The government has given some details of what would be needed to end the moratorium on fracking in England.
The energy minister, Lord Duncan of Springbank, told peers:
“We would need a geo-mechanical survey of the specific basins concerned and the Oil and Gas Authority [the regulator] would have to oversee the determination of the criteria for such an examination.
“We would have to make sure that whatever emerged from that would guarantee the safety and sustainability of the resource and of the local communities.
“At present, it is not the intention of the Government to commission such work, but we understand that certain companies may themselves undertake it. They must do so within the limits set by the Oil and Gas Authority.”
The moratorium was announced on 2 November 2019 following a report by the Oil & Gas Authority on earth tremors induced by fracking at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site near Blackpool.
At the time, the government concluded it was not possible with current technology to predict accurately whether fracking would cause tremors and how big they would be. “Fracking will be paused unless and until further evidence provided that it can be carried out safely”.
Lord Springbank said the government had no plans to turn the moratorium into a ban. He said:
“We will be led by science, will continue to take a precautionary approach and will support shale gas exploration only if it can be done in a safe and sustainable way.
“The moratorium is intended to give a clear message to the sector and to local communities that fracking, within the current corpus of scientific evidence, will not be taken forward in England.”
He said the UK had “a number of sources of gas” and was not wholly dependent on any one. But he did agree there was a strategic benefit to producing our own gas. He also said waste would become an important generator of electricity in future.
Lord Duncan said exploratory drilling that did not involve fracking would continue.
On Cuadrilla’s Lancashire site (pictured above), where fracking was suspended in August 2019, he said “no work whatever is anticipated to continue there”.
Reports from a community liaison meeting for the Preston New Road earlier this week said Cuadrilla had “no immediate plans” for the site but was not “giving up” on it.
Both wells, PNR1z and PNR2, had been suspended. PNR1z has been plugged. A pressure test is underway on PNR2.
According to the reports, the whole of 2020 had been scheduled for the analysis of data from fracking in 2018 and 2019, seismic events and the well tests. The company was “in ongoing dialogue” with the Oil & Gas Authority on the data.