Prime Minister Liz Truss announced within days of taking office earlier this month that she would reverse a 2019 ban on hydraulic fracturing, a controversial technique used to extract oil and gas from shale rock.
Britain needs to “explore all avenues available to us through solar, wind, oil and gas production -– so it’s right that we’ve lifted the pause to realize any potential sources of domestic gas,” business and energy secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg said Thursday.
Truss said she “will not be going ahead with anything that carries a risk," but stressed that "energy security is vital.”
Officials also backed an expansion of licenses for oil and gas operations in the North Sea, drawing anger from environmental groups Thursday.
The Conservative government suspended fracking in November 2019 after a series of tremors were recorded at the U.K.'s only shale wells near Blackpool in northwest England.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said lifting the ban means future applications will be considered “where there is local support." Developers will need to have the necessary licences and permissions before they can commence operations.
Fracking involves injecting high-pressure water deep underground to extract oil or gas from rock. Environmental groups have long opposed the practice, saying it can pollute groundwater and contributes to climate change. Critics also say it's an ineffective way to generate energy, doesn't help lower steeply rising energy bills, and is opposed by communities wherever it is attempted.
Rees-Mogg faced an angry backlash from lawmakers, including some from his own Conservative Party. Opposition parties accused the Conservative government of breaking its own manifesto pledge in 2019, when the party promised it wouldn’t lift the ban on fracking unless the practice was scientifically proven to be safe amid concerns over earthquakes.
"Even when the government went ‘all out for shale’, the frackers produced no energy for the U.K. but managed to create two holes in a muddy field, traffic, noise and a colossal amount of controversy,” Greenpeace energy security campaigner Philip Evans said.
A government-commissioned review on the risks of shale gas extraction by the British Geological Survey was inconclusive, saying more data was needed. Officials argued that the “limited current understanding of U.K. geology and onshore shale resources” shouldn't be a barrier to fracking.
“It is clear that we need more sites drilled in order to gather better data and improve the evidence base," a statement from the government's business department said. “Lifting the pause on shale gas extraction will enable drilling to gather this further data, building an understanding of U.K. shale gas resources and how we can safely carry out shale gas extraction in the U.K. where there is local support.”
The other parts of the U.K. — Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales — aren't affected by Thursday's announcement.
Meanwhile, the government's approval for more oil and gas operations in the North Sea means that more than 100 new licenses are expected to be granted from next month.
Friends of the Earth Scotland said that the new round of licensing suggests that Britain's government "is effectively denying the reality of the climate emergency.”
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