Fracking opponents have warned of a “huge backlash” if the government agrees to industry demands for new rules to make shale gas production quicker and easier.
Frack Free Lancashire, which opposed Cuadrilla’s operations in the county, said this evening the industry could not operate within the current regulations and now needed to “rewrite the rules”.
It also accused shale gas companies of “disrespecting” local communities and “disregarding” the environment.
The government announced last Thursday that it was lifting the moratorium on fracking in England, that has been in place since 2019.
Now the industry is repeating previous calls for ministers to go further and relax the regulations controlling fracking-induced earthquakes and change the planning system for shale gas.
Charles McAllister, director of policy at the industry lobbying group, UKOOG, has warned that if the industry did “not get the comprehensive policy support required, then some of the companies may not progress.”
His organisation is calling for the fracking industry to be subject to the same rules on earthquakes as construction, geothermal, quarrying and coal mining.
The earthquake regulations, known as the traffic light system (TLS), require fracking to pause if it causes tremors measuring more than 0.5 on the local magnitude (ML) scale.
The industry agreed to the 0.5ML limit after fracking by Cuadrilla caused earthquakes at Preese Hall in Lancashire in 2011 and led to the first moratorium.
But in the past four years, the industry has repeatedly called for a relaxation of the TLS.
In October 2018, Cuadrilla’s chief executive, Francis Egan, told the FT the traffic light system risked “strangling” the shale gas industry. He called for the 0.5ML threshold to be raised and referred to limits of up to 4.5ML used in other countries.
Cuadrilla’s fracking operations at Preston New Road, also in Lancashire, in 2018 and 2019 led to a series of small earthquakes, some of which breached the 0.5ML limit. The largest, in August 2019, measured 2.9ML and was felt across the Fylde region.
Barbara Richardson, of Frack Free Lancashire said:
“This just proves what this industry is capable of. When things don’t go their way they want to change the rules to suit their own ends. They know they cannot operate within the current regulations, which they themselves helped write after the 2012 moratorium, so they now need to rewrite the rules.
“The traffic light system thresholds were set to protect communities and the environment. No-one can predict what impact or damage will be caused especially below ground. One must remember that fracking involves thousands of wells not just one or two. Imagine the impact of multiple wells being fracked at the same time in the same area.”
Before becoming prime minister, Liz Truss, said “fracking will take place only in areas with a clear public consensus behind it”.
But in recent days, the industry has restated earlier calls to declare shale gas projects as nationally-significant infrastructure. This means decisions would be made by a government-appointed planning inspector or minister, rather than local authorities.
Barbara Richardson said:
“PM Truss said they will only agree to fracking with community support, yet already the industry is trying to circumvent this by changing the planning rules because they know they will never get local support especially once people realise what fracking really entails and all the adverse impacts it has on those very communities.
“This does not even take account of the cumulative impact of methane emissions and our ability to reach our net zero.
“This is the wrong place, wrong time and wrong direction and the industry is trying to take us for fools. Don’t forget they are in it for profit not for the people.
“The government can expect a huge backlash should they even consider such moves.”
In April 2022, the Johnson government commissioned a review of the science of fracking from the British Geological Survey.
The report was submitted to government in early July but has not been published.
Nick Danby, of Frack Free Lancashire, said:
“It is hard to know which is more astonishing: the utter disrespect for local communities or the reckless disregard for the environment.
“Either way, the Truss administration is very clearly and actively pursuing a fracking agenda despite there being no evidence that it can be done safely, and absolutely no evidence that fracking can in any way alleviate the present economic crisis.
“How many more times do we need to say that it would take years and many hundreds of wells to make any meaningful contribution to the UK energy mix and, furthermore, the fact that it is produced domestically does not give us cheaper gas as the price is set on the international markets?
“We have fought this for many years and will continue to do so. Fracking will never have any social licence and it is clear that a moratorium was an insufficient restraint. We now need a permanent and immediate ban before the environmental crisis grows any deeper.”