Government must not revive fracking, say campaigners

The outcome of a government review into fracking is expected within days
  Published:  06 Jul 2022    |      3 minute read

** Friends of the Earth spokespeople available for interview

A review into the government’s ban on fracking is expected to conclude as soon as this week.

Geologists have today filed a report commissioned by the Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng. Earlier this year, Kwarteng asked the British Geological Society to review the latest fracking techniques.

He said that the moratorium on fracking would remain unless it was shown to be “safe, sustainable and of minimal disturbance to those living and working nearby”.

A moratorium on the extraction of shale gas through a process using hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, has been in place across England since 2019. The government previously ended its support for the practice following a string of Earth tremors linked to shale exploration near Blackpool that consistently breached safe thresholds. Scientific analysis at the time found that the likelihood or magnitude of tremors caused by fracking could not be predicted, making it potentially unsafe and therefore unviable.

Friends of the Earth played an important role supporting communities who faced the prospect of fracking on their doorstep, in Lancashire and elsewhere, before the moratorium came into effect.

Jamie Peters, fracking campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said:

“As millions of households face the grim reality of surging energy costs, the government should be doing everything to bring down eye-watering bills and build a resilient energy system. But fracking will do almost nothing to cut costs for people struggling to power and heat their homes, nor will it boost our energy security.

“Alternatively, a free, street-by-street insulation programme could be rolled out quickly and cheaply, offering massive energy savings. And the UK’s vast renewable energy potential should be harnessed to bring affordable and sustainable energy to all.

“It’s important to remember that people power drove frackers out of neighbourhoods once. Friends of the Earth will support local communities again should the government lift its ban.”

Why fracking must remain banned, permanently:

1. It will do very little to help those suffering through the cost of living crisis

The Business Secretary said himself that it would take years of exploration and development before fracking produced commercially viable gas, and that it would have no effect on energy prices in the short term.

But once sites become operational, there is nothing stopping fracking companies from selling their gas to the highest bidder on the global market, much like traditional gas and oil. The latest figures show that UK gas exports actually increased in the first quarter of 2022 as energy prices escalated at home. With this in mind it’s unlikely that increasing domestic gas production will bring down energy costs.

Instead, a massive council-led, street-by-street programme to insulate the UK’s heat-leaking homes, targeting those most in need first, would help to bring down soaring bills for millions of households, and could be rolled out quickly to make a difference before next winter.

The government should also take full advantage of the UK’s renewable power potential to end our dependence on expensive and volatile gas. Renewables are far quicker and cheaper to develop than new fossil fuels, making investment in clean energy the practical choice to help those struggling now with rising living costs.

2. It’s deeply unpopular with communities impacted by fracking

Before the 2019 moratorium was introduced, fracking was met with fierce opposition by communities who resisted attempts by the industry to develop fracking locally.

Concerns were driven by a number of factors but particularly the potential damage and disruption that could be inflicted on the local environment, alongside the prospect of unpredictable earthquakes and the global climate impacts of burning and extracting shale gas.

Communities and frack free groups all over the country are on standby to mount fresh resistance should the government lift its moratorium.

Activists who opposed fracking in Lancashire have said they won’t stand for it, while communities in Yorkshire say they will be ready to protect their local environment.

3. It’s incompatible with curbing climate breakdown

Scientists agree that the majority of fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground if we’re to avoid further dangerous levels of global heating.

Yet fracking will only add to the stockpile of fossil fuels we can’t afford to burn, making it harder to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees as internationally agreed.

What’s more, as part of a report commissioned by the government, the International Energy Agency said that no new fossil fuel developments can be approved if the hope of 1.5 is to be kept alive.

4. The industry wants to relax regulations that reduce the risk of earthquakes

Lifting the moratorium on fracking opens the door to further attempts to weaken regulations designed to minimise the risk of earthquakes.

The Traffic Light System (TLS), introduced in 2012, requires fracking companies to halt their operations for 18 hours if a seismic event of 0.5ML (local magnitude) or greater occurs. This is considered the “red light” threshold. It was introduced after tremors damaged the steel well casing at fracking company Cuadrilla’s Preese Hall site in Lancashire.

Before fracking was officially paused in England, the industry lobbied the government to relax these regulations, which fracking companies themselves previously agreed to. This would allow earthquakes 31 times larger and 177 times stronger to be triggered legally. Lifting the fracking ban could pave the way for bigger tremors, which could be devastating for surrounding communities and the environment.