Politics

Government statement confirms fracking is still allowed under moratorium – campaigners

pnr 190728 Ros Wills

Some fracking for oil and gas could still go ahead, despite the government’s moratorium, a ministerial statement has indicated.

Kwasi Kwarteng, the energy minister, said the moratorium, issued on 2 November 2019, applied only to operations that required hydraulic fracturing consent.

His statement, a reply to a parliamentary question by the Rother Valley MP, Alexander Stafford, clarified that some fracking operations and the injection of acid into wells would not be outlawed by the moratorium.

Anti-fracking campaigners said this confirmed their suspicions that loopholes in the moratorium would allow some forms of fracking to continue. They called for a ban on well stimulation treatments.

The requirement for hydraulic fracturing consent was introduced in the 2015 Infrastructure Act. It is issued to fracking companies by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The government described the consent as “an additional step to the existing regulatory and permitting regime”.

Under the Infrastructure Act, hydraulic fracturing consent was needed for hydraulic fracturing of shale or strata encased in shale using fluid that met a volume threshold.

The legislation, later incorporated into the 1998 Petroleum Act, defined this volume as “more than 1,000 cubic metres of fluid at each stage or expected stage”, or “more than 10,000 cubic metres of fluid in total”.

Mr Kwarteng said:

“Activities outside this definition are not included in the moratorium.”

Before the moratorium, hydraulic fracturing consent had been granted to only one company, at one site. This was Cuadrilla Resources at Preston New Road, near Blackpool.

Earth tremors caused by fracking by the company led to the decision by the government to introduce the moratorium and withdraw its support for shale gas extraction.

Since then, anti-fracking campaigners have called for the moratorium to be extended.

Steve Mason from “Frack Free United” said today:

“I suppose we have a bit of clarity now but as we suspected, the definition is very narrow and keeps the door open for companies to set up shop in our communities.

“This definition of ‘fracking’ potentially allows ‘flouting of the rules’ by operators simply by reducing the amount of fluid they are to use or resorting to using strong acid to free up locked in gas.

“The moratorium should be extended to include all extreme extraction techniques and seek to prevent evidence gathering to break the moratorium under the guise of exploration.”

David Cragg-James, of Frack Free Ryedale, said the Infrastructure Act definition of fracking excluded more than 40% of the gas wells fracked in the US and was “a cynical ploy to achieve fracking via the back door”.

He said:

“When the government announced its moratorium in November, Frack Free Ryedale was one of the first to note that the value of the moratorium depended utterly upon the definition of fracking used.

“Our suspicions concerning government’s intentions were confirmed by Kwasi Kwarteng’s parliamentary answer.

“Not only is fracking as originally understood, using smaller quantities of fluid, still permitted, but also acidisation and other forms of fossil fuel extraction, as well as exploration.

“More then than a cynical ploy to achieve fracking, a cynical ploy to achieve re-election!”

Ada Zaffina, of Brockham Oil Watch, said

“Today’s statement highlights the many inconsistencies in the legal and regulatory framework for hydraulic fracturing and the need for an expanded ban for all well stimulation treatments.”

She said Mr Kwarteng’s reply appeared to contradict the written ministerial statement on the moratorium by the energy secretary, Andrea Leadsom.

Mrs Leadson said the industry regulator, the Oil & Gas Authority, was “unlikely to approve future hydraulic fracture plans”, a different permission required of operators, because of concerns that fracking would induce “unacceptable levels of seismicity”.

Ms Zaffina said:

“A Hydraulic Fracture Plan is required for a wider spectrum of fracking operations than those that also require Hydraulic Fracture Consent from the BEIS secretary of state.

“For instance, the planned operations at Wressle in Lincolnshire by Egdon Resources requires the submission and approval of a Hydraulic Fracture Plan. One of the main reasons for this is to manage the risk of induced seismicity. The difficulty in the management of this risk was the reason why the moratorium was imposed.”

Mr Kwarteng’s reply was also unclear on the volume definition, Ms Zaffina said. The minister said the threshold was the injection of “1000m3 or more of water per fracturing stage or 10000m3 or more of water during the entire fracturing process”.

Ms Zaffina said:

“The statement is not clear on whether the 1000 m3 threshold needs to be met at each or any stage of the associated fracturing operation. None of the fracking operations carried out in the UK to date used 1000m3 or more fluid at each stage or 10000m3 in total.”

Other government statements on fracking

In response to other parliamentary questions, ministers also confirmed:

  • Oil and gas licensees were responsible for liabilities associated with environmental impacts of their operations.
  • Fracking operators are required by the OGA to necessary funds to pay for property repairs or an insurance policy including third party liability
  • There are no plans to review the moratorium or the traffic light system which regulates fracking-induced earth tremors
  • There are no plans to put the traffic light system into statute.
  • There has been no government assessment of a levy on shale gas companies to pay for the cost of policing at shale gas sites
  • There are no plans to commission an inquiry into fracking in the next six months
  • Shale gas companies can still apply for planning permission for fracking but the industry should “take the government’s position into account when considering new developments”.

Transcript of questions and answers

Question by Alexander Stafford, Conservative, Rother Valley

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what methods of fossil fuel extraction are covered by the moratorium on fracking.

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, whether (a) exploratory wells and (b) the process of acidisation are covered by the moratorium on fracking.

Reply by Kwasi Kwarteng, energy minister, Conservative, Spelthorne

The moratorium applies to operations that require Hydraulic Fracturing Consent. The definition of associated hydraulic fracturing, used for the purposes of Hydraulic Fracturing Consent, is as set out under section 4A of the Petroleum Act 1998 (inserted by Section 50 of the Infrastructure Act 2015).

This definition was based on the approach taken by the European Commission, which defines high-volume hydraulic fracturing as involving the injection into a well of 1000m3 or more or water per fracturing stage or 10000m3 or more of water during the entire fracturing process.

Activities outside of this definition are not included in the moratorium.


Question by Alexander Stafford, Conservative, Rother Valley

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what steps she is taking to ensure any environmental damage caused by the development and exploitation of shale gas is mitigated.

Reply by Kwasi Kwarteng, energy minister, Conservative, Spelthorne

We will not support shale gas exploration unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely. On the basis of the current scientific evidence the Government has taken a presumption against issuing any further Hydraulic Fracturing Consents.

In the UK, we have been regulating gas and oil drilling, both onshore and offshore, for decades and maintain the very highest safety and environmental standards. Licensees are responsible for liabilities associated with environmental impacts of their operations throughout the duration of the licence.


Question by Alexander Stafford

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what assessment she has made of the potential merits of requiring shale gas companies to put aside a bond to pay for householders’ property repairs, resultant from exploration and extraction.

Reply by Kwasi Kwarteng

As part of the Oil and Gas Authority’s (OGA) assessment of an application for hydraulic fracturing operations, the OGA requires the operator to have in place the necessary funds or an insurance policy (including third-party liability) that will cover unforeseen events.


Question by Alexander Stafford

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what plans she has to review the moratorium on fracking.

Reply by Kwasi Kwarteng

The Government has no plans to review the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. The Government’s position has been set out in the Written Statement of 4th November 2019 and will be maintained unless compelling new evidence is provided which addresses the concerns around the prediction and management of induced seismicity.


Question by Alexander Stafford

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, whether she plans to bring forward legislative proposals to put into statute the traffic light system on seismicity resulting from hydraulic fracturing.

Reply by Kwasi Kwarteng

There are no plans to review the Traffic Light System or to put it into statute.


Question by Alexander Stafford

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what assessment she has made of the potential merits of introducing a levy on shale gas companies to pay for the cost of policing at shale gas sites.

Reply by Kwasi Kwarteng

Policing is a matter for the Home Office and the local constabulary. No such assessment has been made.


Question by Alexander Staffor

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, whether she has plans to commission an inquiry into fracking in the next six months; and if she will make a statement.

Reply by Kwasi Kwarteng

The Government has no plans to commission an inquiry into hydraulic fracturing in the next six months, or to review the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. The Government’s position has been set out in the Written Statement of 4th November 2019 and will be maintained unless compelling new evidence is provided.


Question by Lord Greaves, Liberal Democrat

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answer by Lord Duncan of Springbank on 9 January (HL Deb, col 302), whether those who hold a licence from the Oil and Gas Authority which allows them to undertake exploratory drilling in relation to shale gas, such as those in East Lancashire, can still apply for (1) drilling licences, and (2) planning permission in relation to such drilling, during the current moratorium on fracking; and what advice they have given to the owners of such licences.

Reply by Lord Duncan of Springbank, energy minister

The Government set out its position in the Written Ministerial Statement of 4 November 2019, confirming that it will take a presumption against issuing any further Hydraulic Fracturing Consents, creating a moratorium. Future applications for Hydraulic Fracturing Consent will be considered on their own merits by the Secretary of State, in accordance with the law.

Companies may still apply for drilling licences and planning permission for development which includes hydraulic fracturing. However, the shale gas industry should take the Government’s position into account when considering new developments.

No further advice has been issued to licence holders subsequent to the Written Ministerial Statement.


26 replies »

  1. Seismologist Dr Baptie of the BGS statement after the 2.9 magnitude earthquake at PNR in 2019,

    “There doesn’t really appear to be a clear relationship between injected volume and seismicity. There is possibly a relationship between the number of events and volume”

    This updated scientific evidence contrasts with the report from the BGS on the earthquakes at Preese Hall in 2011 when the BGS stated,

    “The size, rate and type of induced seismicity would therefore be dependent on”

    1) Rate and amount of fluid injected

    The compelling evidence is clear. limiting the amount of fluid does not guarantee limiting the size of any induced seismicity.

    I hope the Minister is aware of this scientific fact.

    • I hope the Minister is also aware that hydraulic fracturing of shale is the safest was to extract gas from the subsurface that is needed for us to reach NetZero in the fastest possible time. I also hope the Minister is aware that seismicity associated with hydraulic fracturing causes far less ground motion (i.e. damage) than a bus going past ones house.

      • I suspect one’s house is nowhere near either a frack or acidisation site and that one has never experienced venting at close quarters and suffered nose bleeds head aches sore throat and nausea as a result. But never mind. I’m sure one’s investment portfolio is in good shape. Unless you’re into UKOG that is.

        • Well, Dr. Dave you are suspect certainly, but many people in the south of UK are close to an “acidisation” site and only enjoy benefits from being so. Now, living close to wind turbines may supply some interesting health issues as a result.

          But, then your comments about UKOG show how you are not interested in reality. What was the increase in UKOG share price TODAY??

          Oops. Dr. Dave joins the DoD hall of fame, trying to do a little Schadenfreude, but in reality a bit of Gluckschmertz!

          But I will be helpful. Save yourself some money and avoid the lottery. It seems your gambles are a waste of time and effort.

      • Simon Maynard U.K. shale gas is not the quickest way for us ta achieve net zero, it has higher emissions than gas imported by pipeline from Europe. We need to increase renewables/green energy, improve energy efficiency, continue to import the bulk of our gas from countries like Norway (until we can transition away) reduce LNG and eventually end all fossil fuels use. And certainly shale gas/fracking should play no part in our plans. Furthermore your statement fracking is the safest way to extract gas is at the very least highly questionable; there have been several deaths of workers, hundreds of peer reviewed studies have concerns about the health impacts on the public and air quality, fresh water has been contaminated by radiation, earthquakes have occurred that have caused property damage and shut off power to homes and it has released a huge amount of methane and green house gasses into the atmosphere.

        • KatT: your statement:”continue to import the bulk of our gas from countries like Norway (until we can transition away) reduce LNG and eventually end all fossil fuels use”.

          So use gas and enrich another country’s employment, tax, and sustainability which will still produce emissions, and although lower emissions from oil as due to it being gas. While decreasing the UK governments emissions, and quicker target to net zero.
          Norway is closer to net zero than we are, but is still producing the lions share of european gas… We cannot and should not rely on Norway, hence should not expect other countries to bail out our energy needs, if it costs more, if we stopped using Fossil Fuels today, Renewables are not capable of producing anything like the needs and requirements to the UK now, or ever if we are to feed a 70 million population by 2030!

          • Last time I was in Norway they were debating as to whether to invest some of their oil/gas income into a high speed south/north rail link.

            And, here in UK, what are we doing? Oh, realising such links are very expensive and who will pay the tax to fund this means of reducing carbon emissions? Would be nice if it was industry, but no, it will be the individual tax payer as industry will be prevented from contributing what it could.

          • Eli shale gas is unproven, some estimates put the size of the reserves as being very low and emissions from UK shale are higher than conventional gas/gas imported via pipeline from Europe. Shale gas would not help the U.K. transition to net zero quicker and that is fact. LNG imports need to be the first to be tackled and by good policy decisions and actions such as increasing renewables and more energy efficiencies that can be done. The issue is we are transitioning away from fossil fuels and reducing consumption, far better to create jobs, economic growth and tax revenue in a sustainable industry. The U.K. does not have the gas reserves that Norway has. And even our depleting North Sea Gas is not all U.K. owned and is exported to other countries. With the need to reduce emissions and reduce carbon, starting a fracking industry would not make economic sense. Nor would it make climate change sense There have been recent reports stating that around 120,000 new jobs will be necessary to deliver net zero, that makes perfect, sustainable, economic sense. The gas price is low, we are using less gas and that decline will continue, far better to import and invest in our future.

            • Sorry KatT, but speculation is not the same as facts or reality.

              Your post of 6.39am is full of the former and very little of the latter.

              Example: Increasing renewables and more energy efficiencies will NOT transition to net zero. Prof. Sir David McKay called this an “appalling delusion”.

              No one has explained where UK hydrogen will come from. I have asked that question numerous times on this site. Absolute silence. Just ignore that reality to make the appalling delusion work? But it doesn’t. Young couples buying their first house which will require a new heating system in a short space of time. Even the builders unaware how that will be delivered. Who will pay for it? (Anyone notice Sainsbury’s announce “their” £1 billion investment to net zero at the same time they hike up their fuel prices?? So, there is a clue!)

              Never mind. Just register as a Trade Mark and you can make some money out of it.

        • So, no one has died to extract Norwegian oil/gas KatT?? Oh, yes they have.

          And, currently, an oil tanker is on fire in the Gulf.

          And, “Natural gases bubbling up from the bottom of the Red Sea are contributing to atmospheric pollution as much as some leading fossil-fuel producing countries, a study has shown.” (220k tonnes every year.) So, maybe it doesn’t want to stay “in the ground” and would be better off removed and used.

          Nobody looks across the horizon to where they are being instructed to export their responsibilities?

          Oh, yes they do. Maybe not the antis, but “certainly” and “our plans” are not dictated by the minority.

        • KatK – maybe you might have noticed that countries that we used to import gas from (ie the Netherlands) are having to import gas themselves and that is increasing their GHG emissions by 30%. There are two problems with relying on Norway for our gas which is the only local source to import gas from. Firstly, much of it is associated gas that is produced as a consequence of oil production – hopefully we will use less oil so the associated gas will decrease. Secondly, as our gas consumption decrease during our transition to NetZero the quantities we need will drop below the level whereby the pipeline system is financially viable so we will produce loads of GHG emissions importing gas as LNG.

          The second point you make about the ‘concerned health care professionals’ is familiar. Unlike you, I’ve actually bothered to read both the report and well over half of the works that have been cited. It is a terrible piece of science and actually cites far less peer reviewed articles than it claims. Any relationships that those articles find between health and fracking are no more than would be expected on a statistical distribution of random events being clustered.

  2. 5 years ago i was booted of lse forum for saying dump all fracking stock and invest in gold. lol at all the folk that laughed at me then , who do you think is laughing now.

    • Probably the Shell investors who have been enjoying lovely dividends for 5 years, Rachel!

      Trouble with your gold is that all you might get is capital growth, but no income.

      I do agree it was a bit harsh to boot you off, but some forums are not supposed to be a venue for activists to try and manipulate the fortunes of companies-paid for, or otherwise. Perhaps easily forgotten, but sometimes controlled.

  3. Good to see that the moratorium still applies to Shale gas, rather than other small fracking operations such as Wressle ( and other wells as noted in the BOW opinion piece, DoD passim )

    However in a cynical ploy to extend the moratorium beyond the meaning of the first paragraph of the statement, various groups have questioned its intent.

    Steve Mason says that acid could be used to release large amounts of gas. We wait to see which shale formations will yield large amounts of gas by the use of acid stimulation.

    And we await to see which back door will result in commercial amounts of gas from low volume hp fracking sans fylde type seismic activity.

    David Cragg- James cynically cranks the acid stimulation handle and desperately throws in the recent election as a relevant issue. Clearly the Conservative majority was based on the moratorium. Dream on i guess, as banning it did not save Labour.

    BOW is consistent on it opposition to any form of oil or gas extraction in the Weald, and now Wressle. But Wressle is not shale gas fracking, so there is no inconsistancy in the gov stance. Especially as past fracturing of similar wells in Notts/Lincs has not resulted in recorded or noted seismic activity ( as per BOW opinion report on the matter)

    However, i think that Mr Kwarteng could help by adding….’Shale Gas
    “..at each reference to fracking to be consistent with the Leadsome statement.

    The proof of the pudding re Fylde and other shale gas fracking will be the appearance of compelling information that it is ok ( within the existing Traffic Light Framework) to proceed.

    So far, no such information has turned up.

  4. “the need for an expanded ban for all well stimulation treatments”.

    Mrs. Zaffina clearly has a problem understanding the different forms of well stimulations. Is she also proposing no further stimulations of water wells?

    Fortunately we have a Government that understands the issues and won’t cave in to silly demands by minority anti groups.

  5. Ms. Zaffina needs to understand a little more about water supply in the south of England before she attempts to deny it to the locals.

    Reality seems to only be a dish enjoyed by those who ignore the Magic Mushrooms.

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