The business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, has said he is preparing to consider the next steps on fracking.
In a speech at Chatham House in London yesterday, he said the government had always “been clear” that shale gas “could be part” of the UK’s future energy mix.
The results of a review of the science of fracking by the British Geological Survey is expected within days.
Mr Kwarteng told the Second Century London Conference:
“They will report back to me next week, and I will consider the next steps.”
Fracking in England is currently prevented by a moratorium imposed since November 2019. This followed fracking-induced earthquakes at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road shale gas site.
Mr Kwarteng said:
“We have always been clear that shale gas could be part of our future energy mix, but we need to be led by the science and above all we need to have the support, the ongoing support of local communities.”
He also explained the reason for the review:
“earlier this year, when Russian tanks rolled into eastern Ukraine, of course the whole world changed.
“That’s why, after much reflection, I asked the British Geological Survey to look again at the science around shale gas extraction in England.”
Steve Mason, of the campaign network Frack Free United, responded to Mr Kwarteng’s comments:
“I truly thought I’d never say this, but the news that fracking in the UK may be considered seriously is bonkers.
“The only positive of this is that rested communities will come together again and rise up across the 200 constituencies affected by licences.
“The negatives? There’s to many to list but the return of conflict and division will not be welcomed.
“We as a country will be tumbling backwards into the arms of fossil fuels. The transition to renewables has started, and is gaining pace. Putting the brakes on now is reckless and foolhardy for our country, communities and climate change.”
No fracking permissions
Earlier this week, the shale gas industry urged the government to lift the moratorium and “facilitate shale gas development”.
But if Mr Kwarteng were to end the moratorium, fracking is unlikely to start quickly.
There are currently no sites in England with consent for fracking.
Planning permission for drilling and fracking at Preston New Road expired on 30 November 2019.
In February 2022, Cuadrilla was ordered to plug and abandon the site’s horizontal wells. But the instruction from the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) was withdrawn several weeks later. Cuadrilla now has until June 2023 to “evaluate options” for Preston New Road and also its nearby gas site at Elswick.
Earlier this month, two shale gas schemes, which did not include fracking, were refused planning permission by ministers. A decision on the projects at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire (IGas) and Woodsetts in south Yorkshire (Ineos) followed two public inquiries and had been expected in April 2020.
The site in North Yorkshire, due to be fracked in 2107, is now owned by a renewables company. Planning consent to frack the KM8 well at Kirby Misperton has expired and the well is now part of a trial for geothermal energy.
The organisation representing the shale gas industry, UKOOG, has called for sites to be defined as nationally significant infrastructure. This would take decisions away from local authorities and give them to planning inspectors and ministers. The proposal, previously Conservative policy, was dropped in November 2019 at part of the announcement on a moratorium in England.