UK lifts ban on gas fracking to achieve energy independence

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  • Britain is pushing to increase domestic energy supply
  • The moratorium has been in place since 2019
  • More research is needed to assess the risk of tremors
  • BGS study says challenges remain in predicting impact

LONDON, Sept 22 (Reuters) – Britain on Thursday formally lifted a moratorium on fracking for shale gas that has been in place since 2019, saying strengthening the country’s energy supply was an “absolute priority”.

Energy prices have skyrocketed in Europe after Russia invaded Ukraine and Britain is subsidizing household and business bills at an expected cost of more than 100 billion pounds ($113 billion).

New Prime Minister Liz Truss said earlier this month that fracking – extracting shale gas from rocks by breaking them open – would be allowed where it was supported by local communities.

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Business and Energy Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said on Thursday that all energy sources needed to be explored to increase domestic production, “so it is right that we have lifted the pause to realize any potential sources of domestic gas”.

Fracking, which has been opposed by environmental groups and some local communities, was banned after the industry regulator said it was not possible to predict the scale of earthquakes it could trigger.

Cuadrilla, 96% owned by Australian AJ Lucas (AJL.AX)had the most advanced fracking wells in the UK and found a natural gas resource, but earthquake regulations meant its operations had to remain shut down, meaning neither of its two wells could be fully flow tested.

Cuadrilla welcomed the government’s decision and said it was committed to returning a portion of any shale gas revenue to local communities.

“Lifting the moratorium will help the shale industry unlock UK onshore natural gas in quantities sufficient to meet the UK’s needs for decades to come,” Cuadrilla CEO Francis Egan said.

Chemicals and energy giant INEOS, which holds several UK shale gas exploration licenses, said the government should treat shale gas development as “a national infrastructure priority.”

Experts say restarting the industry will do little to ease energy prices this winter, as it will take years for an industry to develop and it remains unclear whether a significant amount of gas can be extracted. Read more

“Even if the risks proved manageable and acceptable, shale gas would only have a significant impact on the UK’s supply if thousands of successful wells were drilled over the next decade,” said Andrew Aplin, honorary professor at Durham University.

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A report commissioned by the government and published on Thursday by the British Geological Survey (BGS) said that while little fracking had taken place in the country, it “remains challenging” to estimate the seismic impact it could have.

The largest tremor caused by fracking occurred at Cuadrilla’s site in Blackpool, northern England, in 2011, registering a magnitude of 2.3 that residents said woke them up at night.

The government then introduced a traffic light system which stopped work if seismic activity of 0.5 or more on the Richter scale was detected.

The BGS said the threshold was the most conservative of any region where fracking has occurred, with some US states where fracking is common having a threshold of 4.

The government said ending the ban would allow drilling to restart and more data to be collected, building an understanding of how shale gas can be extracted safely where there was local support, the government said.

It also confirmed its support for a new round of oil and gas licenses expected to be launched by the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) in early October.

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Reporting by Paul Sandle and Susanna Twidale Editing by William James and Mark Potter

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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