October 5, 2022

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Lifting ban on gas fracking in England under pressure for energy independence

Lifting ban on gas fracking in England under pressure for energy independence

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  • Britain pushes for more domestic energy supplies
  • The moratorium has been in effect since 2019
  • More research is needed to assess the risk of tremor
  • BGS survey says challenges remain to anticipate impact

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain on Thursday formally lifted a moratorium on shale gas fracking in England that had been in place since 2019, saying boosting the country’s energy supply was an “absolute priority”.

Energy prices have risen in Europe after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Britain is subsidizing home and business bills at a projected cost of more than 100 billion pounds ($113 billion).

New Prime Minister Liz Truss said earlier this month that fracking – extracting shale gas from rock by breaking it up – would be allowed where local communities support it.

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All energy sources must be explored to increase domestic production, Business and Energy Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg said Thursday, “so it is true that we have raised the pause to realize any potential sources of domestic gas.”

Hydraulic fracturing, which was opposed by environmental groups and some local communities, was banned after the industry regulator said it was not possible to predict the size of the earthquakes it could cause.

However, Reese-Mogg said the practice is “safe,” and the limitations on seismic activity must be re-evaluated so it can be done in an “effective and efficient manner.” Read more

Quadrilla, 96% owned by Australian AJ Lucas (AJL.AX)has the most advanced fracking wells in Britain and has found a source of natural gas, but rules about earthquakes mean its operations must cease, meaning neither well can be fully tested.

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The company welcomed the decision and said it was committed to returning a portion of the proceeds from shale gas to local communities.

“The lifting of the embargo will help the shale oil industry to release British onshore natural gas in sufficient quantities to meet the needs of the United Kingdom for decades to come,” said Francis Egan, CEO of Quadrilla.

Chemical and energy giant INEOS, which holds several British shale gas exploration licenses, said the government should treat shale gas development as a “national infrastructure priority”.

Experts say restarting the industry will do nothing to ease energy prices this winter, however, because it will take many years for the industry to develop and it remains unclear whether a significant amount of gas can be extracted. Read more

“Even if the risks prove to be manageable and acceptable, shale gas will only have a significant impact on UK supply if thousands of successful wells are drilled over the next decade,” said Andrew Applin, professor emeritus at Durham University.

Their delegated governments have said the moratoriums on hydraulic fracturing in Scotland or Wales will continue.

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A government-ordered report published by the British Geological Survey (BGS) on Thursday said that because so little hydraulic fracturing occurs in the country, it was “still difficult” to estimate the potential seismic impact.

The largest earthquake caused by fracking occurred at the Cuadrilla site in Blackpool, northern England, in 2011, with a magnitude of 2.3 that residents said woke them up at night.

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Subsequently, the government introduced a traffic light system that stops work if seismic activity of 0.5 or higher on the Richter scale is detected.

BGS said the threshold was the most conservative of any area where fracking occurred, with some states in the United States, where fracking is common, with a maximum of 4 degrees.

Reese-Mogg said activity 2.5 or less occurs “millions of times a year worldwide,” adding that restrictions on ground-level movement for the construction industry were twice those achieved with hydraulic fracturing in England.

The government said allowing drilling to resume would generate data to understand how to extract shale gas safely where there was local support.

It also confirmed its support for a new licensing round for oil and gas, expected to be launched by the North Sea Transitional Authority (NSTA) in early October.

(dollar = 0.8835 pounds)

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(Covering) by Paul Sandell and Susanna Tweedall Editing by William James, Mark Potter and Kirsten Donovan

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.