Government lifts fracking ban and considers bypassing local planning

28th September 2022


The government has lifted its ban on fracking for shale gas in England and is considering designating potential sites for the controversial extraction as ‘nationally important infrastructure’.

The government has lifted its ban on fracking for shale gas in England and is considering designating potential sites for the controversial extraction as ‘nationally important infrastructure’.

A moratorium on fracking was imposed in 2019 amid widespread concerns about earth tremors. Business and energy secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg said this ban has been reversed in the face of escalating energy costs.

The move accompanied the publication of a scientific review into fracking by the British Geological Survey, Recent scientific advances in the understanding of induced seismicity from hydraulic fracturing of shales. This concluded that there is still a limited understanding of the process’s impacts.

The Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto pledged to pause fracking unless there was greater scientific certainty about its safety – notably on seismic activity triggered by the drilling.

Speaking to Parliament, Rees-Mogg said that "tolerating a higher degree of risk and disturbance appears to us to be in the national interest, given the circumstances”.

Regulations require extraction work to stop if tremors are detected above 0.5 on the Richter scale, but Rees-Mogg said he wanted that to potentially be set at 2.5. “There are millions of seismic events of 2.5 or lower in the world every year – we should not assume that every seismic event is the San Francisco earthquake.”

He added: “It is safe. It is shown to be safe. The scare stories have been disproved time and again. The hysteria about seismic activity, I think, fails to understand that the Richter scale is a logarithmic scale.” He also suggested it was “sheer Ludditery” to oppose fracking.

However, Conservative MPs for areas containing potential fracking sites reacted angrily to the move, with Fylde member Mark Menzies arguing “there’s nothing Luddite about the people of Lancashire or Fylde”. East Yorkshire MP Sir Greg Knight said that “the safety of the public is not a currency in which some of us choose to speculate”.

Designating fracking sites as nationally important infrastructure – usually reserved for major roads, rail and energy projects – would allow proponents of schemes to bypass local planning requirements. In his mini Budget, chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng also announced that, in the coming months, the government will introduce legislation to “unpick the complex patchwork of planning restrictions” for nationally significant projects.

Image credit | Shutterstock

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