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Fracking halted in England over earthquake fears, UK government announces

The UK government’s new stance on the issue follows that of both Labour and Liberal Democrats.

The Cuadrilla hydraulic fracturing site at Preston New Road shale gas exploration site in Lancashire
The Cuadrilla hydraulic fracturing site at Preston New Road shale gas exploration site in Lancashire
Image: PA Images

THE CONTROVERSIAL PROCESS of “fracking” will be halted in England due to the risks of triggering earthquakes when trying to tap shale gas reserves, the UK government has announced. 

The announcement comes after a report by the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) found it is not currently possible to accurately predict the probability or magnitude of earthquakes linked to fracking operations.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday he had “very considerable anxieties” about the issue of shale gas extraction.

And the UK government now says it will end its support for the process, and further proposals to change the planning process for fracking sites will no longer be taken forward.

Fracking has caused damage to communities in other countries, such as the US, resulting in water contamination and the death of animals, as well as having negative impacts on peoples’ health.

The UK government’s new stance on the issue follows that of both Labour and Liberal Democrats.

However, the Liberal Democrats said that while a Government “moratorium” on fracking was welcome, it did not mean that the practice would be banned.

“Liberal Democrats back an immediate ban now – given the evidence we are now in a climate emergency,” Lib Dem former energy secretary Ed Davey said.

“The law Liberal Democrats passed to protect communities from earthquakes and seismic tremors caused by fracking has done a lot to prevent the Conservatives pressing ahead with fracking,” Davey said. 

“But this belated, eve of election policy pause won’t distract voters from the Tories’ shocking record on the environment – not least the Prime Minister’s, when he lobbied to relax air pollution laws.

The Tories are about as eco-friendly as a dustbin fire.

Fracking had been expected to feature strongly in the campaign for the 12 December UK general election.

A recent report by the National Audit Office found that government plans to establish the shale gas industry in the UK were taking longer than expected amid public concern over the effects of fracking on the environment and public health.

Protests have resulted at sites across the country and are estimated to have cost public bodies at least £32.7 million since 2011.

Business and Energy Secretary Andrea Leadsom said: “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.”

The UK government says it will “take a presumption against issuing any further Hydraulic Fracturing Consents” and this will continue unless compelling new evidence is provided”.

Ken Cronin, chief executive of UK Onshore Oil and Gas, on behalf of the industry said: “Hydraulic fracturing stimulation is a long-standing technology used around the world and in a number of industries, including the oil and gas, water and geothermal sectors.

“Going forward, we are fully committed to working closely with the Oil and Gas Authority and other relevant regulators to demonstrate that we can operate safely and environmentally responsibly.”

Ireland’s issues

The UK’s news comes after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar yesterday said the Irish government has not made any decisions about backing Ireland’s first LNG terminal in the Shannon estuary in north Kerry.

The government has faced criticism in recent weeks from opposition parties in the Dáil, as well as high-profile actor Mark Ruffalo, in relation to the project which would see fracked gas or liquid natural gas (LNG) imported to Ireland. 

Ruffalo has called on the Irish government to withdraw any support for the project. 

The Hulk actor said Ireland has become an “international leader on climate change” by introducing a ban on fracking when legislation passed in the Dáil in 2017. 

While the ban stops any fracking taking place in Ireland, it does not prohibit the importation of fracked gas for use in the Irish energy market. 

A couple of weeks ago, the project was under the spotlight due calls for the minister to remove it from a list of priority energy projects in the European Union.

Last week, Minister for Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton said the government will not support any grant application for EU funding by the Shannon LNG project until “a security of supply review has been completed and considered by the Government and by the Dáil”.

The Shannon LNG project, which has been held up in legal challenges, has been criticised by the Green Party, Solidarity-People Before Profit, as well as Friends of the Irish Environment. 

Critics have said it is hypocritical for the Taoiseach to allow fracked gas for importation after his announcement that Ireland will ban oil drilling in Irish waters. 

Includes reporting by Press Association and Christina Finn

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