“Fracking is over” – UK energy minister

The UK energy minister said this evening that fracking was over and the government had “moved on”.

Kwasi Kwarteng was speaking during an interview about a cryogenic battery facility that will store renewable energy.

Asked by Roger Johnson, of BBC North West Tonight, whether a shift to renewables marked the end of fracking, the minister said:

“We had a moratorium on fracking last year and frankly the debate’s moved on. It is not something that we’re looking to do.

“We’ve always said we’d be evidence-backed so if there was a time when the science evidence changed our minds we would be open to that. But for now, fracking is over.”

The moratorium, introduced in England in November 2019 and still in force, was a response to seismic activity induced by fracking at Cuadrilla’s shale gas site at Preston New Road, near Blackpool.

On August bank holiday in 2019, the company’s operations caused the UK’s strongest fracking-induced earth tremor, measuring 2.9ML. It was felt across the region and there were nearly 200 reports of damage to buildings made to the British Geological Survey.

In this evening’s interview, the minister was pressed: “So, you’re saying that’s it?”

Mr Kwarteng replied:

“I said that there was a moratorium that we did at the end of last year.”

The interviewer asked:

“And you’ve moved on?”

Mr Kwarteng said:

“We’ve moved on, yes, exactly.”

In March 2020, Cuadrilla withdrew equipment from the Preston New Road site. Last month, it predicted there would be no fracking at the site in 2020 and it was looking at “conventional” opportunities.

Opponents of Cuadrilla’s operation welcomed Mr Kwarteng’s comments this evening.

Susan Holliday, chair of Preston New Road Action Group, said:

“This is positive news for communities that have been living under the cloud of fracking for years. We have always believed that the science did not support it, and it seems that the government are coming to that view too.

“Cuadrilla should now restore the site at Preston New Road so that our community can put the nightmare of fracking behind us. Renewable energy has got to be the answer to our future energy needs.”

Claire Stephenson, of Frack Free Lancashire, said:

“It’s good to hear that the government have finally caught up with public opinion and science to say that fracking is over.

“Although it isn’t a permanent ban, common sense and a climate emergency will dictate fracking won’t resurface.

“The most expensive fracking experiment in the UK, happened on our doorstep here in Lancashire and resulted in millions of pounds of cash and drillers’ dreams being invested into, essentially, two deep and dirty holes in what was once pristine agricultural land.

“What remains of the company Cuadrilla, must now restore that land and officially leave our community forever.”

Dr Frank Rugman, who lives near the Preston New Road site, said:

“Following the induced earthquakes, it became obvious to all rational observers that fracking should never have been forced upon our communities.

“This evening’s news of a belated government U-turn on fracking, only confirms that the future lies in the generation of clean renewable electricity supported by efficient battery storage.”

Joe Corre, of the campaign group Talk Fracking, said:

“A fracking moratorium on the basis of seismicity as a pre-election stunt is not the same as a full fracking ban due to fracking finally being considered by the Government as dirty fossil fuel causing climate change. That’s what needs to happen.

“The energy minister Kwasi Kwarteng may say ‘fracking is over’ for now, but INEOS, the biggest holder of fracking licences in the UK, which they paid good money for, is still waiting cap in hand for the verdict of their delayed planning application for shale gas exploration in Woodsetts.

“A lot can change depending on how that goes. If they win, then suddenly fracking is back on the agenda. If they lose, then Sir Jim will most definitely launch an appeal.

“Meanwhile, INEOS has just purchased interests to frack Texas, U.S.A. with the view of importing fracked gas, or LPG, into the UK to power their plastics plants. The circular argument from Sir Jim to the Government will ultimately be, “Isn’t it cheaper for the UK to produce it’s own fracked gas or LPG rather than rely on imports from the U.S.A?

“The devil in the detail of the upcoming Brexit negotiations will be very interesting in terms what could change Government policy overnight back in favour of “fracking” – or some other terminology which allows for extreme energy extraction – and let the dirty frackers like INEOS creep back in”.

DrillOrDrop invited Cuadrilla, IGas and Ineos, the three leading shale gas companies, to comment on Mr Kwarteng’s interview.

The minister said the CryoBattery facility, at Carrington, in Manchester, marked a move from fossil fuels to renewables. He said:

“This year I think we went for two months without any coal generated power whatsoever so the shift from fossil fuels is happening. I think the cryogenic battery is actually a step in that direction. And I think this is really welcome.”

The facility will be one of the world’s first commercial liquid air batteries. It could store enough energy to power 200,000 homes for up to 5 hours. Its capacity is double that of Tesla’s largest chemical battery in south Australia.

The Manchester plant has attracted a £10 million government grant and is due to start operating in 2022.

It will use surplus energy from renewable sources to chill the air, turning it into a liquid. When extra power is needed, the liquid air is released and turns back into a gas, driving a turbine to provide electricity.

Updated 19/6/2020 to include comment from Dr Frank Rugman and Joe Corre