The government does not plan to support shale gas exploration or review its moratorium, a minister has said.
The environment minister, Lord Goldsmith, told peers:
“The Government have no plans to review the moratorium on fracking, nor will we support shale gas exploration unless and until the science demonstrates categorically that it can be done safely for both people and the environment.”
His comments came during discussions on an amendment to the Environment Bill that called for a ban on fracking throughout the UK.
The government introduced a moratorium on fracking in England following induced earthquakes at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road shale gas site in 2019.
Lord Goldsmith said:
“the Government have taken a science-led approach to exploring the potential of the industry, underpinned by strong environmental and safety standards.”
He also said the government’s latest energy security report did not use hydraulically fractured shale gas in any of its security of supply assessments.
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, who tabled the amendment, said there were loopholes in the current law and fracking should be banned “once and for all”.
“I am most worried that, even if the Secretary of State did reject planning permission for fracking, this could be overturned in a judicial review.
“The Government may have changed their policy to be against fracking but, if this conflicts with the law in a judicial review, their policy will be ruled unlawful.
“For this reason, we must change the law to reflect what is now common agreement: that fracking is banned in the UK.”
Baroness Fox of Buckle (non-affiliated), said she was not for or against fracking but she opposed the amendment:
“It seems to me that making fracking effectively illegal is an extreme reaction. That seems short-sighted. It closes down any possibility of looking at the issue again or objectively, and potentially feeds into an atmosphere in which we cannot have a sensible debate on energy policy because we start criminalising innovations every time they come along.
“We have heard that the Government have a moratorium on fracking. I feel that is overcautious and potentially unhelpful but, regardless of that, to make it illegal feels completely over the top.”
Lord Khan of Burnley, Labour, backed a permanent ban:
“we believe this Bill is the Government’s chance to tell the fracking companies that their time is up. However, given the choice between doing something bold and doing nothing at all, we know what Defra under this Secretary of State always goes for.
Baroness McIntosh of Pickering, Conservative, also supported a ban:
“There are absolutely no economic grounds for fracking; I think that has been proven in this country and elsewhere. It causes distress to local communities, and there are other means of energy.
“I think the Government’s position is quite sound, although I am not saying that I would not like to see a permanent ban on fracking—I am well signed up to that.”
The amendment was not moved, which means it was not debated or voted on. Earlier this year, a Labour bid to ban fracking was defeated in the House of Commons.