Fracking can go ahead in the United Kingdom, the government said, lifting a ban on the controversial oil and gas extraction process. Opposition against fracking is based on “hysteria,” Energy Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg said, claiming people don’t understand the risk and highlighting the need to increase the domestic energy supply.
The ban was introduced in 2019 after several tremors, including a magnitude 2.9 earthquake, were recorded near the UK’s single fracking site in the county of Lancashire. Fracking involves injecting water, chemicals, and sand into cracks at high pressure, widening them to allow the extraction of oil and gas from shale formations.
A formal decision on fracking was expected after a scientific review of the impacts of fracking by the British Geological Society, which was published today. The report concluded that it’s “not currently possible” to predict the likelihood or magnitude of earthquakes linked to fracking, describing it as “complex” and scientifically challenging.
The government’s plans
UK Prime Minister Liz Truss and her new energy chief Ress-Mogg have insisted fracking will play a key role in making the UK a net energy exporter by 2040. They also hope to increase North Sea oil and gas production, with a new licensing round recently announced, alongside a larger development of solar and offshore wind and hydrogen.
Speaking at Parliament, Rees-Mogg said fracking in the UK would drive down global gas prices and that opposition to it was “sheer luddite-ry” based on public confusion about the science. Fracking is safe, Rees-Mogg said, claiming all the “scare stories” about it have been disproven and that there’s “hysteria” about its effects on seismic activity.
The Scottish and Welsh governments and the opposition Labor Party are officially opposed to fracking as well as members of the ruling Conservative Party. Mark Menzies, a member of parliament from Lancashire, where fracking has taken place, said it’s been proven “without a doubt” that the geology isn’t suitable for fracking.
A 2020 study estimated that fracked gas could account for between 17% and 22% of the UK’s energy consumption between 2020 and 2050. However, it’s still unclear how much shale gas there is in the UK that is technically and economically viable to extract. Only 27% of the UK population supports fracking, according to a survey from May.
Environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth have argued that fracking could contaminate groundwater due to the chemicals it uses in the process. Also, it could increase noise and industrialization in what are now quiet rural areas, it increases the risk of further earthquakes of unpredictable strength and it uses a lot of water.
A combination of logistical difficulties and environmental concerns means fracking has never taken off in Europe, with bans in many countries, such as Germany, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Bulgaria, and Ireland. However, the energy crisis in Europe has made the UK think twice about its energy plans, no matter the impacts this could have.
Analysis by The Guardian has shown that licenses for fracking violate some of the most environmentally protected areas in England, including national parks. There are 151 petroleum exploration and development licenses already granted that would entitle companies to pursue fracking in places that overlap or are adjacent to protected areas.