Government responds to fracking industry legal letter

A government department has confirmed it has acted on a threat of legal action from the onshore shale gas industry over the moratorium on fracking.

Gooseneck at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road shale gas site, 20 August 2019. Photo: Ros Wills

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said today it had received and responded to a letter before action, the first formal stage in a legal challenge.

The Telegraph (paywall) reported at the weekend that the onshore industry had threatened to sue the government because of the moratorium on fracking in England, in place for more than two years.

BEIS ordered the moratorium in November 2019 following the UK’s biggest fracking-induced earthquake caused by operations at Cuadrilla’s shale gas site at Preston New Road in Lancashire.

Extract from British Geological Survey record of induced seismicity

The government said at the time that scientific advice had concluded it was not possible to predict accurately whether fracking would cause tremors and how big they would be.

The decision has left shale gas exploration licences in limbo across the north of England and the midlands.

Shale gas companies have regularly called for the moratorium to be lifted over the past two years.

Today a BEIS spokesperson said:

“We maintain our position that fracking will not be allowed to proceed in England unless compelling new scientific evidence is provided.”

The spokesperson said the department had taken a presumption against issuing any further hydraulic fracturing consents – needed before fracking can happen – based on evidence from operations at Preston New Road.

“It remains our policy to be guided by the evidence and to minimise the risk of damage or disturbance to local residents. 

“This moratorium will be maintained unless compelling new evidence is provided which addresses the concerns around the prediction and management of induced seismicity.”

The industry organisation, United Kingdom Onshore Oil & Gas, would not comment on the letter before action and directed us to individual shale gas companies.

The BEIS spokesperson would not confirm which company or companies sent the legal letter.

The Telegraph said Cuadrilla was not part of any potential legal action or correspondence.

Aurora Energy Resources, which withdrew an application to frack near Formby in Lancashire in July 2020, said at the time it would address the moratorium with BEIS.

DrillOrDrop asked all the companies that hold potential shale gas licences in England (IGas, Ineos, Cuadrilla, Egdon Resources, Aurora Resources, S W Energy) whether they sent the letter. We will update this article if any of the companies respond.

The letter before action is the latest move by the industry and its supporters in recent months to promote fracking in the UK.

The backbench Conservative, Steve Baker, asked last month whether ministers would lift the moratorium and take steps to support the safe extraction of the UK’s shale gas resources. The energy minister, Greg Hands, said the moratorium would be maintained unless compelling new evidence was provided which address concerns about prediction and management of induced seismicity.

Companies have complained that fracking faced stricter controls on earthquakes than the geothermal industry.

Last month, DrillOrDrop reported comments by Cuadrilla’s owner, AJ Lucas, that

“resolving and lifting the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing should happen in parallel with defining and appropriately mitigating and regulating the risks of induced seismicity associated with comparable CO2 injection and onshore geothermal operations”.

BEIS said local councils regulated deep geothermal projects, including seismicity.

Cornwall Live reported a year ago that the Carharrack area of the county had experienced 43 earthquakes in 50 days. The largest measured 1.7ML. United Downs Geothermal, which has been working in the area, previously confirmed some tremors were linked to its operations.

More recently, the British Geological Survey has no record of induced earthquakes in the past 50 days. There are also no records of any seismicity in the past 50 days in Cornwall.

Updated 14/12/2021: UK Oil & Gas corrected to United Kingdom Onshore Oil & Gas

11 replies »

  1. The government needs to change planning policy and law to get rid of this industry once and for all. Not difficult. But the legal challenge in Scotland failed because there wasn’t an outright ban in place, so let us hope this challenge will also fail. And an industry that falls out with a government can never succeed, especially one that relies on supportive planning/policy regimes and tax subsidies in order to operate, has to be doomed. It just shows how desperate the industry is. It will be interesting to see the outcome of the CCC assessment of North Sea O&G and what impacts that is having on U.K. emissions. If that exposes significant amounts of methane and other GHGs, that will be a huge red flag to any further onshore operations. And then of course none of the people opposed to fracking have disappeared either. It really is time the fracking industry slithered off into oblivion.

    • Or the majority, according to the surveys, who were not opposed to it, KatT.

      But, yes, more work for a few activists, and more plastic worn away in the process.

      Posting of plastic, I read, yesterday, the following:

      “Scientists studying the origins of microplastics in Antarctica discovered that 89% of the samples they analysed came from the paint on their ship”.

      So, when Jack the antiFrack returns to this debate, and quotes the “hundreds of scientists” offering their enlightenment, I wonder whether this bunch will be included? Or, the previous bunch who shipped themselves to Antarctica to show how the ice was disappearing, became stuck in that ice that had not disappeared, and then had to be rescued!

      • Good morning MARTIN , it’s comforting to know that I’m still in your thoughts , even after the passing of so much time .

        I hope you are in as good health as your keyboard fingers, you’ve been relentless with them on this forum.

        For the record, I’ve never been away, just been here in the background, quietly reading through the posts .

        MORE people are against Fracking, than are for it, FACT.

        As I’ve said many times before , FRACKING has been shown to be nothing more than a highly toxic , environmentally damaging , dangerous to human and animal health, climate changing , debt ridden ponzi scheme .

        Regarding your above post…… YES , I read the same scientific article regarding paint on ships , didn’t they also say that Toenail Clippings were also responsible for the rapid melting of Arctic Ice ?

        MARTIN , the oceans are drowning in microplastic/plastic junk derived from fossil fuels and I’m not talking paint from ships .


        • Hi Jack,

          Your absence has not improved your ability to focus upon a point rather than meander off into your world of fantasy.

          Toenail clippings? That must have come from another group of “scientists”, amongst those you have previously quoted as a link to show “credibility”! There were also the penguins who had “disappeared”, only to be found to have gone for a short walk. Maybe those carnivorous pigeons scared them off? Or, maybe not all scientists have a lot of common sense?

          The oceans are also drowning in other matter Jack. Perhaps publicity stunts with that as a consequence should be ceased? Mind you, the advent of ocean mining to produce materials for the non fossil fuel era should dwarf all of that.

          You will be pleased to know there is no plastic from my consumption within the oceans. Maybe research what needs to be done if cobalt contaminates a watercourse? Oops-shouldn’t mention that with Tesla recent issue in France regarding safety.

          Your focus upon for and against may be comforting to you, but there are a lot who couldn’t care less either way that you conveniently ignore. Meanwhile, I am sure you will be pleased to see all that oil being drilled for in USA and further new areas being auctioned off. Interesting how quickly reality overtakes spin. I still suspect in 2022, even with all that new activity, once Omicron under control the $100/barrel point will be reached but of course that will not impact the cost of living because oil is not required. When oil reaches that sort of price and the same sort of increase in gas then those who couldn’t care less may start to care.

  2. “More recently, the British Geological Survey has no record of induced earthquakes in the past 50 days. There are also no records of any seismicity in the past 50 days in Cornwall.”

    Perhaps DOD should also add if there have been any geothermal fracture stimulation operations in the last 50 days or not, in Cornwall or anywhere else? If not then it is hardly a surprise that there has been no induced seismicity?

    • Paul, I believe work on and testing of the well at Redruth, along with demobilisation of equipment was completed by mid July. Hence no induced seismicity in the last 50 days. Construction of the power plant is due to commence very soon once the contract has been awarded.

    • Elaine we haven’t started yet!!

      By the way when are we going to hear a detailed report of the supposed damage Cuadrilla’s fracking caused…. Another hoax from the anti’s!!

  3. Perhaps, Paul, the article was intended to subliminally show that initial induced seismicity during the testing and commissioning of sites would soon disappear once that had finished and production commenced? Now, there’s a thought worth retaining.

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