The government has temporarily halted fracking in England, and separate proposals to change the planning process for fracking sites will no longer be taken forward following the publication of new scientific analysis.
However, the Labour Party together with other opposition parties and environmental campaigners have all called for the ban to be made permanent, and described the announcement as a cynical pre-election stunt which would be reversed if the Conservatives were returned to power after the general election on 12 December.
Ministers say they took the decision on the basis of a report by the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA), which found that it is not currently possible to accurately predict the probability or magnitude of earthquakes linked to fracking operations.
Ministers have also claimed that the exploration of England’s shale gas reserves could only proceed if the science shows that it is safe, sustainable and of minimal disturbance to those living and working nearby.
However, operations at Preston New Road, Lancashire, have been suspended since a magnitude 2.9 event was recorded earlier this summer, on 26 August.
Andrea Leadsom, business and energy secretary, said: “Whilst acknowledging the huge potential of UK shale gas to provide a bridge to a zero carbon future, I’ve also always been clear that shale gas exploration must be carried out safely. In the UK, we have been led by the best available scientific evidence, and closely regulated by the Oil and Gas Authority. After reviewing the OGA’s report into recent seismic activity at Preston New Road, it is clear that we cannot rule out future unacceptable impacts on the local community. For this reason, I have concluded that we should put a moratorium on fracking in England with immediate effect.”
Tom Wheeler, OGA director of regulation, said: “Since the OGA suspended hydraulic fracturing at Preston New Road we have been considering whether the operator’s plans are still appropriate to manage the risk of induced seismicity. The OGA’s considerations have been informed both by the seismic events and by independent scientific analysis of data from the first Preston New Road well. Based on these, the OGA believes that further detailed geomechanical analysis would be needed before we could evaluate with confidence whether hydraulic fracturing could resume in the Fylde, or elsewhere, consistent with the government’s policy aims.”
The Labour Party however were quick to point out the government’s subsequent apparent u-turn on their fracking policy within hours of announcing it, and called for a permanent ban.
Rebecca Long-Bailey, shadow secretary for business, energy and industrial strategy, said: “The Conservatives usually wait until after elections before breaking their promises but this time they’ve u-turned on their fracking policy within hours of announcing it. Their own energy secretary has described pausing fracking as a ‘disappointment’, says fracking is a ‘huge opportunity’ and that the UK will rely on fracked shale gas for decades to come. This confirms that the Tories are only temporarily pausing fracking to try to win a few votes. They have no intention of stopping fracking.
“The next Labour government will ban fracking – whereas the Tories will only call a temporary halt to it.”
Environmental campaigners the Friends of the Earth also called for the ban to be made permanent. Craig Bennett, Friends of the Earth’s chief executive, said: “The government is right to call a halt to this damaging and deeply unpopular industry. This moratorium is a tremendous victory for communities and the climate. For nearly a decade local people across the country have fought a David and Goliath battle against this powerful industry. We are proud to have been part of that fight. We must now ensure that legislation is passed so that the ban is made permanent.”