The prime minister could be poised to sound the death knell for the UK’s controversial shale gas industry after more than a decade of support for fracking, according to sources.
Boris Johnson is expected to rule out any new fracking in the UK as part of his election campaign following rising opposition among voters and within his own party.
The effective ban is widely expected to emerge within days, and green groups believe the “victory for common sense” could help kill off the industry after years of public protest over the environmental risks.
What is fracking?
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a way of extracting natural gas from shale rock formations that are often deep underground. It involves pumping water, chemicals and usually sand underground at high pressure to fracture shale – hence the name – and release the gas trapped within to be collected back at the surface.
The technology has transformed the US energy landscape in the last decade, owing to the combination of high-volume fracking – 1.5m gallons of water per well, on average – and the relatively modern ability to drill horizontally into shale after a vertical well has been drilled.
In the UK, deployment of fracking has met with protests, legal challenges and planning rejections. In November 2018 energy company Cuadrilla was forced to stop work at its Preston New Road site in Lancashire twice in four days due to minor earthquakes occurring while it was fracking. The tremors breached a seismic threshold imposed after fracking caused minor earthquakes at a nearby Cuadrilla site in 2011. In March 2019 the UK’s High Court ruled that the government’s fracking guidelines were ‘unlawful’ because they had failed to sufficiently consider scientific evidence against fracking.
Johnson said on Wednesday that the government would make an announcement on the UK’s fracking industry following a review into a series of recent earthquakes at a shale site in Lancashire.
Fracking at Cuadrilla’s site near Blackpool was brought to an immediate halt after an earth tremor that breached the government’s earthquake limits.
Johnson said the announcement would be made in view of the “very considerable anxieties that are legitimately being raised about the earthquakes that have followed various fracking attempts in the UK”.
Prior to becoming prime minister, Johnson referred to fracking as “glorious news for humanity” and urged the UK to “leave no stone unturned, or unfracked” in pursuit of shale gas. He also hired a former fracking lobbyist to help write the Conservatives election manifesto.
But concerns within the party over the fracking industry have been growing in line with rising public opposition, according to Conservative sources. One party member said discussions over the future of the shale industry had been ongoing for months.
“This is an issue that the party has been wrestling over for longer than has been apparent, but the events of recent months have certainly helped to focus minds,” he said.
“Whether there is an outright ban on fracking, or a ban on new fracking licences, is largely academic. For the shale industry to succeed it would need to be at scale, and that seems increasingly unlikely.”
A ban on fracking from the prime minister would make the Conservatives the last major political party to turn its back on fracking after Labour and the Liberal Democrats joined the SNP and the Green party in opposing shale development in recent years.
Rebecca Long-Bailey, the shadow business secretary, said: “Communities in Lancashire, Yorkshire and across the UK fought back hard against the efforts of the Conservatives to turn their backyards into gas fields – and they may have won a major victory in forcing the government to climb down.
“The big question now is whether they can trust a word Boris Johnson says,” she said.
The rumoured ban has emerged less than a week after a damning report from Whitehall’s spending watchdog found that the government’s plans to establish fracking across the UK was years behind schedule and had cost the taxpayer at least £32m so far without producing any energy in return.
Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace UK, said: “It’s not easy to admit when you’re wrong, but fracking has been a failure and government should accept it.”
The National Audit Office said almost half the money spent on the shale gas industry had been for policing the rising protests to shale gas projects.
Daniel Carey-Dawes, from countryside charity CPRE, said the mooted ban on new fracking “would be a victory for communities, climate and common sense” and a “step in the right direction”.
Fracking has taken place at only three shale wells in the UK in three years – all at the Preston New Road site in Lancashire – even though the government’s plan was to establish 20 by the middle of next year.
A spokesman for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “The government has always said shale gas exploration can only proceed as long as it is safe and environmentally responsible.”
This content was originally published here.