the go-ahead for the controversial practice to resume in a bid to boost domestic energy production in the face of rising costs, partly caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but said fracking would only be allowed with “local support”.
The Guardian revealed last week that a leaked government-commissioned report showed little progress had been made in reducing and predicting the risk of earthquakes caused by fracking.
With only three test wells in the UK, the government said on Thursday that “we need more sites drilled to collect better data and improve the evidence base”, adding “some developers are keen to help with this process”.
But the decision to end the moratorium will reignite calls for another broken Conservative manifesto pledge from 2019, which said fracking would only resume if “science categorically shows it can be done safely”.
Rees-Mogg, the business secretary, revealed on Wednesday that the current limit for seismicity – 0.5 on the Richter scale – was likely to be increased.
“The seismic limits will be revised to see a proportionate level,” he told the BBC’s Newsnight.
“At 0.5 on the Richter scale, which can only be felt with sophisticated machinery, it is absolutely right – fracking would not take place. That level is too low. But I cannot confirm the new level because it is being looked at.”
Pressed on how community consent would be judged, Rees-Mogg said Hinkley Point was not far from his home in Somerset and “the local community is very strongly in favor of the further development” of the nuclear power station.
“So it is possible to understand what the local communities wanted to work with them,” he added.
The Commerce Department indicated it had not bowed to calls to make fracking a national infrastructure project, saying developers still needed the proper licenses and permits before they could start drilling.
Claims fracking would reduce the heating bill was degraded by Kwasi Kwarteng, now Chancellor, when he was Business Secretary.
In a letter to the British Geological Survey, which commissioned a report on the practice in April, Kwarteng said it was “not the solution to short-term price problems”. In February he tweeted: “Additional UK production will not materially affect wholesale market price. This includes fracking – UK producers will not sell shale gas to UK consumers below market price. They are not charities.”
As well as resuming fracking, the government confirmed on Thursday that a new round of oil and gas licenses would be launched in early October by the North Sea Transition Authority.