The UK government’s decision to lift the ban on fracking is already facing widespread opposition from across the political spectrum, including a number of its own MPs.
The news comes as the government today (22 September) lifted the moratorium on shale gas production in England, and confirmed its support for a new oil and gas licensing round, expected to be launched by the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) in early October.
It is also being reported that new prime minister Liz Truss is considering designating fracking sites as nationally important infrastructure, as revealed in The Guardian newspaper.
This means that any new proposed fracking sites would bypass normal local planning requirements, with the prime minister breaking her fracking election pledge in the recent Conservative party leadership campaign in order to bypass any local opposition.
Ministers claim that, in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the weaponisation of energy, the government is taking concrete steps to increase home-grown sources of energy, reduce the UK’s reliance of foreign imports, and explore all possible options to boost domestic energy security.
To do so, say ministers, it is appropriate to pursue all means for increasing UK oil and gas production, including through new oil and gas licences and shale gas extraction.
Business and energy secretary Jacob 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.”
In parliament on Thursday (22 September), Rees-Mogg also refused to commit to letting local communities blacklist fracking projects, instead telling MPs that people nearby would be compensated.
This led to an outcry of criticism from a number of Conservative MPs in the Commons.
Mark Menzies, Conservative MP for Fylde in Lancashire, was particularly angered by claims that opponents of fracking were luddites. He said: “There is nothing luddite about the people of Lancashire or of Fylde. Can we be crystal clear on one thing? The prime minister at the Manchester hustings made it crystal clear – no ifs, not buts, no caveats – that fracking would only take place in the United Kingdom where there was local consent. Crystal clear.
“So, if the prime minister is to remain a woman of her word, a woman that we can believe in, which I believe she is, can the secretary of state outline how that local consent will be given and demonstrated?”
Greg Knight, Conservative MP for East Yorkshire, said the government should not be taking risks with safety. He said: “Is it not the case that forecasting the occurance of seismic events as a result of fracking remains a challenge to the experts? Is it not therefore creating a risk of an unknown quantity to pursue shale gas exploration at the present time? Is he aware that the safety of the public is not a currency which some of us choose to speculate in?”
Mark Fletcher, Conservative MP for Bolsover in Derbyshire, said he was not impressed by ministerial comments on local consent. He said: “The local consent plans don’t seem to wash. It seems to come back to communities being bought off, rather than having a vote. Can the secretary of state confirm, once and for all, if local residents across Bolsover will get a vote to object to these schemes locally.”
Paul Maynard, Conservative MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, also said he has assured local residents that their consent would be required before fracking projects went ahead. He said: “Listening carefully to the secretary of state this morning, I have yet to hear any explanation of how local consent will be determined – indeed, an absence of any reference to local consent. Let me try once more: will my constituents be asked whether they want fracking or not?”
Rees-Mogg refused to give any assurances, but said the companies would have to get local consent and that would involve giving money to residents.
Former Labour leader and current shadow secretary of state for climate change and net zero, Ed Miliband claimed that fracking is dangerous, expensive, and unsafe.
He said: “Fracking is a dangerous fantasy - it would do nothing to cut energy bills, costs more than renewables, and is unsafe. Jacob Rees-Mogg is ripping up the Conservatives' manifesto promises and imposing a charter for earthquakes on the British people. Labour will fight this all the way. We need clean power for Britain - not dirty fracking.”
But the ban on fracking has not been lifted in Scotland. Michael Matheson, Scottish government secretary for net zero, transport and energy, said: “To be clear - this policy change does not apply in Scotland. Fracking can only happen here if licences are issued by the Scottish government and we do not intend to issue any licences.”