The Business Secretary has lifted the fracking ban in a bid to “strengthen our energy security” amid Putin’s “weaponisation of energy”, despite critics saying it could trigger seismic activity, harm the environment and take too long to solve the energy crisis. It comes after Jacob Rees-Mogg pushed back against the backlash the Government was hit by after Prime Minister Liz Truss pledged to lift the 2019 fracking ban in a bid to boost Britain’s energy independence as bills soar due to soaring prices of wholesale gas on the international market.
Mr Rees-Mogg said: “In light of Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and weaponisation of energy, strengthening our energy security is an absolute priority, and – as the prime minister said – we are going to ensure the UK is a net energy exporter by 2040.
“To get there, we will need to explore all avenues available to us through solar, wind, oil and gas production – so it’s right that we’ve lifted the pause to realise any potential sources of domestic gas.”
While the UK only got around four percent of its gas last year, billpayers have still felt the impact of the Russian President’s gas cuts in Europe which have sent the price of the foreign gas the nation imports skyrocketing. Fracking supporters say that extracting Britain’s shale gas would slash the reliance on expensive imports and scupper the UK’s remaining reliance on Russia.
Although Ms Truss said she would lift the ban on the practice three years ago, and is set to issue around 100 licenses, the Prime Minister has said fracking will only go ahead in areas that support it. However, a country charity representing over 40,000 people has signalled its opposition.
Under current rules, drilling must stop if it triggers tremors of 0.5 or more on the Richter scale. But some experts have claimed that tremors naturally occur at this level and with a minimum intensity that it is almost impossible to be felt above the ground. In fact, the Royal Society says tremors up to magnitude 2 are not likely to be felt above ground.
Mr Rees-Mogg believes the 0.5 limit is “too low” and “will be reviewed to see a proportionate level”, despite The Country Side Charity (CPRE) warning that this will spark “fury off the Richter scale”.
In an opinion piece for the Telegraph, Tom Fyans, interim CEO of the CPRE, said: “More seismic than the fracturing of the countryside and the damage to rural homes will be the monumental backlash. The fury of local communities will be off the Richter scale.”
This also comes after a leaked Government report revealed that there could be a limited “ability to forecast drilling-linked earthquakes”.
The report by the Geological Survey (BGS) that was held up due to the death of Queen Elizabeth II and is expected to be released in full on Thursday, will reportedly argue that limiting the risk of earthquakes during the process of extracting shale gas remains a “scientific challenge”.
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The leaked report warns that there are still “significant existing knowledge gaps”, with issues over determining whether potential new fracking sites could handle earthquakes with a magnitude of 3.0. But Mr Rees Mogg is still convinced that the 0.5 restriction is too low.
He told BBC Newsnight: “The seismic limits will be reviewed to see a proportionate level. At 0.5 on the Richter scale, which is only noticeable with sophisticated machinery, it’s quite right – the fracking would not take place. That level is too low. But I can’t confirm the new level because that’s being looked at.”
It comes after fracking firms had reportedly urged the Government to ease this restriction amid claims the earth tremors with a 0.5 on the Richter scale are highly unlikely to be felt above ground and occur at that intensity naturally anyway.
The Royal Society claims that even magnitude 3 tremors are normally only “felt by few people at rest or in the upper floors of buildings; similar to the passing of a truck”.
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But CPRE has written to MPs in marginal seats in fracking areas in a plea warning that extracting shale gas will not produce enough of the fuel to slash energy prices and risks ruining vast swathes of the countryside while polluting waterways and wildlife.
And despite the Royal Society’s claims, there have known to be instances of reported earthquakes triggered by the practice. Fracking firm Cuadrilla’s test operations in Lancashire caused a magnitude 2.9 tremor which sparked complaints from nearby residents who reported shaking in their homes and even objects falling off their shelves three years ago.
There were over 120 recorded tremors recorded during drilling at Cuadrilla’s New Preston Road site, although Professor Richard Davies, a leading petroleum geologist at Newcastle University, has said that fracking has “not been a major source of earthquakes”.
Cuadrilla, which is the UK’s first fracking firm, has also even claimed that will do nothing to help ease the energy price crisis.
Chris Cornelius, the geologist who founded Cuadrilla Resources, told the Guardian that he doesn’t “think there is any chance of fracking in the UK in the near term”, while arguing that any support for the practice is nothing but a “political gesture”.
This is despite Ms Truss claiming that fracking could get gas flowing within six months. But Mr Cornelius claimed: “It does not make economic sense. I do not think sensible people are putting money in this.”
A Government spokesman has said: “Making the most of our own gas resources makes us less dependent on imports and helps maintain the security of the UK’s energy supply in both the short and long-term. Drawing on lessons from around the world, we will make sure it is done as safely as possible and where there is local support.”