The energy secretary, Andrea Leadsom, confirmed the government’s U-turn on shale gas policy in a statement to parliament today.
This follows an earlier announcement that ministers were withdrawing their support for the fracking and introducing a moratorium.
Mrs Leadsom said in today’s statement there was now a presumption against issuing any further hydraulic fracturing consents, an “effective moratorium” on fracking.
The regulator, the Oil & Gas Authority, was also unlikely to approve further hydraulic fracture plans unless new evidence was presented, her statement said.
Cuadrilla responded that it would:
“continue to work constructively with the OGA to provide further detailed data to address concerns so that the moratorium can be lifted.”
But nearly 72 hours after the news was first released, there was not much more detail about which processes the moratorium applied to and how it would work.
What we don’t know
The written ministerial statement said the moratorium would be maintained:
“until compelling new evidence [undefined] is provided which addresses the concerns about the prediction and management of induced seismicity.”
Cuadrilla said it would provide data from fracking the second well at its Preston New Road site in August 2019 to address the government’s concerns.
But opponents of Cuadrilla’s operation think this information may not reassure the regulator.
The UK’s strongest fracking-induced earth tremor, measuring 2.9ML, induced by fracking at Preston New Road, happened three days after the last injection. Cuadrilla’s hydraulic fracturing plan predicted the maximum strength tremors could be close to that, at 3.1ML, but this was considered to be “a very low likelihood”.
The written statement did not specify what operation the moratorium applied to.
Does it cover any fracking for shale gas? Is it associated hydraulic fracturing, defined by the volume of fluid in the 2015 Infrastructure Act (1,000m3 per stage or 10,000m3 in total)? Or is it any operations that need a hydraulic fracture plan?
DrillOrDrop asked BEIS how the moratorium would affect operations, such as proppant squeeze, a form of fracking with acid. Plans for this process, by Egdon Resources at Wressle near Scunthorpe, require a hydraulic fracture plan. But the volume of fluid is well below the associated hydraulic fracturing definition. We did not receive a response.
We also asked whether during the moratorium Cuadrilla could go back to frack at Preston New Road using volumes of fluid below those set out in the Infrastructure Act. We received no response.
The written statement said the energy secretary would consider future applications for hydraulic fracturing consent “on their own merit, in accordance with the law”. But it advised the shale gas industry to take the government’s position into account “when considering new developments”.
So is it worth companies submitting plans to frack? And does it make any difference if the sites have already been developed?
IGas has drilled a shale gas well at Springs Road, Misson, in north Nottinghamshire. An announcement had been expected on whether the company would apply to frack this well. There doesn’t seem to be anything in the statement to guide IGas on whether any application would be successful.
There was also no detail on what happens to plans already in the system. Aurora Energy Resources has an application to drill and frack two wells at Great Altcar, near Formby in Lancashire. Does this count as a “new development”.
If IGas and Aurora can’t progress their projects, will the government compensate them? There was no information in the statement and no response to our question.
And what about Ineos, which has two planning permissions for shale gas exploration (but not fracking) and a commitment to frack 11 horizontal wells by July 2021. Will it be compensated for the costs of applying for planning permission and bidding for the licences? The statement did not address this.
Where can we find out more?
We asked BEIS what guidance it would be issuing to local authorities, companies and communities about the moratorium. The department referred us to Mrs Leadsom’s statement.