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