Campaigners welcome U-turn on fracking moratorium

Anti-fracking groups have welcomed confirmation from Downing Street that Rishi Sunak will reimpose the moratorium in England.

Demonstration outside Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road shale gas site, 20 October 2018. Photo: RodHarbinson.com

The new prime minister, on his second day in office, signalled in parliament that he would stand by the Conservative 2019 manifesto on fracking. This said the party would not support fracking unless the science “shows categorically that it can be done safely”.

The moratorium was formally lifted last month in a written ministerial statement from the then business secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Last week, there were chaotic scenes at Westminster during a vote on Labour moves to ban fracking. There were reports of Conservative MPs being manhandled through the voting lobby to oppose Labour’s motion. Liz Truss resigned the next day.

“Fracking is not socially, politically, environmentally and economically viable”

Claire Stephenson, of Frack Free Lancashire, which opposed Cuadrilla’s operations in the county, said:

“We’re pleased to learn that Rishi Sunak intends to stick to the 2019 Manifesto that the Conservatives were elected upon.

“The Written Ministerial Statement by Jacob Rees-Mogg should now be either withdrawn, rewritten or reinstated from 2019.

“The chaotic scenes in Parliament during the vote on fracking were highly embarrassing for the government, and it finished off Liz Truss’s short-lived premiership.

“Fracking has never been the solution for the energy crisis or future energy needs. Particularly in Lancashire, the geology is highly unsuitable – as has been pointed out by many experts over 11 years. It was always the wrong technology, at the wrong time, and in the wrong place.

“We welcome yet another U-turn from this government but the ongoing stress of uncertainty and worries for communities has been immeasurable. Fracking divides communities everywhere that they try to impose it. It has done here in Lancashire and we will never forgive or forget this.

“Our future energy needs should be met by renewable energy, more so now than ever. With a climate crisis gathering pace and a desperate need to transition away from fossil fuels for good, clean energy is the future.

“Let’s hope PM Sunak keeps to his promise made today at PMQs and that fracking is now consigned permanently to the dustbin of history.

“Fracking is not socially, politically, environmentally and economically viable. Let this be the end of it.”

Susan Holliday, of Preston New Action Group, a community group opposing Cuadrilla’s shale gas operations near Blackpool, said this afternoon:

“This is a welcome turnaround by the government. We look forward to BEIS either withdrawing the latest Written Ministerial Statement or issuing a new one.

“A complete ban on fracking would be an even better outcome.

“The events of the last week have shown what a contentious issue fracking is and just how much people don’t want it in their communities. At Preston New Road the onus is now on Cuadrilla to restore the site as per the current planning permission”.

Cuadrilla’s mothballed fracking site at Preston New Road, near Blackpool. 26 February 2022.
Photo: Maxine Gill

Last week, Preston New Road Action Group, Friends of the Earth and Talk Fracking took the first steps in a legal challenge to the lifting of the moratorium. They sent a letter before action to Mr Rees-Mogg arguing that his written ministerial statement was unlawful and irrational.

Friends of the Earth’s energy campaigner Danny Gross said today:

“This is a fantastic victory for common sense, the environment and local communities across the country who have stood up to the threat of fracking.

“The government must now focus on real solutions to the energy crisis including a street-by-street home insulation programme and developing the UK’s huge potential of onshore wind and solar energy production.”

Greenpeace said:

“We welcome this decision and urge Sunak to also halt all new licences for oil and gas exploration.”

“Common sense may have prevailed”

Steve Mason, of Frack Free United, an umbrella organisation of campaign groups opposed to fracking, said:

“Finally, common sense may have prevailed.

“If the PM is committed to the manifesto, then fracking should be consigned back into the history books in the UK. Last week’s debate on fracking exposed the level of cross-party opposition to the process.

“The pro-fracking lobby will no doubt continue to make even wilder claims but the government seem to have recognised that there was no basis at all to lift the moratorium. Let’s hope communities can relax a bit more now.”

David Burley, of Frack Free South Yorkshire, said:

“Rishi Sunak was not elected to prime minister by the electorate or his own party membership, so he is wise to seek party unity by going back to the 2019 manifesto his party was elected on.

“Whatever his own views are on fracking there is too much opposition within his own party, especially in many Red Wall seats.

“The six weeks of Truss madness have been useful; it has confirmed the UK’s abhorrence of fracking. With gas stocks back up to target levels across Europe and the wholesale price falling, Truss’ engineered panic desire for shale gas had already ebbed away.

“Sadly, as long as shale gas remains underground someone will want to get it out; but that will be a matter for future generations.

“In the meantime, mitigating the worldwide economic and social impacts of climate breakdown is our immediate concern.”

“any proposals to recommence fracking should be subject to scientific scrutiny as originally stipulated, and not as an act of political opportunism.

“Whether this U-turn has genuinely been made in order to protect our communities from the impacts of fracking, or as a result of the political seismicity experienced by the Tory party can only be speculated upon.

“Either way, recent events will hopefully draw a line under the issue and highlight to investors that shale gas in the UK is simply not worth the risk.”

Campaigners who opposed IGas shale gas plans at Springs Road in north Nottinghamshire, said:

“Frack Free Misson welcomes the reinstatement of the moratorium, in that any proposals to recommence fracking should be subject to scientific scrutiny as originally stipulated, and not as an act of political opportunism.

“Whether this U-turn has genuinely been made in order to protect our communities from the impacts of fracking, or as a result of the political seismicity experienced by the Tory party can only be speculated upon. Either way, recent events will hopefully draw a line under the issue and highlight to investors that shale gas in the UK is simply not worth the risk.”

Labour’ climate change secretary, Ed Miliband, visited Misson before last week’s parliamentary debate on fracking. He said today:

“The truth is that that the Tories cannot be trusted on the issue. The only way to ban fracking for good is to elect a Labour government.”

“Last week Rishi Sunak voted against Labour’s ban on fracking, but this week his spokespeople say he is in favour of the temporary moratorium.

Moratorium loopholes

Outside shale gas areas, campaigners warned that the moratorium covered only operations that met the definition of associated hydraulic fracturing in the Infrastructure Act.

To comply with the definition, fracking would need to use more than 1,000 cubic meters of fluid for each fracture stage or 10,000 cubic meters in total in shale formations.

Since the moratorium was introduced, low-volume fracking has been carried out, legally, at the Wressle oil site in North Lincolnshire.

Fossil Free East Yorkshire said:

“Fracking just under the associated hydraulic fracturing volume, or extreme techniques in other formations, such as enhanced recovery from unconventional tight sandstones, or using large volumes of acid in limestone, are not subject to the moratorium. 

“So 80% of U.S. fracking wells would NOT be subject to this weak moratorium, and would not be subject to fracking regulations.

“Anti-fracking groups across the UK are calling for a proper ban on extreme fossil fuel extraction, that can not be casually overturned on a future government’s whim.”

Keep Wisborough Green a group based in West Sussex, said:

“UK Oil & Gas is still involved in the Weald and the re-definition of the term fracking in the Infrastructure Bill meant applications for drilling for oil and gas continued in southern England.”

Shares fall

IGas share price

The four main shale gas licence-holders, Cuadrilla, IGas, Ineos and Egdon Resources, have not yet publicly responded to today’s news.

At the time of writing, the IGas share price had fallen more than 28%. IGas also lost a planning application today for grey hydrogen in Surrey.

Shares in Egdon Resources were down more than 13%.

Cuadrilla’s owner, A J Lucas, trades on the Australian stock market. Its shares dropped 50% when trading opened.

A J Lucas issued a brief statement noting the news:

“AJL will evaluate the impact of these statements, and any further details that may be forthcoming from the UK Government. AJL will provide further information as available and appropriate.”

Rishi Sunak had supported fracking, with local consent, during the summer leadership contest against Liz Truss.

Its lobbying organisation, UKOOG, did not respond to the announcement. Last month, the shale gas industry welcomed Liz Truss’s lifting of the moratorium and earlier this week, it congratulated Rishi Sunak on his appointment as prime minister:

“We look forward to working closely with you to deliver timely shale gas development in the national interest as part of the UK’s energy security and net zero strategy.”

Net Zero Watch, which says it scrutinises UK government policy on net zero, said:

“Rishi Sunak has signalled that he intends to re-impose a ban on fracking. Britain needs more domestic gas supply as soon as possible, reimposing the fracking ban would be a national act of self-harm on the largest scale!”

Updated 27/10/22 to include reaction from Fossil Free East Yorkshire and Keep Wisborough Green, plus statement and share price information from Cuadrilla’s owner, A J Lucas.

44 replies »

  1. Well we had our first child at Mickelfield- subsequently 4 more- all born healthy & still alive & healthy. In every case I was at the birth & my wife gave birth to them all naturally. Indeed the local University asked us to take part in a study on respiratory disease, they were looking at asthma in particular (excuse the pun). Statistically they expected at least one member our family to suffer from asthma, they were surprised that there was no evidence of such. The plain fact is that we cannot exclude all hazards-so when we assess risk it needs to be balanced by the risks we are already exposed to, many of them natural. Here is the link to toxicity in bracken-enjoy your walks in the Bowland Fells on the Bowland Shale, & enjoy the lovely soft drinking water sourced from there! (The water where I live comes from aquifers & has to be treated for nitrate & pesticide contamination from agriculture – and then blended with other sources of water to get these contaminants within regulatory tolerance). Here is the bracken link- I think all medical students should spend time shadowing vets https://www.msdvetmanual.com/toxicology/bracken-fern-poisoning/bracken-fern-poisoning-in-animals

  2. Nick,
    Thank you for your anecdotal evidence regarding Mickelfield.
    But this ‘evidence’ is hardly a case-controlled epidemiological study, is it ?
    And your family did not live very close to an active fracking site.
    As I said before, those of us, who may at least have published one paper on plant toxicity, will not require your further medical instruction.
    But please keep your family healthy & safe & do not move them close to active fracking.

    • Of course my evidence is anecdotal. The problem with many of the studies in the USA that you quote, in you extensive list, is that they are too! They have no baselines, particularly in the USA, which has the most expensive, fragmented & failing health system in the developed world. This is actually admitted in the childhood leukaemia study published this year. They attempt to model a baseline, that does not exist, of what they admit is a very rare disease (although when I was at school I lost 2 friends to childhood leukaemia- was that because I went to school in an industrial coal mining & burning town in NW England? My dad died of acute myeloid leukaemia – my mum blamed it on his involvement on radar in WW2, I told her that AML is prevalent amongst middle class elderly males – perhaps you can enlighten me about that association?). It would be good to meet up & continue our discussions. Would you like to come on walk with me in the Bowland Fells amongst the bracken & United Utilities water catchment on Bowland Shale that supplies to the Fylde?

      • In fact, that prestigious Yale University School of Public Health study reporting the increased incidence of childhood lymphoblastic leukaemia close to fracking sites, does reach the gold-standard, because it is a statistical case-controlled study. But if not already, we will now certainly be boring to death any remaining reader !
        Yes Nick, as long as you promise not to move your family very close to the toxicity & potential danger of an active fracking site, then I would be delighted to join you for a ramble in the picturesque trough of Bowland.
        Best wishes to you & your family.

        • OK let’s do that. I think we both want the same outcomes- we just have different views how to get there. Let’s wait for the Spring, my favourite time of year. The stream exposures of shale will be clean from the winter spates, & all the plant and animal life will be vibrant, and the days lengthening. The older I get the more I hate English winters. I will be in touch. Nick

  3. As I mentioned previously, fracking in this country is economically stupid, environmentally stupid and politically even more stupid. Liz Truss only promised to reverse the moratorium to throw red meat to her hard right backers and Tory members. Sunak’s return to the moratorium is purely for political expediency. He knows it’s now a vote loser to a party in the last chance saloon and on suicide watch.

  4. Frank I have 3 daughters in law involved in front line medical care. They all recognise many greater risks in England to public health than fracking. Thank you for your concern about my family.

  5. Nick:
    Yes indeed, there is a risk to public health for those living close to fracking.
    But please sympathise with those residents who had no choice in the matter, when fracking moved very close to them.

  6. Frank, everything we do in life has risks, and many risks are based on things imposed on us, which we do not chose. Thank you anyway for your concern.

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