Government appeared to be considering a u-turn this afternoon on the order to Cuadrilla to plug and abandon its shale gas wells at Preston New Road near Blackpool.
The business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, said this afternoon talks were continuing.
Asked in parliament whether it was sensible to plug the wells, he said:
“In conversations with my right hon friend the prime minister we were clear that it did not necessarily make any sense to concrete over the wells. We are still in conversations about that.”
Last month, Cuadrilla said it had been ordered by the Oil & Gas Authority to abandon the two Preston New Road wells, both of which caused earthquakes when they were fracked.
A crane moved onto the site on two days ago (7 March 2022) to begin work. The operation was expected to take about five weeks.
Supporters of fracking have called for a lifting of the moratorium on fracking, imposed since November 2019 because of concerns about earthquakes. They also said the Cuadrilla wells should not be abandoned.
This morning, the business department told the Guardian that the wells would be abandoned by the deadline of the end of June 2022.
But the business secretary’s comments suggest there could be a change of plan and a softening towards shale gas.
Mr Kwarteng said the government’s position on the fracking moratorium had not changed. But his comments appeared less dismissive of the technique. He told MPs:
“If it [fracking] can be done in a safe and sustainable way the government is open to the idea.
Previously in a tweet, he said:
“The wholesale price of gas has quadrupled in UK and Europe. Additional UK production won’t materially affect the wholesale market price. This includes fracking – UK producers won’t sell shale gas to UK consumers below the market price. They’re not charities.”
During questions on the phase out of Russian oil imports to the UK, the Rother Valley MP, Alexander Stafford, asked whether fracking was a red herring. Mr Kwarteng said there had been seismicity issues with fracking but he added:
“We’ve always had an open mind. We’ve always said that we will support shale gas if it can be done in a safe and stable way. We will be led by the science on whether this is indeed possible. There are lots of experiments, there are lots of empirical evidence that we need to consider.”
A spokesperson for Frack Free Lancashire, which has opposed Cuadrilla’s operations, said this afternoon:
“Certain politicians and climate change deniers are trying to use the desperate situation in Ukraine to galvanise the twitching corpse of UK fracking. It is really shocking that they should try to use the immense suffering of an entire nation in this way.
“The Government has been clear that fracking must not be allowed to restart unless the companies involved are able to demonstrate conclusively that they can control the risks associated with seismicity. They simply cannot do this.
“At the same time, there is a growing wave of people who have lined up to tell us that UK fracking will not reduce energy prices and will not have a material impact on supply levels. These include Government spokesmen, Lord Browne the ex-chair of Cuadrilla, and Iain Conn, ex-chief executive of Cuadrilla Investor, Centrica, who stated this week that it won’t be “possible to drill enough wells to be able to make a material difference to the UK’s supplies”.
“Fracking is dead. Let it rest in peace.”
A spokesperson for Preston New Road Action Group, which also opposed fracking at the site, said:
“On numerous occasions over the last few months ministers have stated that allowing fracking to continue will have no impact on our current Gas issue.
“It is hard to see that 3 months extra for further experiments at PNR is going to make any difference. Cuadrilla have had over 3 years since first fracking at PNR and have failed to prove the process. So far no solution to the induced seismicity has been found. The work just commenced to plug and abandon the wells should be allowed to continue without delay and the site restored to its green field state.”